In my career as a Corrections Officer I believe the Lord has used several events to teach me the power of His grace to protect when a situation was beyond my control. The following is one of those times:
It was around 9:30 PM and my shift was almost over. I had just completed a cell check and it was too quiet. When I peered into his cell through the six by six-inch bulletproof window I knew that his patience had run out. He was “strapping up”. That’s what we called it in prison when someone was preparing for a fight. When an inmate gets dressed, ties a bandana around his head, and puts on his boots just before lock down at night, you’ve got a problem.
“You okay man?” I asked.
For the first time that evening he didn’t acknowledge me. He just continued lacing his boots.
“Call the building Sergeant,” I told the officer in the control room. “He’s coming out.”
I sat down at the desk to make a few entries in the logbook before it started. It’s always easier to capture the details more accurately when they are fresh and everything is calm.
It had all started earlier that morning when he had been notified that a family member had died. It was now almost sixteen hours later and all he wanted was to make a phone call. He was on isolation so a supervisor needed to be present to hand cuff him and take him out of his cell to a phone. I had tried to get the Sergeant to come down, but each time I asked, I received the same reply, “He’ll get to it later.” For the past seven hours I think he believed more than I did that the Sergeant would “get to it”. The morning shift supervisors had given the same empty promise and then assured him that the evening shift would take care of it. He had been very peaceful the entire time, but he had waited long enough. Now he was angry and I remember being angry along with him.
Then the banging started. No matter how many times a day you heard it you never got used to the sound. It could have been the echo off the concrete walls with no outlet. But most likely it was because no matter how much you wanted not to treat a man like an animal, when he beat against the steel door with his fists and feet you found yourself thinking he was a caged beast.
The entire cellblock shook with each blow to the metal enclosure. The track at the bottom and the frame at the top were beginning to bend, and my heart was beginning to race. My faith in the construction of the door quickly faded as a moment of silence was broken by the most powerful kick yet. The unbreakable window shattered into a hundred pieces. My guts felt twisted and I became physically ill as I tried to keep my composure and wait for backup. I knew that my attempts to appear unshaken had failed when the whole wing broke into a thunderous roar.
“Gilmer is scared!” some shouted. While others, in words I cannot repeat, taunted me about the beating I was going to receive once that door was broken down.
Suddenly, in the midst of the deafening jeers and taunts there was a noticeable silence. The kicking had stopped.
“Gilmer!” he shouted. “I ain’t gonna hurt you, man! You tried to help me!”
Absolute quiet fell over the cellblock as he started kicking again. It was only moments later that the extractions team arrived and entered the cell. The rage that had been kindled in this man was so intense that the trained attack dog backed down from the encounter. When the team saw the dog pulling back, teargas was used. Unable to see, the inmate gave up without a struggle and the incident was over quickly.
I still remember his last words to me as I left my post that night; “Did you see that dog back down, Gilmer?”
“I saw it,” I replied, and we both laughed.
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