Life among deviants
Her first adventure into the prison world began in a small center where sexual offenders are detained for rehabilitation and possible reintegration to society. We’re talking about pedophiles, rapists, and the like. Initially, Erika thought it would be like a government office type of setup. But the moment she saw inmates in orange jumpsuits, she got scared at first. Like always, she went on with it beginning with an 8-hour written exam (with breaks in between, of course).
She was then invited for another exam/interview in a bigger prison. There, she was asked to wait for quite a while in a room where she found a coloring book and some crayons. So, she helped herself to it to while away the time. Little did she know that she was already being observed by the interview panelists.
Her experiences as a jail guard are hilarious and sad, scary and boring, exhausting and easy, challenging and worthwhile. Right now, she’s stationed at the admittance and releasing area, so body searching new inmates is part of the job. She has done both frisk-searching (the most thorough body search where they have to touch the inmate) and strip searching (they ask the inmate to turn around, bend over, open their mouth and raise their arms without touching them), but the latter is the norm since the pandemic.
Strip-searching transgenders is both difficult and hilarious at times, especially when they have not fully transitioned. They prefer female guards to do the search, so Erika gets to do the job. “I’ve seen them all,” Erika said with amusement.
Erika particularly enjoys dealing with the biker gangs (Hell’s Angels) for the mere fact that their cells are neat and organized. “Most of them just want to be left alone, do their time quietly; but as soon as they’re released, they’re back on their own shit or whatever,” Erika laughs.
Erika prefers working with inmates in the special needs section. It’s the compassionate side of her. She feels that there should be a proper program to help them, that they should not be in jail but in a healing institution. They are the ones who are either mentally ill or extremely poor. They are the ones who end up in catatonic state, eat their own feces, or don’t eat at all. Their crimes are mostly petty like stealing food, vandalism and other minor misdemeanors. Those who do commit murder are out of insanity.
“Some of them would say that they had to kill that person because the devil told them so. They no longer have the sense of what is right or wrong,” Erika says.
At this point, Erika showed signs of misery over the plight of these special needs inmates. “Come to think of it, people like them are the ones who are the victims of crime in the first place. It’s because they’re discriminated on, bullied, and violence are committed against them because of their vulnerability that they react the way they do. They are the most misunderstood and neglected because the public has no interest in them anymore.”
Asked if what we see in movies are what actually happens inside jails, Erika says they’re partly true. Erika has experienced at least three jail riots, staff assault, has seen inmates commit suicide and self-harm, and inmates fighting or doing sexual acts inside their cells. Whenever this happens, she would just stand and watch as she waits for backup. With just a pepper spray as her weapon, that’s really all she could do even if she’s trained with defensive tactics. There were also times when she would get covered in blood from trying to break inmates’ fights.
“You don’t know if they’re doing that to get you inside and take you hostage. Whether an inmate is being raped or not, we must make them stop from doing whatever it is they’re doing,” Erika shares. “Which is why I prefer to take the night shift. Almost everyone’s asleep. All I have to do is walk around to check the cells from time to time, but mostly I stay in my desk and try my best to stay awake. That’s the boring part of the job.”
Jail economy is also real. Contrabands from the outside world manage to get in. How they get in? Your guess is as good as mine.
To keep herself awake, she would mindlessly scan through books or magazines, watch the news on TV (but with the volume turned down), check her email, or read through inmates’ letters.
“The letters are interesting to read so they keep me awake. We have to make sure they’re up to no good through the exchange of letters with the outside world,” Erika says. At one point, out of boredom and to help keep herself awake, she wrote a mock letter to her boyfriend saying, “they made me do it. It’s not my fault. Please send me money.” She sent it to his office, which he found amusing while reading.
Next page: Sticking to her guns