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Is Perception Reality

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    A few years ago I moved to Arizona. I was to be the office manager of a Real Estate

    Appraisal firm. Unbeknown to me the Company owed back taxes to Internal Revenue Service.

    The IRS came in and seized all of the Companies bank accounts and assets. All of a sudden I had

    to scramble to find a new job. I did not immediately find work as an appraiser but took a job with

    the Arizona Department of Corrections.

    What I thought to be true and what the reality was; were two different things. I believed that

    the individuals incarcerated were being punished and were not able or allowed to do much of

    anything. Additionally, I believed that they basically sat in a jail cell and read books, drew

    pictures or wrote letters. I also believed that they were law abiding while in prison. In other

    words, I believed that they were limited in not being able to break the law. Additionally, I

    assumed they had virtually no contact with the outside world.

    I completed some training in self-defense, first aid, conflict resolution, Radio

    Communications, etc. I was then sent to Cell Block 6 AKA Death Row. This is where my

    perceptions began to give way to reality. I found that almost every inmate (as called by officers

    and staff) had a Television and that free cable was provided with many movie channels available.

    Most had stereos with many CD’s. They were required however, to wear headphones while

    listening to their music. I was surprised to find that the law mandated many privileges to the

    incarcerated individuals. Three hot meals a day were served the inmates. Also, family members

    could send them care packages at Christmas up to about 100 lbs., containing homemade food and

    clothing items. In addition, there is a prison store that the Incarcerated could order items from. A

    list of items would be filled out by the inmate with an account # and each week the items would

    be delivered to them. Many ordered their favorite food items such as; Corn Chips, Twinkies,

    cookies, candy, etc… Family members could send them money that was deposited to their

    account for future purchases. If an inmate had no money he could apply for welfare and get

    money from the state. Family members were also allowed contact visitation on a weekly basis.

    Several individuals on death row were actually married to pen pals in the contact visitation room.

    Finally, The inmates had access to the courts and legal process right there on location. To appeal

    their case or file whatever lawsuit they had a mind too.

    This Cellblock was in many ways a little community. And the real shocker; there was a lot of

    criminal activity going on. I just did not realize that so much crime could be taking place. For

    example, there was a lot of illegal drug use in the prison. Illegal drugs such as marijuana, Black

    Tar Heroin and Cocaine; were smuggled in. Visitors and the packages they brought carried the

    drugs. Although searched, they still managed to get the drugs in. I remember one time inspecting

    a pair of brand new boots that a family member sent in. I found the innersole had been removed

    and carved out. It had been filled with marijuana.

    Drugs, stamps & store items were used as money in the prison. And there was theft,

    extortion & murder present. I would write tickets and reports on these activities much like a

    police officer writes reports on the street. A legal procedure was in place to respond to the

    tickets. Individual privileges would be taken away for a period of time depending on the

    In conclusion, I witnessed numerous crimes that took place right in front of me with no

    regard or care what the consequences would be. An inmate assaulted me right in front of

    witnesses. I was not injured due to the help of another officer who came to my aid in subduing

    the individual. The inmates use the threat of violence and intimidation to attempt to get what they

    want. Some even have succeeded in getting officers to bring them in their drugs by threatening

    their families. Using their gang connections on the streets. Prison gangs are very much alive

    today. There is a special group of officers whose sole job is to collect intelligence and

    information on the gang leaders and members. The leaders are put into isolation to diminish their

    control. So as you can see, things were definitely not as I perceived them to be.

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