Living Out Loud

Prison Time


I was a correctional officer in a medium custody prison in NC from 1986-1993. I went into the military after high school. I had an infantry military occupational specialty and didn't learn many skills applicable in the civilian world. Immediately after leaving the service, I went to work at a prison. My older, very left-wing self recoils at the the thought of participating in the systemic racism that has been part of our criminal justice system throughout history, but my 21-year old self needed a job to provide for a wife and two kids that had some benefits.  While working in corrections, I witnessed the transformation from the old school convicts code to a new culture caused by the incarceration of addicts at the beginning of the crack epidemic. In the beginning of my career, inmates did not snitch and did not steal from each other. After the crackheads arrived, things were a polar opposite. 

The prison where I worked was divided into three units: a processing center for felons with a two-to-ten-year sentence, six blocks of single cells for mentally ill inmates, disciplinary segregation, and protective custody and a unit for inmate workers including multiple road squads. 

My time there was not that horrible in retrospect. I was involved in a few use of force incidents but never injured. I was on the emergency response team, where I worked on escapes in our region of the state. Two of these escapes resulted in the death of the inmate. I once worked on a shakedown of an entire prison after bullets were found in their dirty laundry. For the most part it was a dull, somewhat depressing job that tended to institutionalize the staff as well as the inmates.

I was 28 when I left for less depressing work with more opportunities. I’m 59 now. Since leaving corrections I’ve had an entire career in IT, working for a school system where my DOC years counted towards my pension. After retiring from there I went to work for a private university, also in IT. The weird thing is this – I still dream of my work in prison, frequently. I never dream about any other job I’ve had, including the military. I have no idea why those years in my twenties weigh so heavily in my subconscious. I don’t have PTSD, nor have I stayed in touch with my co-workers from my unit. It’s just strange.