Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wow, what a day...

Greetings, dear readers!  It's your friendly neighborhood prison librarian here with another story from the trenches.

Today I witnessed my first use of force- up close.  My supervisor, colleagues, and I were having our weekly meeting when we heard a commotion over the radio.  Everyone looked around with raised eyebrows as we awaited more information.  Seconds later, the call came over the radio "WE NEED FIRST RESPONDERS TO UPPER PROGRAMS!"

Because there are some officers on my team, and because when an incident is happening in your area, you respond no matter who you are, we all went running out of the library to assist.  We heard the screaming all the way at the other end of the hallway* which made us run even faster.  When we got to the west stairwell, an offender was in a wheelchair screaming "I'M CONFUSED!!!  I'M SO CONFUSED!!!" as other staff were trying to calm her down.  Rather than calming down though, she just kept escalating and when one of the staff told her that they were going to restrain her with handcuffs she attempted to stand up from her wheel chair and started fighting.

Now, when an offender refuses your verbal direction, you have some options but you need to get them back under control as soon as possible.  Hopefully you all will go through training (we go through a pressure point control tactics training class) so that you don't get hurt.  As soon as the offender stood up, 6 staff engaged her to get her on the ground.  I was not close enough to see if they were using any of the pressure points, but she was definitely not making it easy for them to get the cuffs on her.  Once she was on the ground with her hands behind her back, she started spitting at the staff and banging her head on the cement floor.  Despite repeated orders to stop banging her head and calm down, all she did was bang harder and yell expletives at the staff.

Once she was handcuffed, they attempted to put leg restraints on her.  She was not having it though and some of the staff almost got a boot to the face.  She was finally restrained with handcuffs, put in an escort chair (a chair with straps and cutouts for hands that are handcuffed behind the person's back) and outfitted with a spit mask and taken off to segregation.  As we debriefed with each other, it was discovered that she had been let up the elevator despite the fact that it was not scheduled movement and her appointment was not for 30 more minutes.  When the teacher who intercepted her asked her where she was going and then informed her that the other teacher she was there to see was not even in the building at the moment, she absolutely lost it.  Now, while this is not "normal" behavior for most people, this offender is a 4 out of 5 on the mental health needs scale, which means she has severe mental health issues.

As scary as this situation may sound, I was thankful that there were so many staff around to handle the situation.  This same thing could happen in a public library (mental health problems are not limited to prison library patrons) but in that setting, there are not responders 3 seconds away.  However, this could just as easily have happened in my library.  Sometimes people are not happy when their hold expires, or one of their books is missing or damaged and they have to pay for it.  I highly recommend playing the what-if game with this kind of situation, that way if it does happen you at least have a plan for how to deal with it.  This is also an important reminder that rules are there for a reason, and if someone is there unauthorized, they should NOT be allowed to go into the area.  There have been many incidents of offenders getting into places where they shouldn't be and staff getting taken hostage and hurt.  As much as we try and model a public library, it is still prison and there are still dangerous people there.  Library service is important, but personal safety is paramount.

Until next time.

*To give you an idea of how long the hallway is, I had Mintern measure it with her Fitbit and it took approximately 250 steps to get from one end to the other.  It's a pretty long hallway.

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