Do people resent that?
Well, honestly, Oakwood's a very, very important place that's very needed for certain inmates. And I support Oakwood 100 percent. ... We have some seriously mentally ill inmates, and when they go to Oakwood, [the doctors] treat them and they come back better. So yeah, that's what we want. Our main goal is to make sure these guys get well, that they're treated, and that by sending them to Oakwood, if we can't help them here, if we're not doing what needs to be done, and [whatever we] do is not working, then send them to Oakwood and let them get some different treatment. Maybe a different environment might be the answer.
But … when you're just faking to get a vacation, it's a different story. That's not the purpose of Oakwood. Oakwood is a hospital for seriously mentally ill inmates, and we want to send those type inmates there. We don't want to waste their time by sending someone … up there just for a vacation. That's not what it's for.
But you have to figure that out all the time, those who are really ill and those who are not, right?
Yeah, because sometimes even the seriously mentally ill inmates can trick you. Sometimes they might be doing just fine here, and then they'll start pretending to get a break. … So really, you have to really assess the situation and really know the inmates.
By working with them every day, you get to know their tendencies and what they're doing. And when they start acting a little not [like] themselves, you can really tell when they're really faking [and] when they're not. It's really obvious when you're around them every day. It's not a situation where you go into it blind, not really knowing, "Well, I don't know who this person is -- is he seriously mentally ill, or is he just faking?" So being around them every day and working with them every day, you really find out who's really sick and who's not.
Because you guys really do get to know them better than anybody, ultimately, don't you?
Oh, yeah. That's my job, to get to know them as an individual instead of an inmate. I try to treat them as a person. I don't treat them as a criminal. They've been sentenced. The judge has sentenced them. The sentence is being carried out here, [at] Lucasville, and it's not my job to judge them. My job is to treat them.
That's why I work in a mental health unit, to get to know these guys and find out what they're about, what they do on their leisure time, about their families and stuff like that. When something does happen, you can address [it]. If a guy's having problem with his family, you can say, "Well, how's your mom doing?," or, "I know your mother moved," or, "I know your dad's having this problem; your dad just lost his job," or "Your brother has gotten in trouble; I know he went jail," or whatever the case may be. Even in the good situations -- "I know your brother is playing basketball for a local high school, and he's done really well," or, "Your sister just got a promotion with her job," those things -- if you can bring them up to those inmates, it will cheer up their day. Or even the sad part of it, if you can just bring it to their attention, at least they know that this guy at least cares enough to ask about my family, and then we can really build a relationship from that.
The guys obviously respond to you. They really seem to respect and appreciate you. What is it you're doing? Is it literally those small acts of kindness and empathy that are making a difference?
It's really hard to say, because honestly, [it's] just doing the right thing. There's right and wrong; there's no in-between. If you just do the right thing and treat them right, give them what they have coming -- and they know the policy; they know the rules -- and just always be fair with them. Be consistent. Don't treat one better than you treat the other. Don't favor one over the other. Give them a little bit of attention. Give them time. If they ask you, "Can I ask you a question?," don't say, "Well, I'll talk to you later," and pass them up and never talk to them later. If they have something to say, take five minutes out of your time; hear what they have to say.
It could really save you a lot of heartache in the long run, a lot of pain, because if you don't give them that little bit of five minutes of your time, something can really escalate from that. They could be really having a serious bad day [and] need to talk to you about something, or don't know the answer about something and [be] taking another inmate's word for it and find out that's really not the way it needs to be done. And they're going to hurt themselves. And then here you are, filling out all this paperwork. You have a guy that hurt himself, you have to get it cleaned up, and it's just a lot more paperwork. But if you just take your time and listen to what they have to say, answer their questions when they ask, ... as long as I'm doing the right thing, good things will come from it.
I feel like I don't have really issues with inmates. [If I] have problems, I'll [go solve it]. I don't get cussed out; I don't get things thrown on me. Even if guys are doing those things, if I approach them, they usually have enough respect for me not to do that. Even on fights, a lot of times, guys will be beefing really bad, arguing, and I'll have to get them out. They'll be signed up for the same group, and I'll go to them, and I'll say: "Listen, whatever you have with this guy, it's going to have to wait for an hour. You're going to have to give me enough respect, because I respect you. You're going to have to give me an hour of your time not to argue with this guy and come out for group [therapy] and get involved in a group. And maybe we'll see what happens then." A lot of times they'll come out and not even argue, just completely stay away from each other.
So I think if the guys really respect you and they know you respect them, and you treat them as equals, or treat them as just human beings, I think they really respond to that. I'm no better than anyone else, so who am I to downgrade someone else? So I just treat them as equals.
You work with the seriously mentally ill, and they respond to that as well; that if you treat them with respect, they do [likewise]?
Yeah. Just because they have a mental illness, it doesn't mean they're dumb or they're stupid. They have feelings; they care. They can respond to that. ... Anyone knows if you're doing a good deed or not, regardless. If you treat someone right, they can feel that in their heart. You don't have to say anything. They can just feel it. Even if they can't even communicate very well, they can still feel that in their heart if you're treating them right. Anyone can. ...
Even in a mental health cell block in a maximum-security prison like this?
Yeah. Just because they've done something in their past to be locked up, incarcerated -- a lot of people don't realize [that] a lot of times these guys are incarcerated in the mental health unit because they weren't on medication. They tried to seek help, but maybe [weren't] able to receive it. They needed someone out there to be able to make sure they were taking their medication. Whatever the case may be, they committed a crime; they're being locked up for it. But that's beyond the point.
The point is, you just show them that you are here to help them, and that's why I'm here. I'm here for therapeutic reasons. I'm not here to be a disciplinarian. I expect them to follow the rules and procedures of the institution. They know those. Sometimes you have to reinforce those by making sure they understand them. ... And if they can't seem to abide by the rules, then you definitely have to put a ticket on them, issue a ticket and make sure they understand there will be consequences if you do not follow the rules of procedure.
Kind of like good parenting, I guess.
Sometimes I feel like a big brother, because a lot of these guys just need that. They've never had guidance that's in their lives. Some of them come from very hard families. And if you've been raised in a family where there's domestic violence all the time, and all you see growing up is your father hitting your mother, and say you're 5 years old, 6 years old, and that's all you see is your mother getting beaten, when these kids go to school and act out, it's hard for teachers or people to understand what is wrong with this kid. To him, this stuff is normal. When he kicks over a desk and says, "I'm not doing this," or "I don't want to do that," well, that's the same thing his dad does. His dad comes in and kicks over a table and says, "Why ain't dinner ready?," and smacks his mom around. That's what he sees. To him, that might be normal. ....
Have you been assaulted?
Well, of course I've been assaulted. This is a max-security prison. Just because you always treat people right doesn't mean things are always going to happen right. I've had my nose broken; I've had stitches in my eye; I had a torn rotator cuff. Serious things [have] happened to me. But that's part of the job. Sometimes inmates act out, and no matter what you do, they feel like they went to a point where there's no turning back. So when they act out, they just feel like, "Well, we've got to go all the way with it, or nothing." So sometimes, regardless of how you treat them, you could be as nice as you want to be, and [things] don't always work out in your favor. ...
They're very unpredictable. You cannot predict one thing they're going to do. If a guy comes out of his cell and starts talking very loudly and seems to be rude or seems to be agitated, of course you're going to step back and look at the situation, and maybe just be more on your toes and be aware of that situation. But you can't predict what these guys [are going to do] from one day to the next, even from one hour to the next. If they stop taking their medication, it's like a nosedive; it's like jumping off a cliff. ... But you just never know. Every day it's a different situation.
How do you work with Officer Jim Schmidt?
Jim Schmidt's my partner. He is my [corrections officer]. He is supposed to be the guy that escorts me everywhere I go and is supposed to be getting guys out for me when I need them out. And we work really well together. He has a great understanding [of] what my purpose is and my goals are as an activity therapist and the things I'm supposed to be doing here. And that's very important. Some people, if you work with people and they really don't understand what you're doing, they kind of might frown on it. But Schmidt has a good understanding what I'm doing.
And he's such a good CO. He knows exactly how his inmates act, think and the things they do. He's got, like, 15 years of this institution under his belt, so he has plenty of experience with the general-population inmates and also the seriously ill inmates. So he knows exactly how these inmates are going to respond. He knows when inmates are faking, when they're not. He knows if the inmates are trying to press other inmates for the commissary, or he knows [this] other guy would take another guy's tray. He's really, really, really a good CO to have around. ... Also, he's a big guy, so I like having that around. If something happened, he's there to -- we've had incidents where we had to break up fights together, and he's really good. He's very strong, and he can break up a fight almost by himself.
But he's a type of guy that inmates respond to, they respect, because he doesn't pick on them; he doesn't mess with them. He's very firm and consistent. They know exactly what to expect out of him.
And it's not just the inmates you have to watch; it's employees, too. Everyone has bad days. Sometimes you don't know how the employees are going to act. So with Schmidt, having him as a partner every day, I know when he's had a bad day; he knows when I'm having a bad day. So we feed off each other. And it's just good having him around. He's a good person.
Could you do what you do without him there?
I couldn't be effective. I couldn't do the things as well as I do them without someone like Jim Schmidt. He is a big part of what I do. Having his support is very important. You have to have someone that's willing to back you up. ...
And having someone like Schmidt that's consistent, inmates don't feel threatened. They don't feel scared to come out of their cells [for group therapy]. They feel like: "OK, it's Officer Schmidt. It's all right. I can go. He's not going to take me somewhere I don't want to go." So that helps out a lot, too. It could be a bad situation. If the inmates really didn't get along with Officer Schmidt, then I'd have to go over there and try to encourage them to trust Officer Schmidt, that it's going to be OK to go out, because if you're dealing with mental health inmates, they're scared; they're terrified. ...
When he brings them down that ramp, what are you looking for?
What I look for is, for one, their hygiene. Are they [bathing]? Are they trying to take care of themselves? If they're not, then that's a big sign, not caring about themselves, and obviously there's something going on. Also, [I] look [for] how they're looking around, if they've got that paranoid look, if they're looking behind them or jerking or anything. I've had inmates claim that guys have tried to throw them over a bridge, and there's no bridge there, so you've got to really watch their body language. ...
If they start talking [in] words that really don't make sense, and they start claiming things are happening [that] really aren't happening, then you kind of say, "Well, listen." You kind of hold him [back], and then I'll talk to him for a few minutes and encourage him to go back to his cell, and everything's going to be all right, and we're not going to run group today. ...
A lot of the guys are so seriously mentally ill that they can't come to group?
Well, yeah. There's some guys so seriously mentally ill that they just can't comprehend, and they're so scared that they won't come out of their cell. And they'll put towels on their head or wrap sheets around their head and sit there, or cover up underneath the bed, hide underneath the bed. And it's really hard to move those guys. It's hard to get them out to take a shower, let alone come out and come to group. Sometimes they don't trust the inmates beside them; sometimes they don't trust the staff.
It's difficult because you know that those guys are really, seriously mentally ill; you know they need your help. You try to even encourage them to maybe come out one on one, where it's just you and him. After you talk to him for a while, maybe he builds a little bit of confidence in you.
But if you can't even do that, then that's the kind of guy we recommend to go to Oakwood. If we can't help them here, if we can't encourage them to come out of their cells, if they can't get involved in the therapeutic part, if they can't come to treatment team, if they're not getting better, not taking their medication, then this type of guys, we don't want them laying around their cell; we don't want them hiding underneath their bed. We want them to get better. We actually want them to get so [much] better they end up going to general population. We want them to get out of the mental health unit, where they're dealing with their medication on a [daily] basis, [so] that they can get out in the general population and function.
These guys are getting out one of these days. A lot of these guys are not doing life, so our main goal is to get these guys functioning, make sure they go up to speed, make sure they're not so paranoid of everybody around them -- maybe they're not scared to go to a shower; maybe they're not scared to go to the library; make sure they're not scared to go to rec -- because if you get these guys and you just don't treat them at all and turn them loose, then that's going to be a sad day in society, when we have to live beside people who weren't treated when we had the opportunity to treat them. ...
Group therapy, your group setting with the cages, the booth, it's surreal. Explain. It's corrections and therapy all in one setting?
Well, exactly. When you're dealing with the booths in the therapeutical area, what we call J1, it's a pretty big area, and we have 10 booths there, and they are like individual cells. And they're probably 4 feet by 4 feet, I'd say. I don't know the exact measurements on them. But when you bring these guys down, you put each guy in a different booth, and they're locked behind the booth, and they feel secure, and you're secure. There's a yellow line on the outside of it where if you cross over, they're able to touch you or reach you. ...
And then when you do the therapy, it's so interesting, because you have a wide range of different inmates from different backgrounds. And [we'll have times], when it comes right down to it, they all have something in common. They've all had trauma in their lives. They've all been through something someone else can relate to, somehow or some way. And when you get these guys to open up, they seem to help each other more than I can think about helping them. They seem to heal their own heartaches and their own problems, and they feed off each other. And they start to understand: "Well, listen. This guy next to me has been through something I've been through, and here I am picking on him all the time, or trying to take his stuff from him. And he's had just as hard a life as I had. He's just a victim of the same as I am." So it's really interesting. Get them in group, and they understand. They start understanding each other, and they [finally] respect each other.
And when you get them to respect each other, then you find out the security part is easier, because they're not fighting with each other. They're trying to get along. They're trying to help each other out. ...
Some of these guys just don't know how to get started. They're so hurt in their life, they don't know where to start. So sometimes, if I just give them a word or two to maybe build on that, then they start talking and they open up. And they'll cry at times. You've got grown men over there crying in front of other grown men. It's very open, telling about very, very dark secrets in their lives to other grown men, stuff that they probably wouldn't tell anyone else. It's probably held inside for a very long time.
And you start to sit back, and I think it's even good for me to sit back and listen to these stories, because you have to understand what these guys have been through. Regardless of the crime they committed, look what they've been through to lead up to that crime. And maybe if their life had been changed or rerouted some way when they were growing up, they would have had a better chance of not committing those type of crimes. And that's what I'm trying to do here. As therapy, if I reroute the way they're thinking, maybe they'll have a better chance when they get out on the street. Maybe they'll do what's right. Maybe they won't commit those crimes. Maybe they'll take their medication. Maybe next time something happens in their life, they'll talk about it instead of acting on it. So that's what I'm trying to do.
I really concentrate a lot on their childhood, because I try to make them understand, just because they've had a bad childhood or something's happened when they're younger doesn't mean that they need to hold that inside and use that for a crutch the rest of their life. They need to build on today and look for their future. And if I can help them understand that and move on once they get out, then I've been successful.
You bridge both worlds here, mental health and corrections. Where are the clashes?
Well, first of all, we're all security. Security's very important in this institution. It's the most important thing. Therapy is also very important. And they really play hand to hand. And a lot of people don't really want to believe that, but they do. Without one, you can't be successful at the other. So it's interesting, because a lot of times the COs really, really look down upon the therapeutic part. They just want to be hard-core COs, strict, go by the rules. And there's nothing wrong with that, but they have to understand that we're all trying to meet one goal. ...
Do some COs mistake kindness and empathy for weakness?
A lot of the COs just believe that you have to be kind of hard-core at all times, and that if you are kind, you get taken advantage of; it's a sign of weakness. But on the other hand, you could be a good CO by being firm and consistent. And of course anybody [could] take advantage of weakness. Inmates do it all the time. But you don't have to be a weak individual to be a good CO. You don't have to be a hard-core individual to be a good CO. If you're just [firm and consistent], and just stay on course of what you're doing and what your main goals are here at the institution, things will work out for themselves.
Have you seen changes? Do both worlds trust each other a little bit more?
Well, a lot of times the COs just believe that sometimes mental health lets them down, and that's really not the case. The case is that we really rely on the COs for a lot. They're very important for our treatment. There's COs around these inmates all the time. They're in the block. They see them at their best, and they see them at their worst. They see them when they're faking; they see them when they're telling the truth. They see them when they're just using other people. So the COs know what these inmates are really about. A lot of times, the inmates will act one way in front of us, just for sympathy or just to try to get somewhere. The CO will know the situation. He's in the block. He hears their stories. He knows what they're going on. But we really rely on the COs to tell us this kind of stuff.
COs kind of feel like that sometimes when they call for mental health that we don't respond quick enough; that we kind of leave them in the dark sometimes, leave them alone. It's not that we leave them alone or leave them in the dark. We really rely on them to sometimes handle the situation on their own.
They've taken training. We train COs now. We have a course in central office where we have to have mental health training to be able to work mental health blocks. COs have to go to a mental health training. When they go to that, they start to understand what our purpose is, what our goals are, what we really expect out of them. Without good COs, we cannot be successful at this institution. ...
Sometimes do they have a right to feel let down? Can you see their perspective?
... I really feel that sometimes, if you don't work the mental health block enough, and you're not in there and really [don't] understand what we're trying to do, and you come from [the] outside in, until you get comfortable, you really don't know what's going on, because it's a different world. It's not like the regular blocks. It's hard for an officer to adjust from working a general-population block around inmates that are very deceiving, that are very smart, to come over and [work] in [the] mental health block, where [our] inmates are very scared; they're very sick. And here you have inmates on the other side that are fine, and then you have these inmates that are very sick. And it's hard to adjust from one day to the next.
It's very important that we find COs that are willing to work mental health blocks, that want to do that, and put them in those situations and let them stay there. It's good for the inmates; it's good for the staff. It works out. But when you start switching or have a new CO come in, then it's very hard on everybody. It's hard on the CO because it's hard for him to adapt to a new environment. ...
Have you had any assaults or fights in your group therapies?
In some groups, there have been some cuts. An inmate two and a half months ago got stabbed in the face three times. At [recreation], when they go to rec, there's been cuttings, fights. This is a max-security prison. Our main goal is to get these guys on the right path, but [that] doesn't always mean it's going to turn out like that. It's a very dangerous place to work. These guys are in for some serious crimes. This is not Boy Scout camp. So you're dealing with some seriously, seriously, seriously dangerous people, and you always have to be aware what's going on. We've had some serious assaults here. There's been some serious murders here.
And you always have to keep that in your mind, regardless of who you're talking to. No matter how comfortable you might think you feel, you can't feel that comfortable. You always have to have that little thing in your gut saying: "Any second now, this guy can grab you by the throat. No matter how nice he's talking with you, he can reel you right in." It's like fishing. You know how you reel in your bait? They call it reeling in here. Inmates can talk to you so nice, so kind, and get you comfortable, where you're thinking, this guy's all right; he's trying to better himself; he's trying to do this. And then once he gets you feeling comfortable, that's when he attacks you. So you always have to be aware of those kind of things. You always have to keep in your mind: Treat them right, treat them fair, do what you have to do, do your job, but know [the] type of people you're dealing with are very dangerous.
Give me a sense of the range of mentally ill you're dealing with.
You've got very high-functioning mentally ill inmates that can do almost anything. They're very smart, very big, very dangerous.
On the other hand, you've got some guys that are very slow, very small, very fragile, and they're scared. Some of these guys are mentally retarded. They can barely walk up and down the hallway sometimes without messing up. They can't seem to do anything right. The institution is just too much for them. [We have] a very small, fragile white guy that is picked on all the time, and he's just harmless. He can't really hurt any of these other inmates because he's not big enough, he's not high-functioning enough, and he's so fragile that they can just basically talk to him and get him to hurt himself.
So it's a very wide range of type of inmates. You have some very seriously, seriously dangerous inmates, and then you have some that you just kind of feel sorry for that they even got locked up in the institution. They're that pathetic. And it's kind of sad.
But then you put them all together, and you try to deal with that. It's like putting high school kids, a senior, in a class with kindergarten class. That's the kind of range you're talking about. It's that wide a range, the very high-functioning type people to guys who can't function at all. So it's not an easy job. ... There have been plenty of people who get hired here, walk in and turn around. My friend stayed two days here, and he says, "There's no way I'd ever go back to that place."
So why are you here, and why are you making it here?
Why did I come to work here? I love the satisfaction of helping people. I'm faith-driven as a Christian, and believing in my God and knowing that I need to come here to help these guys, I really feel like I come here and I express myself; I'm here to help these guys. But on the same hand, I always have to be on my toes.
But I like just the satisfaction of coming here and seeing progress. There's something different every day. It's never the same old thing; it's never the same old job. Every day there's something new. You're never going to walk in this place from day to day and get the routine. It's not a routine job. You've got to be able to adjust and adapt to what's going on here. I like that. I like the excitement. I like the rush. I like it when you come here and you get a chance to respond to alarm, to be able to help your fellow co-workers. I like the situation, [to] be able to help someone not commit suicide, be able to talk somebody out of cutting themselves. I like the fact that I can get these guys out in the group and see progress in them, see them open up, see them tell me things they wouldn't tell anyone else. I've had guys find weapons here and bring them to me. I've seen guys [who] have saved up medication and saved it and given it to me and not take it. That makes you feel good. ...
I pray every day I come in this institution. You don't know if this is your last day here or not. Some people think that's very odd, that you would take a chance to come somewhere that you don't know for sure that you're going to walk home today. But ... you have to put your faith in everybody here.
When people say you're being soft on these guys, wasting taxpayer money, what do you say?
You know what? It's very hard to talk to people on the outside, because there are victims on the outside, and they're very harsh. And I don't blame those people. They've had very bad things happen to them. People have taken their family members. They might have committed murder on their brother, sister, husband or wife, whatever situation may be. And I feel for those people.
But we have got to remember, these people are locked up, and they're not going to stay locked up all their life. The majority of them are not. Some of them are getting out. So when these people get out, they might be working at your local restaurant; they might be living next door to your local schools; they might be going to your church. You don't know what they're going to be doing. So we have to make sure that we get these guys prepared to enter into the world.
And as for being soft, I don't think we're soft at all. I think we're just doing what's right. If anything, I think we're helping the community to prepare the inmates for them. ... If this being soft is trying to help them, then I guess we're being soft.
But if we don't do what we're doing, they're going to be in trouble. It's going to be recycling. Everything's going to recycle. They're going to get out; they're going to do what they've been taught to do all their life and come right back. And here we've got another victim on the street, and someone else has taken someone else's life, or someone's been raped, or someone's been robbed, whatever the case may be.
But we have to try to correct it. That's why it's called corrections. We have to try to correct their problems, and if we don't do that, then we're failing. We're not doing what the taxpayer's paying us to do, and that's to prepare these guys for society. ... You can't lock up a guy for 20 years and not let him know what's going on and expect him to get out and adjust. It's not going to happen. He's going to break. He's going to do something very serious to your family or to one of your loved ones or someone you might know. So if they really want us just to lock them up and throw away the key, or lock them up and put them in a dark room with bread and water, as they see on TV all the time, they're just hurting themselves. We're just failing our own selves. We're failing our community. We're failing our own families doing that, because this is not what it's supposed to be about. ...
And hopefully we do a good enough job that when they get out, they'll want to get a job, that they can get some goals in their life. ... You just don't know what the capability of these guys are. They're not dumb. They're very, very talented, and they're very, very smart. It's amazing sometimes how smart, how talented these guys are, what they can do. It's really unbelievable, the artists here, the guys that just can teach other guys how to read. ... Inmates like that are the kind of guys that I really enjoy working around. And there are some type of inmates that are really hard to work around. There's different types. But as for the society, if we don't prepare these guys in the right way, we're just going to let everyone down, and we're going to all be in trouble. ...
Are these guys getting better mental health treatment here than they've ever had in their lives before? And when they go out, will they ever find this in the community?
... I feel like that we go so beyond the call of duty to make sure these guys get so much intense mental health treatment that it's almost hard for anyone to compete with it. We try to prepare these guys, once they get out of this institution and get out of prison, to follow up. And we help them. We set them up with the local hospital and their medication and stuff. But we hope that once they get out of this situation, we hope we have them in a situation where they can maybe just go to a hospital and keep their medication, go for some therapy, go for some group, stay in groups, but be able to live in a normal lifestyle. ... I think we've done it so well, and I think that we've done such a good job that it would be hard for me to believe that anyone would beat our staff here, beat this institution. I'd be surprised.
You sound proud.
I am proud of this institution. I'm proud of the people I work with. I think they're sincere about what they do. ... I know a CO that was [stabbed] in the  riot that's working mental health right now. He was beat up, stabbed. They take him out, take him to the local hospital; he's there long enough just to get a change of clothes and comes right back. That's the kind of people we have working here. That says a lot. That's just not a normal employee. Most people get the flu, they stay home. This guy got stabbed. ...
This is a family. And in this institution, we stick together. And you see, the COs here are bright. A lot of them have degrees. They chose this profession. This is not something they had to be forced into. This is what they want to do. ... So that's the kind of people I want to be around.
It's easy to work here, with those kind of people. You've got people that get stabbed and go home just to change clothes. Who wouldn't want to work around a guy like that?