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What is prison like

Another excerpt from my almost finished prison memoir, Prisonpath. The stories are about the inmates and correctional officers that I encountered during my fifteen months in state prison.

1/12/11 – 1/13/11 — Hagerstown Prison

The scream reverberated throughout the tier. The correctional officer called my name again and said, “Come get your fucking books!” For some reason, the continuous delivery of books from family and friends irritated him. The same CO annoyed by my books told me once that “all prisoners were dimwits.”

I approached the desk and the officer started to throw my books at me. He finally pushed the wrong button with me. I proceeded not to follow my own rules of flying below the radar. I was too disturbed by his constant lack of respect for any inmates including myself. I told him, “Do not throw my books at me. I repeated the same line pointing my finger at him. I had lost my cool, but sometimes you had to draw the line for your own sanity. He looked at me. I had crossed the line between remaining in my tier or transfer to a punishment unit. He finally dropped the package of books on the desk, but it slid too far and fell on the floor. He muttered that he didn’t mean to do that.

I replied, “I know.” He did not look me in the eye, when he muttered his muted apology. Apparently, there was now a grudging respect for me or even a little bit of shame on his part for his actions.

A few days later, I had a different situation with another CO. A water pipe broke in our housing unit and the sink and toilet were not working in our cell. My cellmate continuously pushed the hot water button until finally scalding steam poured from the spout. My cellmate stupidly pushed the button until it was finally stuck. Scalding steam filled the cell and burned our skin. We screamed for help. Another CO from a different tier ran to our cell. The steam was spreading in the hallway. The CO was sixty years old and hardly ever moved from his chair, but that night he moved like lightning. He removed the cover of the box that controlled the hot water. The box was located in the hallway outside our cell. The officer screamed at the other CO on duty to open up our cell door. My cellmate and I ran from the cell as burning hot drops of water struck us. I was only a little burned, but my cellmate complained about his arms.

The CO who helped us out quietly remarked; “Get a lawyer and sue. Do you know of a good one?”

He knew that I was a former attorney. We smiled at each other and I thanked him for his quick action, which made him a little uncomfortable. It was a brief moment of empathy and civility that you did not find often in our strange little world.

By Bradley Schwartz
Founder of