“My husband’s three years in the state penitentiary changed him. I suppose every job changes us in one way or another, but of all the careers he’s pursued, ‘correctional officer’ left the biggest mark. After graduating from the academy, he was pumped!
Casey has the most grace-filled spirit and the ability to treat everyone the same, regardless of circumstance. He was able to walk beyond the barbed wire fence and treat those behind it with the same dignity he would have if he met them at a summer BBQ.
I have always loved this about him, his capacity to show love and mercy, but this job…it changed him. He was directly pepper sprayed and tasered during training. A ‘Z’ across his eyes, diagonally across his nose, and then back over his lips, and then he had to complete an obstacle course, answer questions correctly, and breathe.
Why? Because if an inmate takes their mace and uses it against them, they need to be in control of the situation despite the pain. He became acutely alert and cautious.
One of his classes was learning to ‘read’ tattoos because his safety depended on it. His life depended on identifying gang members by the markings on their skin, to know if the cluster of men in the yard was an innocent gathering or a family meeting, plotting, or planning.
He became suspicious of everyone, because the same inmates who would smile and chat with the staff might also be found with a hand-carved shank under their mattress during a random cell check.
The inmates who had never had one bad mark against them are the same ones capable of dragging an officer into their cell right before it closes and beating them to near death.
He watched inmates throw feces and urine at other COs, he caught the back spray from another officer as they worked together to break up a fight. I think he took a few hits that night, too.
He came home with love letters every night that he had to patrol the women’s building. He worked multiple posts in an understaffed institution that appraised his size and felt comfortable putting him with the max security inmates without backup…because they were understaffed.
His excitement for a new career was replaced by anxiety. Vomiting before every shift became the norm. When we went out to eat, he would ask me to move if I took the seat facing the door; he needed to keep watch.
He became obsessed with locking the doors and closing the curtains. His Glock stayed by his pillow. His easy going and carefree personality was gone, replaced with awareness for all that can go wrong in the world.
He left the penitentiary, but it didn’t leave him. In the years since, he has struggled through anxiety, depression, and PTSD. It changed him.”
Read more from Raquel here:
‘All I could muster at the party was, ‘Are you serious?’ over and over, as if my husband would use such heavy words to joke. ‘Yes, they found him in his room.’: Woman recalls complicated relationship with incarcerated father
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