Mass. Department Of Correction Pt II

SEPTEMBER 2005
- "The Summer of '55" - Fifty years ago this summer, Department of Correction (DOC) officials
decided that correction officers at the 150-year-old Charlestown State
Prison needed "extra training" before the new "escape proof" Walpole
State Prison could open.

Inmates
were to be transferred from Charlestown to Walpole over a six-month
period, and medieval-style Charlestown closed and was later razed.

The
DOC wanted Walpole to be a model institution where inmates would be
under maximum security, while at the same time offering programs that
would better prepare them for life after their return to society.

The
first step was sending Charles-town's correction officers (COs) in
classes of about 27 each for two weeks of intensive training at the
State Police Academy in Framingham. The training included a heavy dose
of physical regimen under the supervision of State Police drill
instructors, coupled with classroom instruction by so-called penal
experts. A typical day ran from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM.

"I
actually enjoyed the physical part," said Joe Rull, an ex-marine from
South Boston. The instructors were something like the DIs at Parris
Island. They didn't send the old-timers to the Academy... Most of them
retired about that time or were not required to go to the Academy. We
were all World War II or Korean vets, mostly in our 20s or 30s."

In
looking back, Rull feels that the classroom instruction as mostly a
waste. "Some of the discussion on criminology was OK, but the penal
experts talked in conceptual terms... stuff from books. It was like we
had never handled inmates.

"It was
mostly a waste, but we had a good laugh back in the barracks," he said.
"We did well at the firing range. Most of us had plenty of previous
experience."

"We didn't know what
to expect when we arrived at Framingham, and there was some uncertainty
on both sides whether or not the drill instructors were supposed to
treat us like State Police recruits," said Paul Sullivan of Chelmsford.
"It wasn't like they could flunk anyone who couldn't run two miles or
do 50 pushups. There was a compromise, and everyone made the best of
getting through the two weeks. The State Police DIs were great guys -
very cooperative.

"There was a
graduation ceremony, and we had to get 'appropriate' haircuts. The DOC
wanted us to invite our wives and families like it was the real deal.
Most of us didn't... It was very hot and we just wanted to get out of
there."

Sullivan felt that the "new
penology" didn't work. "When we left the academy and opened Walpole, we
soon found that the new penology was a disaster," he said. "The
convicts were the same people we knew from Charlestown. They took full
advantage of the freedom allowed with the walls of Walpole."

Korean
War veteran Ralph White of Walpole, a young CO, was a union official at
Walpole. He pointed out how bad things were at the new institution.

"For
example," he said "there was a theatre-style auditorium where inmates
were allowed to both produce and act in their own plays. They received
advice and assistance from volunteers who would come into the prison.
On show nights, the relatives and friends of inmates were invited to
come and view the production like it was a high school event... Inmates
were the ushers. It became an open pipeline for drugs and other
contraband which in turn led to violence.

"We
convinced the Legislature that the new style of running a prison at
Walpole wasn't working. Senator McCann and others intervened on our
behalf. It took us a couple of years to establish maximum security
within the walls as well as on the walls at Walpole."

Editor's Note: While
most correction officers viewed the State Police Academy as an
interesting and memorable experience, they saw little connection
between the new penal concept introduced by "experts" and the reality
of running a prison.

The early
years at Walpole with its myriad inmate privileges, lacked the strict
controls necessary for the protection of the correction officers and
the inmates themselves. While numerous officers were assaulted, many
inmates, who just wanted to do their time, fared even worse. Without
proper protection, they were victimized by the hard-core convicts on a
daily basis. Murder and mayhem abounded.

It
was only through the intervention of the Correction Officers Union and
the State Legislature that COs gained control of the prison. Senator
Frank McCann (D-Cambridge) led a House-Senate panel, which introduced
sweeping changes at Walpole. The Walpole Superintendent and the
Commissioner of Correction, both from out-of-state, were dismissed.
John Gavin, of Belmont, a career Massachusetts CO, was put in charge of
Walpole. Working with the union and supported by the Legislature, Gavin
was able to turn things around within the walls of Walpole.

Today,
the Correction Officers Union, under the leadership of President Steve
Kenneway, a decorated Desert Storm and Iraq veteran, continues to be
the voice of what the public expects our state's correction
institutions to be - secure facilities, where inmates are treated in a
humane manor, controlled by well-trained correction officers.

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