Usually, the prison information in the media highlights positive programs for inmates and their families; inmate homicides or suicides; or inmates and attorneys suing for their perception of constitutional rights violations.
But, let’s take time to show support for the brave men and women working in Scioto County who walk the two-sided road at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. Jobs are scare in southern Appalachia, but the distress and emotional trauma from months and years at a maximum security prison takes a toll on mental health.
“Corrections officers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder at more than double the rate of military veterans in the U.S., according to Caterina Spinaris, the leading professional in corrections-specific clinical research and founder of Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, a nonprofit based in Colorado,” asserted a 2015 article in the Guardian newspaper.
The article further stated, “The suicide rate among corrections officers is twice as high as that of both police officers and the general public, according to a New Jersey police task force. An earlier national study found that corrections officers’ suicide risk was 39% higher than all other professions combined.”
How do workers behind the wall cope with the daily stress of potential violence, infectious diseases from contact with body fluids thrown by inmates, and worry over the safety of coworkers?
Working inside a correctional facility is a surreal experience. Many years ago, I briefly taught college courses at both prisons in Ross County. And the prison orientation instructor told female teachers to cover cleavage by dressing appropriately, zip lips about any personal information and keep safety in the forefront at all times. I won’t repeat the shocking stories he revealed. At one prison, I wore a Man Down alarm, and at the other, I was accompanied by a correctional officer to and from the classroom. I can still remember the clank-clink-clack sounds as the multiple metal gates closed behind me.
And I also did some volunteer work at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. Listening to stories by prison employees opened my eyes to the hazards of their jobs. Inside the prison fences is another world, unimaginable for the public to comprehend.
Remembering the employees in the prison riot
The prison in Lucasville was built in 1972. Being about 13 years old at the time, I recollect the debates against a supermax prison prior to construction, and the buzz of anticipation about bringing jobs to southern Ohio. In the distant past, local residents referred to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility as the Lucasville prison or the “pen” — short for penitentiary.
Fast-forward to 1993. On April 11, approximately 450 prisoners rioted for 10 days. Eight correctional officers were taken hostage. On April 15, the inmates killed correctional officer Robert Vallandingham. www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Lucasville_Prison_Riot.
In my mind’s memory is the television coverage of family, friends and residents camped outside the walls along with law enforcement and reporters. And the shock, rage and sadness that erupted when Vallandingham was killed. We grieved for his family members.
And even years later, I provided counseling services to individuals still impacted by the riot. Traumatic experiences, whether primary or secondary, become embedded in the memory cells and the emotional center of the human brain. Therapy can aid the healing process, but the heart never forgets.
The purpose of this article is not political or argumentative. The intention is to show appreciation to the past and present employees at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. Thank you for your service.
Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.