A tragedy in Indiana: the reality of thug life behind bars


One prison guard is dead and another seriously injured after an assault in an Indiana correctional facility.

The attack occurred at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City around 2:40 p.m., the agency said in a news release.

Tymetri Campbell, 38, faces several preliminary charges including murder, the state police said.

Officials said the officers were attacked in a common area.

The officers were transported to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Michigan City, where one was pronounced dead and the second was listed in serious condition. They were not immediately identified.

There’s more at the link.

Such an incident should lead to a re-evaluation of sentencing criteria and “warehousing” prisoners for life-long terms in conditions that offer no hope of improvement . . . but it probably won’t.  Too many Americans prefer the “out of sight, out of mind” approach to convicted criminals;  lock them up and throw away the key, and don’t remind us of them ever again.  We don’t want to know.

Unfortunately, that means those who must keep them behind bars, and attempt to provide at least a modicum of humanity towards them, are at risk when their violent tendencies break out, and they snap and lose control.  I’ve seen that at first hand myself on too many occasions during my service as a prison chaplain.  Some people are extraordinarily dangerous to be around, and there’s no predicting or controlling what they might do when triggered.

Here are a few excerpts from my book about prison chaplaincy, to illustrate some facets of the problem.

Pancho’s another real headache. He’s an older man who, in his youth, was among the founders of one of the most vicious of the criminal Hispanic gangs. It’s spread across many States, and is a major problem to law enforcement. He and some of his sons are doing hard time, and his grandchildren look set to follow in their footsteps. Not long ago one of his relatives was murdered by a rival gang. It’s alleged he put out a contract on the lives of the (unidentified) killers. Authorities suspect he used coded communications in letters and phone calls to do it, but to convict him of that means it has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s very difficult to find people willing to testify against him, because many of those who’ve done so in the past (and/or their families) have later been murdered, very slowly, painfully and messily. The prison authorities passed a warning to law enforcement agencies in the area concerned, and for several weeks they were on high alert. We heard rumors that the murderers had been traced to a hiding-place in Mexico and ‘dealt with’ there by Pancho’s gang, but we’ll probably never learn the full truth.

Pancho’s gang members (there are a couple of dozen behind bars with him) are cocky, pushy and on a hair-trigger for any perceived insult or disrespect. They’ve caused more than one riot in the prison system, and they’re not afraid to instigate bad trouble at any moment. We watch them very carefully. They’ve tried to use the Chapel as a cover for illegal activities in the past. Some of them joined a small ‘fringe’ religious group and started to attend their weekly ceremonies. Discreet inquiries revealed that they were sitting at the rear of the chapel during the services, not paying any attention or participating, but instead conversing in low tones. Clearly they were using the religious service to organize their criminal activities in the prison. This was duly brought to the attention of those who could do something about it.

Finally, let’s take Howard. He got drunk one night and began to smash the furniture and fittings in his uncle’s home. His uncle tried to stop him… a fatal mistake. Howard beat him until he collapsed, then for two days and nights drank himself into a stupor, periodically getting up to kick and stomp his uncle as he lay moaning on the floor. Howard eventually passed out. He was found next morning, unconscious at the table, with his uncle dead on the floor beside him. He’d been in enough trouble with the law on previous occasions that this crime earned him a life sentence without parole. He’s still a relatively young man, and still just as violent. He’s been known to get bombed out of his skull on prison hooch (of which more later). When he gets that way, everyone steers clear of him, even the prison ‘hard men’ — all except the reaction squad, who have to subdue him and put him in the Hole to sober up. He’s quite capable of killing anyone who crosses him.

Howard’s eyes scare me. They’re pitch-black and utterly lifeless. When one looks into them, one strives to detect a spark of life, of humanity, of the person inside the body… but it’s not there. I’ve never looked into the bottomless pits of Hell, but I’ve got a good idea what they must be like after working with Howard. He’s one of the few convicts who genuinely frightens me. I take care not to show it, but I also try to have support available if I’ve got to see him about something. He could snap at any moment (and has in the past). I want to make sure that if he does so while I’m around, I have the best possible chance of coming out of it relatively unscathed.

. . .

(A conversation with an inmate.)

Yeah, you ain’t seen me before ’cause I just got transferred here, Chaplain. Why am I inside? I killed two old ****s. Didn’t mean to, though. It was their own stupid ****ing fault. Should never have happened.

**** it, man, I needed a car to go see my woman, and they had one. I jumped ’em as they stopped at the corner. Hadn’t even locked their doors, the dumb ****s! If they’d only listened and showed sense they’d have been all right, but that old **** started acting up when I hauled his woman out in a hurry. ****, he musta bin eighty years old, a real feeble old ****er. I punched him. That’s all — I just hit him. He fell down and hit his head on the curb and went real quiet. Out like a light. Then his damn fool bitch started screamin’ and hollerin’ that I’d killed him. I had to shut her up — people were startin’ to look outta their windows. I tried to put my hand over her mouth, but I musta twisted her neck somehow. There was this funny crackin’ noise, and she went limp. I didn’t stop to check, man — I dropped her and jumped into that old car and burned rubber outta there. Damn thing even smelt like old ****s inside.

The cops stopped me before I got halfway to my woman’s place. Those ****ers were mean, man! They ****ed me up real good. Rights? What rights? If the cops want you, they park their cruisers so those dash cameras don’t see ****, and they walk you down the road a bit so the mikes won’t hear the noise, and they go ape**** on your ***, man. They took me back to town and threw my *** in a cell, still bleeding and hurting bad, and those ******s wouldn’t even get me to a doctor for almost a whole day. Mother******s!

****in’ DA charged me with murder and I drew life twice. Murder? **** no! I didn’t mean to kill either of ’em. Those two old ****s were on their last legs anyway. I only did what they made me do with their damnfool hollerin’. Hell, I probably did ’em a favor! No pain, no waiting to die while their minds went crazy — just a quick, easy out, both together, no mess, no fuss. At worst I shoulda got five years for each of ’em. It’s all they had left! ****in’ judge an’ jury didn’t see it that way, of course.

I’m twenty-five years old, and they tell me I’ll live another fifty years or more in here. No way, man. I’m not taking this **** for the rest of my life. I’ll be outta here one way or another. Either I’ll escape, or they’ll kill me when I try. They’ll have to, ’cause I’ll sure as hell kill them if they try to stop me or bring me back here. No other way, man. You watch. You’ll see my name on the news one night. I’ll be dead, or I’ll be out — and either way I’ll be ****in’ free.

Now, what about that phone call, Chaplain? I gotta talk to my woman. Word is she’s goin’ with some other ****. Can’t have that, man, her dis-ree-spectin’ me like that. If she don’t listen to me, I’ll have to get my homeys to take care of the bitch — and her new guy. I mean, you unnerstan’, right? A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Right, Chaplain?

. . .

Violence is a constant undercurrent to life in a high-security institution. Most of the inmates are predators, after all, and our rules and regulations can’t change that deep-rooted reality. They’re going to go on looking for prey — and in the absence of innocent victims, they’ll prey on each other. Many of them are members of various gangs (of which more later), or join gangs once they’re incarcerated. The gangs act like packs of predators, preying on individuals, other gangs and anyone else available.

There are also particularly dangerous individuals who hold themselves aloof from gangs. We shipped one off to Supermax after holding him in isolation in SHU for a long time. He’d murdered his cellmate, and used to boast that he was going to kill one of the staff before he left. He had nothing to lose, after all. He’s going to be in prison until he dies. If he succeeded in killing a staff member, how could we punish him? Another life sentence wouldn’t make any difference, and the death penalty would actually be merciful compared to the many decades he faces behind bars. You may be sure that we were very careful in how we handled him. He never left his cell without being shackled hand and foot, and guarded by a three-person escort under the command of a Lieutenant. We all breathed a sigh of relief when he left us — all except the crew assigned to escort him to Supermax. Their language reportedly scorched paint from the nearest wall when they were informed of their selection! (I’m pleased to report that they made it back safely.)

In every Federal penitentiary there’s what’s known as the ‘Posted Picture File’ or PPF. It used to be on paper in multiple files, kept in the Lieutenant’s Office and updated frequently, but is now online. Every member of staff is required to read it on a regular basis, and certify that they’ve done so. It contains a page for every inmate regarded as dangerous, with his photograph, a description of the crime(s) for which he’s been incarcerated, and the reason(s) he’s considered a threat. Prior to its automation, our institution’s paper PPF filled two thick binders to capacity. They contained records for a very significant proportion of our inmate population. Their history of attempts (many of them successful) to suborn or seduce or assault or murder prison staff and inmates, their vicious attacks on fellow convicts, and their conspiracies with those outside prison to target others (including the families of other inmates and prison staff), made for very chilling reading indeed. We don’t get complacent inside the walls, believe me.

That’s the reality in many US correctional facilities today.  Despite the authorities’ best efforts, sometimes an inmate will explode under the pressures of confinement and his own criminal instincts . . . and those trying to keep him under control are all too often the ones who suffer as a result.

May the deceased officer’s family and loved ones receive what comfort they may;  and may the authorities at that prison learn from his death, and do what they can to prevent similar tragedies in future.



  1. This is what comes of not hanging the violent criminals when we had the chance, and not instituting Chateau D'If-like conditions for the violent ones not executed:

    Ten year sentence?
    Get put in a cell.
    Twice a day, morning and night, they slide a food plate in through a slot, and retrieve the last meal's empty plate.

    If, one day, the food remains untouched, they shroud you and bury you.

    Otherwise, in 3652 more days, they open the cell door, and you can now leave.
    Knowing the second visit will be twice as long.

    Violent inmate problem?
    Solved: QED.

  2. Yeah, I've watched some of these prison documentaries and for the really sub-human ones as described, why can't we just bury them alive in a trench somewhere? I'd hate to be a corrections officer in any of these facilities and while probably not requiring to be a rocket scientist, they are probably not paid enough for the havoc caused in their lives to this job.

  3. Aesop's on the right track. Too many life sentences and not enough executions. And the executions should not be drawn out with long incarcerations on death row dragged out by endless appeals. It should happen within a year.

    Your book excerpt says it all. People like that have no redeeming value, and are unlikely to develop any. Better they be excised from society, like a cancer.

  4. I worked as a corrections officer for 28 years in minimum to maximum security levels. In my opinion there is no such thing as a non-dangerous prisoner if you're between him and something he wants bad enough.

  5. Kind of what Aesop said. The Quaker reforms (yes, the Quakers) that took place, going from corporal and capital punishment to long prison 'reform' terms, has been going on for 200 years no. And the experiment hasn't worked.

    Offenders keep reoffending, often with gusto, and see their time in prison as a chance to rest and recuperate before they hit the streets.

    Sexual assaulters can't be cured.

    Neither can many drug dealers or other serial criminals.

    Now, I'm not saying just throw everyone away. Give the lesser criminals a chance to reform. That is, A CHANCE. Not 50, 60, 100 chances.

    Reform the probation and parole system. Violate probation/parole and you go back in for double the remaining time. Violate again and it's life with. Violate again, you prove to be unworthy and it's time to end your life.

    Now, also reform the probation/parole system to where you can actually not get violated within 20 minutes of entering it. Make realistic goals. Violate some parameters, go and finish your sentence. Violate other parameters and double down on time to finish your sentence.

    Common sense. It should be used.

    And the threat of death or hard labor are things that actually get through to all but the most criminally insane. It's not torture to execute a career criminal, it's actually mercy. Torturing is making someone live a life behind bars permanently.

    Stupid Quakers…

  6. This does percolate through the entire jail system, not just the prisons… Violence is an everyday threat. The problem (IMHO) is that officers become inured to the implicit violence they face every day and get complacent.

  7. Prison administrations must be corrupt if prisoners get drugs and contraband through. Is this a widespread problem in your opinion? Do guards and wardens look the other way or are they paid to do so? Or does it make their life easier so they let it happen? I am puzzled as to how this happens.

  8. Anything can be gotten anywhere in any prison, period.

    And it's always crooked jailers (guards, staff, etc.), because anyone can be had, for the right price, and they are, since ever.

    I repeat: Chateau D'If Prison Reform.
    Solver of a host of problems.

    And if deemed necessary, add the Escape From New York modification:
    Offer anyone looking at a prison term the option of voluntary euthanasia prior to and in lieu of incarceration.

  9. I cannot disagree with Aesop.

    A point to consider: We euthanize dangerous dogs, for a reason. WHy should we treat dangerous and incorrigible criminals any differently? Both are a danger to our citizenry. At some point it is both the cheapest and most humane thing to do for the safety of society.

  10. Having spent time in the work, never could understand why people spent time in prison for property crimes. Fine them and make them work it off on a road crew.

    Crimes against persons? Whole 'nother game. ANYTHING resulting in the death of the victim, results in death of the criminal, period. Has nothing to do with intent. Wanna drink and drive? go for it. Kill someone as a result, automatic death penalty, carried out in 30 days. Rape of a child?? Automatic death penalty, carried out in 30 days (the innocent child was killed, what's left is no longer innocent).

    Change the focus – why do we call it "criminal justice"?? I don't want "justice" for the criminal but rather for the victim. Put the emphasis on the victim. By the way, ANY malfeasance on the lawyers parts )on either side) results in shared punishment.

  11. wtcreux, road and work crews have, in many places, been ruled as cruel and unusual punishment.

    Cruel and unusual for whom?

    As to property crimes not being valid for a prison sentence, well.

    Just look at one of the most popular property crimes out there. Auto theft. Followed by auto burglary. Back in the Day, horse thieves (and those who purposely damaged other people's livestock, like… horses) were hung. If'n you do it once, that's a very detrimental hit to the victim, so Death comes for you.

    What is more fair? Prison sentence for some graspy thug or someone losing their one connection to transport or a portion of their livelihood because some graspy thug took it?

    What would be better, really, would be to whack a hand off, like the culturally undeveloped, even in Europe, used to do until very recently.

    And it has been proven that crimes committted, for the most part, escalate during a criminal's 'career.'

    'Property crimes' also include the wide field of 'upper-office collar crimes.' Now that's a whole kettle of fish that need to be hammered hard and continuously and we need to stop treating white-collar criminals so easily.

  12. Prison is big business.

    As to the execution of a murderer, rapist or kidnapper…..stoning. That way the punishment is public and shocking, and truly by the community, not a professional executioner. Also, proven false accusation reaps the sentence that was attempted on the innocent party. All Biblical.

  13. Good grief.

    We have almost 8 billion people alive today on this planet. EIGHT billion.
    And there are millions of law breakers incarcerated around the world costing untold billions in upkeep and using up massive quantities of resources that could be used elsewhere.

    If they all vanished overnight, would we miss what they may have possibly offered to society? LOL, get serious.

    If someone refuses to obey the law and live amongst us as a fellow lawful citizens, WHY THE HELL should we provide for them for their entire lives?

    A life sentence is in reality a death sentence, it just takes longer. Reduce the time it takes to zero.

    There was a time when a thief had his hand chopped off. Many people thought that inhumane, so they stopped the practice, as a result: More thieves. Being humane only increased the problem. But do-gooders gotta go do good, regardless of the cost to society.

    Just look what has happened in our governmental and financial worlds. Thieves of all manner and levels getting exposed but never punished.

    Time we got really REALLY serious about getting rid of all our criminals. To hell with paying their room and board for the rest of their lives.

    They can't obey the law? Get rid of them.

  14. "Death penalty for everything" is recockulous.
    But perhaps you would explain to the class why it should be different for your last parking ticket.

    But for some violent crimes, capital punishment is not only excellent, it ought to be both compulsory and swift.
    As a bonus, recidivism drops to 0%, overnight.

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