With that said it’s important to remember this blog and any page containing my writing walks a careful line between facts as they occur in Central Prison and my opinion. I generally lean toward fact and logic in my writing to minimize any problems with “the man”. Unfortunately, anything I say can be used against me. It makes editorializing tricky, but not impossible. That is the writer’s challenge after all – persuading the largest audience and rebutting the opposition. Effective communication from a prison cell isn’t supposed to be easy.
I was on the phone with Fr. Jude (a priest and friend who has visited me since Mule’s execution in ’05) when it happened.
“LOCKDOWN! LOCKDOWN! EVERYBODY LOCKDOWN NOW!” The voice screamed over the intercom, anxious and panicky, but authoritative all the same. I hung up the phone after telling Jude I’d call him another time and went to my cell.
Locking in our cells on death row usually happens at certain times of the day for “count” (when staff count everyone in the prison), tornado and fire drills, and whenever maintenance comes on the block to fix something. Sometimes an incident will occur that requires everyone on a particular block to lock down, such as the rare fight or once when E. Boogie hanged himself. If the entire unit was ordered to lockdown something serious happened.
We could see it on the faces of staff who came through the block hours later, that look that says “oh crap”. One of them finally let slip there had been a stabbing. We ended up with more information from the local news. Lt. Brent Soucier, CP hospital unit manager, feared and loathed former head of Internal Affairs, was stabbed and beaten by two general population prisoners. The attack sent shock waves through CP, which had not experienced a serious violent incident involving prison brass in my two decades on death row.
In the days following the attack rumors about Soucier’s condition changed with each person. He lost an eye. He was stabbed in the throat. Several bones in his face were shattered. All the media reported was that Soucier remained hospitalized in serious but stable condition.
The two prisoners who attacked Soucier were also “briefly hospitalized”. One was immediately transferred to a prison in Western North Carolina, whereas the younger of the two went to CP’s hospital. Rumors drifted back to Unit 3 (death row is a building isolated from the rest of the prison, but we get prison news from guys in the chow hall, in passing through the tunnel, in the hole and on the mental health unit) that the younger attacker was so severely beaten by Soucier’s cronies he suffered brain damage. They beat him with batons for nearly five minutes before other guards arrived and stopped it. Of course no newspaper will report the reciprocal attack unless the prisoner dies.
In the weeks after the attack on Soucier, the tension between staff and the inmate population reached a point similar to executions. Fresh in everyone’s mind were the guards killed at Bertie and Pasquotank Correctional Institutions in 2017. Though Soucier would recover it was lost on no one he was prison brass and an attack on the administration signaled a dangerous turn in the NC penal system. The looks of animosity guards now level at prisoners moving through the tunnel to and from the chow hall or hospital say it all.
I can’t help but wonder if security conscious prison officials will bother to look beyond the immediate causes of the attack. The violence in NC prisons is a direct result of a fundamentally flawed system of “corrections”, a term that is itself a misnomer. No effort is made to positively impact behavior of prisoners. No psychotherapeutic programs exist to curtail conflict or otherwise inform those who engage in violent acts that it hurts the entire community. Solutions exist, but prison officials, legislators and the law enforcement organizations that blindly call for greater punishments refuse to see them. The penal system isn’t merely broken, it is backward; and coercion of the inmate population has left a body of evidence impossible to ignore.