McPrison

How a private prison brought jobs-and violence, corruption and scandal-to Burlington.

The medical department was particularly devastated by the upheaval. The prison opened with seven registered nurses on staff. It now has two and relies heavily on part-time help. Recently, the administration announced that it would no longer have medical personnel on site available to tend to its 750 inmates in the wee hours of the morning; after-hour emergencies have been assigned to an "on-call" administrator with a pager.

"Our medical situation is kind of weak right now," Warden Waller acknowledges, "but we're working to resolve that."

Former staffers say that many of those who left were appalled by the brutal treatment of inmates. In addition, some guards were openly hostile to anyone who treated the inmates with consideration, such as the nurses.

Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers  --  with no prior corrections experience.
Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers -- with no prior corrections experience.
Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers  --  with no prior corrections experience.
Brett Amole
Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers -- with no prior corrections experience.

"They've had other staff leaving by the droves, too," says a nurse who quit a few weeks ago. "I think it's the lack of training and the demands of working relatively short all the time."

"They hired a bunch of people who had no idea what they're doing," says Jack Carr, a KCCC inmate serving fourteen years for attempted murder. "They were told that they were getting the worst of the worst of the scum of the earth and that they had to treat us thataway. That's why they had so many problems when they first opened. You treat us like animals and we're going to treat you like an animal."

Carr was among the second group of medium-security inmates transferred to Kit Carson when it opened last December. Coming from the relatively friendly confines of CCA's Appleton operation, they were hustled into a prison that wasn't quite finished, with bare concrete floors and no shelves in the cells to store belongings. Even more disconcerting was the confrontational mentality of the security staff, several of whom had shaved their heads in a show of solidarity. In the first month, Carr says, there were a couple of "wild fights" between inmates and staff.

"The main problem was, you had a captain who was sticking his fingers in somebody's chest," Carr says. "Somebody who's done ten or twelve years. You don't do that. You don't want to be touching an inmate, especially when you got thirty of them in a dead-end corridor. He got what he asked for. He Maced a few guys, but he got the shit kicked out of him."

Even worse, Carr says, was the way some CCA supervisors treated their own green corrections officers. "They treated the COs like garbage," he says. "You can't browbeat your own employees in front of inmates and expect them to have any respect."

Ron Alford, the former warden, couldn't be reached for comment about his management of the prison. But a former employee who answered the phone at Alford's home defended the corrections veteran as "a man of honor and integrity" who's been scapegoated by the DOC.

Some former staffers describe Alford as a "puffed-up Texan" who helped promote a "John Wayne attitude" toward inmates. Once the floors were finished, a double yellow line was painted down each corridor. Inmates were supposed to walk on the outside of the line, staff on the inside. Any breach of the so-called Texas line could result in sending an entire squad of inmates back to their pod rather than allowing them to proceed to supper.

"Warden Alford kept telling us they were going to correct things, and they never did," says Judy Mitchek, a former director of the nursing staff who resigned last spring. "One day he said to me, 'In this facility, I am God.' That didn't sit with me real good."

Warden Waller says the line is no longer strictly enforced. "I've never heard anyone say they were going to write a disciplinary report on someone who stepped over it," he says. "I didn't come in to talk about the yellow line or the yellow brick road or anything like that."

Waller says he's "not been made aware of any excessive force used by staff" since he arrived at Kit Carson, but inmates say examples of such force during the Alford regime are plentiful. One would-be escapee who crashed through a ceiling was allegedly beaten by staff for his trouble. Another prisoner suffered a black eye and several other injuries while being "extracted" from his isolation cell by a heavily equipped Special Operations Response Team. The cell extraction was supposedly necessary because the inmate had refused to submit to a blood test after throwing urine on a guard, but one source familiar with the event insists that the SORT team had prepared to storm the cell well before the inmate's refusal. And then there was the public thrashing of Lewis Simpson, plus several other alleged assaults triggered by far less serious infractions, during the lockdown.

"These people harass and intimidate you," says Anthony Orduno, who's serving a ten-year sentence for vehicular assault. "They think that's the only way you can control a facility like this. I would pay these guys rent to get me out of here. It's been an absolute nightmare."

Orduno arrived at KCCC with a fractured left eye socket, the result of an attack by another inmate in Minnesota. When he demanded medical attention and threatened to call his lawyers, he says, he was assaulted and harassed. "They'll come in and shake my house, mash my face in the wall while patting me down," he says.

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