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Behind Bars With a Badge: A Night in the Life of a Correctional Sergeant
By Lance Scimeca, President, Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers’ Association
Published: 09/09/2013

Scccpoa A night in the life starts in the late afternoon:

4:15 p.m. I grab my work gear, uniform and a snack for tonight’s shift and hit the road for my 50-mile commute from San Benito County. Many of us live out in Stockton, Tracy and Modesto, so my trip is relatively easy compared with theirs. Like many public safety employees, I wish I could afford to live closer to my work.

4:30 p.m. As I drive in, I talk to my wife on the phone as she is getting off work. I do miss the days when I actually saw her every day.

5:30 p.m. I arrive in the jail parking lot. I take my Motrin for my damaged knee. I head to the locker room to change into my uniform. I check the day’s duty schedule, find my assignment and go relieve my day shift counterpart.

6:00 p.m. I conduct my first formal head count and welfare check of my unit. I go to every cell, make sure inmates are alive and be sure the correct inmate is in each cell, comparing faces to a small card with a black and white photo of the inmate assigned to the cell. Depending on the night’s assignment and housing unit, this could be anywhere between 50 and 120 cards and bunks to check.

Santa Clara County cut funding in the jail system. This reduced every correctional deputy’s schedule by five hours and 45 minutes every month. So, in one shift out of seven, we have to come in either four hours late or go home four hours early. There are no more 15-minute squad room meetings for training and the exchange of information.

My partner is on his late day, so he isn’t allowed to come to work until 10 p.m. That means I leave my unit to conduct the count and welfare check of his housing unit along with my own. 7 p.m. Inmates from both units are upset. They realize that since I am bouncing between the two housing locations, they are not going to have their normal time out of their cells to make telephone calls, socialize or even take a shower.

I have to go back and forth, make sure no one hurts himself and stand by for the jail nurse as she comes into each unit to give essential medications to various inmates. I conduct clothing exchange so that inmates can turn in soiled items for freshly laundered ones. I occasionally escort an inmate out for an interview with an attorney, mental health worker or other official visitor.

9:45 p.m. I respond to a radio call for help in an adjacent housing unit that was open for “out” time. Two AB-109 inmates who claim local gang affiliations attacked a third inmate because they believed he might be associated with a rival gang.

AB-109 inmates, named for the 2011 California bill, would have been transferred to state prison, but due to the overcrowding, they are now in county jails. They bring a concentration of criminal sophistication the county jail has not seen before. Some will do time with us for many years.

My eyes start watering and I cough from the OC pepper spray as I run into the unit to help the deputy break up the attack. The attacker strikes me as I try to pull him off the victim. Other deputies and I finally stop the fight and handcuff the attackers. We call for jail nurses to assess those inmates for injuries. As we wait for the nurses, we separate the attackers from the victim and use gallons of water on all three to decontaminate them from the pepper spray.

10:00 p.m. My partner, who was forced to come in late due to the budget cuts, is reassigned to take the inmate who was just attacked to Valley Medical Center, the county hospital. The deputy in charge of the open unit where the fight occurred takes statements from every inmate in the unit and writes the crime report. I still have to take care of two units and now write a supplemental crime report as to what I saw, who hit me and what my actions were.

2:30 a.m. In between writing, checking on welfare and needing my own 30-minute lunch break, which shrunk to 15 minutes because I had too much to do, I escort the diabetic inmates from the two units to the nursing station.

3:05 a.m. An emergency call light in cell 14 goes off. The inmate is upset and in tears. He starts to tell me how he hates being in jail and that he can’t take not being able to be with or talk to his family. I attempt to calm him down but quickly realize that he needs help. I take the inmate to an interview room and get in touch with mental health workers.

3:55 a.m. All reports from the fight earlier in the shift are finished by now. I start feeding breakfast this early to get both units done before shift change at 6 am. Breakfast has to be over then so inmates can be escorted to court after the day shift completes the first welfare check and inmate counts.

6:00 a.m. My day shift counterpart is back. I tell him of the night’s events, who did what, who went where and what is still pending. I go to the locker room and change.

6:45 a.m. It’s time for my long drive home, headed into the rising sun. I hope I can see my wife and daughters just before they leave to start their days.

7:45 a.m. I get home to an empty house. I missed seeing my family again.

Lance Scimeca started work in the county jails in 1995, and was promoted to sergeant a decade ago. He is physically imposing, but like many correctional officers, he has been banged up in altercations with inmates. He has a cadaver graft in his right knee, and his right shoulder has been rebuilt.

Other articles by Scimeca:



Comments:

  1. Writing Prof on 09/11/2013:

    Excellent! Thank you for taking the time and effort to share this with others. I am so sorry that the county has cut much-needed money for your jail. It's a sin. If only your daily report could hit the front page of your local newspaper--ever considered offering it to editors there? It is well written, not whining, first-hand reporting.


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