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Close call in mess hall leaves MCI inmate grateful

March 23, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

Thomas Matthews and Harry Edmonds knew each other casually before March 6, but on that day their lives became linked by a life-threatening event.

Matthews, an inmate at the Maryland Correctional Institution, was eating his lunch in the mess hall when he began to choke on a piece of chicken.

Edmonds, a correctional officer, saw Matthews fall to the floor and rushed to his aid.

"I had gotten up to get a drink of water from the fountain,'' Matthews recalled. "I remember saying hi to Edmonds - I knew him from before.''

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Then Matthews began choking on the piece of chicken.

"I started beating on my chest but one correctional officer didn't know what to do,'' Matthews said. So he approached Edmonds, who was already on his way.

One quick thrust to Matthews' abdomen and the food was dislodged, Edmonds said.

"I thank Edmonds for being there and knowing what to do,'' Matthews said.

A correctional officer for just six months, Edmonds said CPR is required training for all staff as is the abdominal thrust, also known as the Heimlich maneuver.

"We also learn how to deal with cuts and other first aid concerns,'' Edmonds said.

Correctional officers must also renew their training annually.

A 27-year-old Pennsylvania resident, Edmonds was a dry waller for 10 years. He said he's pleased with his jump to a new career last year.

While some might find guarding prisoners a depressing profession, Edmonds said that doesn't have to be the case.

"There is no job that is stressful or depressing unless you make it that way,'' he said.

Edmonds said he believes communication is the key to succeeding as a corrections officer. He also believes in avoiding a "them vs. us'' mentality that breeds discontent.

"I've found listening is a very important quality too,'' Edmonds said.

Matthews, a 22-year-old from the Eastern Shore, is serving a year and two months for distribution of crack cocaine.

"It's been all right here so far ... as long as I do the right thing.''

By the right thing, Matthews means that he is staying out of trouble, and attending church and addictions support group meetings.

"It's different from what I heard it was going to be like at MCI,'' Matthews said. "The problems start if you come in with an attitude from the street.''

Edmonds credits MCI Warden Lloyd "Pete'' Waters with keeping the peace at the medium-security prison housing about 1,812 inmates.

And part of that secret is keeping inmates busy, either with programs or jobs, or both, Edmonds said. "There's not a lot of free time around here.''

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