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MCI a much changed place

January 18, 1998

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

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MCI a much changed place

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

Seven years after a massive riot that caused more than $1 million damage and injured 58 prisoners and correctional officers, the Maryland Correctional Institution is a different prison.

"It's quiet here now," said Warden Lloyd "Pete" Waters, who came to MCI in the wake of that May 25, 1991 uprising and another just a year earlier.

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It was tough going for a while, he said. But the 28-year corrections veteran said he is proud of what has grown from the ashes at MCI.

Waters hastens to add that the quiet isn't artificial - it's because of hard work and a lot of effort by a lot of people.

"It's quiet because of good supervision and a good staff," Waters said.

Richard A. Lanham, Maryland commissioner of correction, said he credits Waters with "an outstanding job since assuming command of MCI in 1991 following the major disturbance there."

Lanham went on to say that bringing an institution the size of MCI back "to a safe and normal operation is a very difficult task."

"Warden Waters is every bit a corrections professional with years of experience, knowledge and dedication" to a profession of which the community often has limited knowledge, Lanham said.

Union representatives say they haven't gotten a lot of complaints from members who work at MCI, at least not since the initial growing pains associated with the staff transition in 1991.

"There were some problems, changes when that happened but it seems to have washed aside now," said Mike Keefer, of Chapter 10, Maryland Correctional Employees Association, that represents some correctional officers at MCI.

Ray Lushbaugh, chief steward of Teamsters 103, said he also agrees with Waters' assessment that MCI is running pretty smoothly.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say it's an 8,'' Lushbaugh said. And he said that is directly linked to the programs that keep inmates busy.

A correctional officer since 1983, Lushbaugh said there is some discontent among the newer officers when they realize that keeping inmates busy means the staff will be busy, too, and that leads to staff turnover.

"It's not just sitting around drinking coffee," Lushbaugh said.

The top MCI staff includes Waters and his leadership team - Gary Gorman as head of security and Princeton Young, who became the new assistant warden in early December.

A veteran of 11 years as a psychologist at MCI, Young sees his new role as a new challenge.

"It's my job to assist other departments, help department heads and deal with the financial aspects of the prison," Young said.

Since the 1991 riot in which 14 officers and 44 inmates were injured, Young said both the staff and inmate population feel more secure and comfortable at MCI. And he credits Waters with that transformation.

"I've known Pete a long time and I respect him," Young said.

Gorman spends his days making sure all the buildings that make up MCI and house the medium-security institution's 1,889 inmates are secure.

In the main building, there are three tiers where most inmates are two to a cell.

There are also eight annexes in the basement, each housing 24 inmates in a large room.

The north dorm has 128 inmates housed in four wings. Another 380 prisoners live in the Western Program Development Center.

"The new Antietam Housing Unit has space for 384 inmates in 192 cells," Waters said. "We currently use that for orientation, housing new incoming prisoners until we decide where in the institution they will go."

Inmates are housed according to their work assignments, age, type of crime and other criteria.

"The more inmates there are, the more it takes to keep the peace," Gorman said. "Activity is the key."

Waters echoed that philosophy, noting that prisoners have a variety of work and educational opportunities.

"We keep inmates busy," Waters said.

There is food service, sanitation and the shop, activities such as Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, CAP Jaycees, several self-help groups and a host of community-prison interaction programs.

"We have health fairs and walkathons and all kinds of other programs here," Waters said. "I think we have the best institution in Maryland in that respect."

Complaints are low at MCI and those that are expressed are addressed, Waters said.

In addition to overcrowding, Waters and his staff have to contend with a prison population that is getting both younger and older.

"The younger inmates need shepherding," Young said. "I deal with teenage boys who don't know the difference between sex and love, who've never been to church or danced with a girl."

And some of those young inmates are serving huge sentences that will keep them behind bars most of their lives, Young said.

"With kids that have had no upbringing, it's really tough because you have to start from the ground level," Young said. "It's like parenting."

Young said his experience as a prison psychologist tells him that the best approach is to take care of little problems before they become big problems.

"The biggest common denominator is drugs," Waters said, referring to crimes that get people incarcerated.

And once prisoners get to prison, it's a constant struggle dealing with factions, or gangs, which continue to operate.

"We have lots of New York and Florida, Baltimore and Washington groups," Waters said.

He refers to them as the "10 percenters," or the ones who cause the most problems.

"The rest, the 90 percent, are here doing their time and working to get out," Waters said.

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