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'He'll be back here in a week'

August 05, 2007|By KAREN HANNA

A Maryland Correctional Training Center officer who recently returned from a military call-up to Guatanamo Bay said he's fascinated by the outlooks of the inmates he oversees.

Sgt. John Whiteman recalled one inmate who insisted he had done nothing wrong because his culture condoned the crime that put him away.

"That guy might leave here tomorrow, but as long as he has that same opinion, he'll be back here in a week," Whiteman said.

Whiteman is the head of a unit that provides relief for officers who are away from their posts temporarily. Because he rotates through all of the prison's posts, filling in for officers who are on break, at lunch or on leave, Whiteman said he sees almost every inmate every day.

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In approximately seven years working in the prison system, Whiteman, 44, of Cumberland, Md., said he believes he has never seen tensions at a higher point.

"I've seen some pretty good stabbings here," said Whiteman, who blamed a high-risk, high-profit economy of contraband, including drugs, for some of the violence inside the prisons.

Whiteman acknowledged that some officers provoke inmates, but said he tries to treat inmates and his officers with respect.He said he thinks that's why he's entrusted with keeping watch in volatile environments, such as the cafeteria, where fights can escalate quickly into brawls."The administration likes to put people in those positions (where) they know that I'm not going to jump down somebody's throat - not in front of 300 of his buddies," Whiteman said.

Inmates mean business when they fight since they have every reason to believe they'll be caught and punished, Whiteman said.

"They're not stabbing them to scare them, they're stabbing them to do them in," he said.

Whiteman said he admires inmates' ingenuity at organizing, despite the restraints of prison. Correctional officers are vigilant, but gang members always find a way to send messages to each other, he said.

"If the Army could get the communication system that these inmates have, we'd rule the world," Whiteman said.

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