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Shit in a Sack

?Cell House Three with 'Dog Cages' on the second floor, left.
From the front page of the Pueblo Star-Journal and Sunday Chieftain?, Dated Sunday November 6, 1977. The banner headline on the front page cried out in large bold lettering: NEWSMEN TOUR PRISON AND VIEW “LIVING HELL” By Bill Gagnon.

Canon City- A three-man reporter-photographer team from The Pueblo Chieftain and Pueblo Star-Journal stepped out of the bright and warm summerlike weather here last week and into a medieval chamber of horror- Cellhouse 3 at the Colorado State Penitentiary.

?Once inside the grim building, they were stunned by the sight of humans caged in filthy cells and living under the most wretched conditions imaginable, denied even the most simple and basic necessities of life – soap, towels, soaks, clean clothing, blankets and sheets. Yes , they even are denied the necessary materials to scrub and clean their steel hovels.

?For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, these unfortunate creatures are kept locked in their filth-covered cages with nothing to do except learn to hate an indifferent and unthinking society that keeps them there.

?Treated and looked upon as subhuman beings, even medical and dental services available to them are mediocre and to the point they are almost nil. And letters sent to them by loved ones outside the high, gray walls sometimes is delayed for weeks at the prison before being delivered to them.

?While these conditions observed first hand by the Pueblo news team in the prison’s so called “punitive segregation” section made a grown man ill, they were compounded by those seen in the narrow and darkened steel barred isolation cells in the solitary confinement wing. There, faceless and silent occupants huddle and cringe in the darkness amid the pungent stench of filth within the close confines of these cesspools like cubicles, almost concealed from those outside.

?Those confined to this living hell in the infamous Cellhouse 3 are stripped of all human dignity and respect. An aura of frustration and despair hands heavy throughout this living example of man’s inhumanity to man.

?Yet, despite such barbaric treatment, some find an inner strength which turns to outrage and they cry out to the world; “You can’t do this to me; I am a man!” But few outside the walls hear, or want to hear them.

?But the voice of one of these tortured men, David Anderson, in the form of a letter sent to the editors of these newspapers describing the deplorable conditions in maximum security, was heard. And it resulted in the assignment of this news team to investigate the shocking allegations.

?Note: the article also contained several photos of the conditions, and covered two full pages of the newspaper.

While I was confined there, Gerald Hayes, one of the prisoners, sat down in his cell, with an old razor blade, cut off his index finger.

With blood dripping from his hand, he scrawled a message on the wall of his cell “God! Help us, Convicts are people too.”

Gather round children, I’m about to tell you a true story. ?It happened nearly 40 years ago in the Colorado State Penitentiary. It happened in cell house three.

?Cell house three was isolated from the rest of the prison, it was built to house death row prisoners and other prisoners deemed problem prisoners.

?If you caused problems in cell house three, they would then send you to a special tier called the “Dog Cages” This was their jail within a jail within a prison. The “Dog Cages” was a 24/7 lock down in your cell. The only exception was when you were let out of your cell for an hour to take a shower. Some men lost their minds under those conditions. It was quite easy for a prisoner to become so confused after months, that he could not distinguish one day of the week from another.?

Many of the prisoners there committed self mutilation or suicide. In my efforts not to end up hanging from a dirty bed sheet as so many others, I chose humor as a means to hold on to my sanity.

?This is the story of one of those efforts.?

Since the beginning of time when we first started locking men in prisons, the prisoners have made knives for self protection. These homemade knives were called a “Shiv” or a “Shank” and over the years the prisoners found ingenious ways of hiding their “Shank” from the prison guards who were continually searching for the “Shank”.?

For many guards, finding a prisoners hidden contraband, made their day. And for some guards, finding a “Shank” was as near a sexual experience as they could get. They became ecstatic.?

With the hidden “Shank” and the prison guards lustful hunger to find it, I began to set up my plan.?

The chief “Shank” hunter of cell house three was well known; he was Lieutenant D. A. Davis, who was in charge of cell house three on the swing shift. Lt. D. A. Davis loved his job and the power he held over the prisoners lives, he never missed an opportunity to torment the prisoner with late delivery of their mail or medication, the two most important things to a prisoners.?

D. A. had on several occasions during the cold winter months, set the steam heater on the “Dog Cages” at the lowest setting, the control for the heaters were off tier in the control cage, there were many windows on the tier broken and snow would often blow onto the tier. Another little trick that seemed to give D.A. a lot of pleasure; when the food cart came to the cell house from the main dining room, he would let it set until the food was cold. He took joy in making the prisoners suffer, making sure to remind them he was in charge of every aspect of their lives’. ?

D.A. could also be cruel to the other prison guards. He was a Canon City hometown boy, who thought of the prison as their cottage industry, if a guard was from another city or another race ( D.A. was white) D.A. would made them also feel his wrath. guard Rodriquez had two strikes against him; he was Spanish from Pueblo.?D.A. was one of those spit and polish guards, sharp creases in his shirt and trousers, Lieutenant bars sparkling, I think he was afraid to sit down while in uniform for fear of wrinkling his trousers. He was an overweight heavy jowl bully with shifty eyes that seemed always searching as if his deeds would catch up with him.?

While Rodriquez was a complete opposite of D. A. in manner and dress.?

Rodriquez was a small quiet man, his uniform was always a little rumpled, in the several years I knew him, I never once saw Rodriquez mistreat a prisoner. He once confided to me that he thought being locked in a prison cell 24 hours a day was punishment enough and that he was not going to add to it. The empathy for the prisoners in his face was easy to see. He said that he had taken the job as a prison guard as a last resort only to take care of his family, after failing to gain employment in other areas. All the prisoners respected him for the kindness he showed them. Because of the way D.A. treated Rodriquez it could be said that he suffered as much abuse from D.A. as the prisoners did. ?

Rodriquez seemed always to have a slight smile whenever I made D.A. the brunt of one of my schemes, but he never said so with words. I think the enemy of our enemy can become our friend, it was Rodriquez who tossed the newspaper clipping ( Living Hell ) on my bunk one day, the news article was consider contraband and unavailable to the prisoners until I received that copy.

The Plan:
Timing was needed for my plan to be successful; It needed to happen just after D.A came on duty for the 3:00 swing shift, and there would need for one of the prisoners to be out of his cell for a shower. When a prisoner is out of his cell for showering, is the only time he would have access to the exterior windows you see in the photo above.?

I had acquired a small 8 inch by 12 inch plastic bag, in the bottom of this bag I place a 8 inch wooden stick and then took a nice big healthy shit in the bag, adding a smidgen of water so as to make the mixture runny. I rolled up the bag tightly and then wrapped it again in an old newspaper so that the contents were not visible. When you felt this concoction of stick, plastic and paper it felt like there could be a “Shank” hidden within. ?

The Hide:
I tied a short string in the center of this concoction and had the prisoner out for his shower lower it out the exterior window so that it hung between the second floor and the first floor. The time was about 3:15 and D.A. had just came on duty. The guard tower just yards away from the cell house had a clear view of the exterior of the cell house and I was sure what his reaction would be when he spotted it hanging there outside the window.?The prisoner out for his shower waited until the tower guard was on the back side of the tower before he lowered the bag out the window and tied it off on the bars.?

And just as I had planned; The tower guard spotted the bag hanging there a few minutes later, the Tower guard took out his binoculars for a closer inspection of the bag. Ah Ha! what are those convicts up to now? and then the next step, the guard picked up his phone to call the cell house and alert them to the mysterious bag hanging out the window on the “Dog Cage” tier. I heard the cell house phone ring.?
The Jig is up! D.A. the “Shank Hunter” was on the job.?

D.A. hollered out Lock-Up! meaning for the prisoner out for his shower to go to his cell. The cell block door slid open and D.A. came walking in as if he were doing a head count of the prisoners. He walked casually to the end of the tier, not looking at the widow where the bag was tied, on his return trip his demeanor was much different as he excitedly jumped to the window and pulled the bag up, ripping the sting from the bars. Glancing around he darted for the tier door with his prize in hand.of course, I hollered out “D.A. Come Back Here With My Shit!?

The prisoners all locked in their cells exploded in laughter.

?D.A. was still not sure of his prize as Rodriquez later told me of what happen when D.A. entered the cage. He feverishly began ripping opening the bag and discovered the sack of shit, he threw the bag on the floor and it splattered up on his pants. His face turned beet red with embarrassment as he remarked to Rodriquez he didn’t want to hear any talk of this incident. D.A. began to wretch and struggled to keep from vomiting. Of course we prisoners knew that we would have some new punishments coming from D.A., but hearing the laughter was so therapeutic, there are those moments when suffering and punishment reach a point that we don’t care what happen to us. ?

D.A. took a short leave to go home and change his pants.?

When Rodriquez came on the tier, he walked right up to my cell with the biggest smile I had ever seen on his face, and said I know you did it David and it was beautiful! my reply was “What are you talking about?”

The Moral of the story; When Shit Happens… make sure you’re not the one holding the sack.

2 thoughts on “Shit in a Sack

  1. On the Western side of Cell House 3 they now keep wheelchair patients on the first tier and an “honor pod” on the second. They’re moving all the wheelchair guys to Sterling which is a special kind of Hell, as far from civilization (read: Visitors) as you can get and still be in Colorado.

    The abusive guards get the promotions.

    Evan Ebel, the guy who shot a former prisoner working as a pizza delivery man, then the Director of Prisons and then a Texas cop, had just spent 4 years at cellhouse 3. It’s a training ground for crazy. There’s a woman sergeant, Ms Stovall, who works Cellhouse3. She’s one of the better ones, really.

    Her sons, twins, Joe and Mike, are serving life sentences for shooting it out with (I’d have to look it up) either the Pueblo Co or Fremont Co deputies. They separated them a few years ago, Mike is now on Sterling and Joe at Arkansas Valley.

    But they spent years in isolation on cellhouse 3. Sgt Stovall is retiring soon, might already have done so.

    The place is still Hell. They’re supposedly turning all of Cellhouse 3 over to the Senile Dementia ward for the entire system. Isn’t that Special.

    People who can no longer remember why they’re even there will be locked down in that dungeon.

    The faces and names of the guards have changed, but not so much the character. The building itself gets seedier and nastier all the time. There’s a competing rumor that the entire Territorial Prison will be closed and turned over to the Prison Museum, kind of like Alcatraz.

  2. Jonah,
    Thanks for the update. …A rose is still a rose by any other name. You can’t make a shit hole smell like a rose no matter how many years you wait.

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