The 2016 Legislative Session has arrived. This is one in a series of posts from the staff of the New Mexico Corrections Department. We intend to send a daily update to all our legislators with key points, facts, figures, personal stories describing life here at NMCD.
In a frigid week in December, I stand in the foyer of the super-maximum security facility at PNM (Penitentiary of New Mexico) in Santa Fe, waiting to go in. This unit recently changed its name to the Predatory Management Program facility (PMP), where most of the violent offenders and gang members are housed, watched over by several Correctional Officers (COs) who have worked an average of 64 hours this week.
Prior to being hired as the Policy & Legislative Outreach Director, I had never been inside a prison. In my former career as a police officer, I had been inside a jail, certainly, but the eerie silence, 80’s décor, and decrepit walls are new to me.
I begin my tour of the facility, passing the lethal injection unit on the way to the PMP, escorted by two COs. Stories of mandatory overtime, or “voluntary” overtime to avoid being mandated overtime in a less-desirous post, and only six-hours of sleep between, mingle with the institutional feel of paint-peeled walls and clanging doors.
300 million dollars in deferred maintenance has real meaning to me now, as I look at a crack that reaches from floor to ceiling on the medical-green wall.
An inmate walks by, guarded by two officers, cuffs and chains clinking, on his way to APA - the mental health unit. These COs have no guns, but they are in physical contact with the inmate’s arms. Who did he kill, I wonder? Do I nod or offer an awkward half-smile of acknowledgement as he passes by?
I go with the latter.
The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I can smell the heaviness of the collective crimes housed within the walls of the PMU.
A group of officers congregates. My questions about pay scales and overtime have drawn a crowd.
I’m struck by the lack of true defensive weapons on these men and women.
As a police officer, I always had my gun, my pepper spray, or my Taser. I avoided going “hands-on” unless provoked. These COs go “hands-on” every day, with escorting duties or what-not. It’s their job. They only deal with violent offenders. There is no break from this life; from the heaviness surrounding PMU.
Realization dawns as they describe a job more dangerous than a street-cop’s. I ask which of them has been assaulted by an inmate. All of them, I’m told.
A new CO is paid $13.65 an hour. I know that I could never do their job.
A PDF document with the most commonly asked questions, published in early January 2016, can be found on our website at: www.cd.nm.gov