Former prison warden writes book detailing experiences

MORGANTOWN — No one was selling wolf tickets for this one.

When the call came in, every correctional officer on the block, including the warden, took off in the direction of the tumult:

“All radio units! Triple Deuces! Say again, TRIPLE DEUCES! Location, outdoor area of ‘A’ Unit!”

Triple deuces: 2-2-2, on the telephone.

The jail equivalent of calling 9-1-1.

Blood was everywhere. So were inmates, it seemed.

Fourteen or so of them, curled on the floor, or slouched against the wall, or walking in circles. They were crying, cursing and raging.

None of the wounds were life-threatening — “sissy shanks” being the weapons of choice —  but the shirt of one inmate was tie-dyed with blood from a viscous slash wound to his face.

He would be left with a permanent scar and a lasting warning: You’re on notice. It’ll be worse next time.

 ‘OK — do your thing’

Cameron Lindsay, the warden,  immediately called for a lockdown.

It wasn’t so much the fight by itself.

By prison standards, this one was on the tame side, even if the floor of A Unit looked like the soundstage of a slasher movie.

Contrary to what’s depicted in the movies and on TV, there isn’t a riot or a murder every five seconds behind bars.

A lot of the time, it’s posturing with (in prison parlance) the above-mentioned “wolf tickets” — that is,  when an inmate, or inmates, talk tough with no intention of backing it up.

And the “sissy shanks” referred to earlier? Another example of inmate-ingenuity.

A disposable razor is heated just to the point where the plastic becomes pliable enough to loosen the sliver of blade encased therein.

The blade, in turn, is wedged into the head of a toothbrush, also heated to make the plastic give.

What had Lindsay, a genial former cop  who lettered in three sports at Morgantown High School, really worried was the racial tension that caused this one.

Black inmates vs. Hispanic inmates.

A lot to sort out.

With the injured being bandaged and receiving other medical attention, he turned to the lieutenant in charge of processing the scene.

“OK,” he said. “Do your thing.”

The warden writes a book

Now 58, retired and back in the Morgantown area, Lindsay these days is also wearing the badge of book author.

The above recounting of the prison fight comes from his book, “Triple Deuces: A Day in the Life of an American Correction Worker,” which hit stores and online earlier this summer.

You’ll find it  at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other major outlets.

Other episodes are scary, raunchy and mean.

A few are poignant and surprisingly funny. The language often lands on the other side of PG-13.

Lindsay said he wanted to give “an honest accounting” of the people on both sides of the bars just trying to get by, “I didn’t necessarily set out to write a book,” the warden-turned-author said.

“But at the same time, I was keeping a journal and getting this stuff down.”

He definitely set out to go into law enforcement.

 Working the graveyard shift

After Morgantown High, Lindsay went down the road to Marion County and then-Fairmont State College, where he majored in criminal justice during the day while working the graveyard shift as a State Police dispatcher at night.

He became a town cop in Star City, powering through State Police Academy training along the way.

He was a patrolman and  motorcycle cop for the Morgantown Police Department, where he also made detective. He earned a master’s degree in counseling and guidance from WVU while carrying his Morgantown PD badge.

Lindsay turned in that badge for academia.

He was hired as a tenure-track instructor at Fairmont State, where he taught a full load of criminal justice courses.

The cop also went back to grad school at WVU, earning another master’s in safety management.

When visiting officials  from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons spoke to his Fairmont State classes one day, they also hired him away from his alma mater.

What followed was a 25-year career in federal prisons and privately owned correctional facilities, from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Lompac, Calif., with postings in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, in-between.

As jobs changed and his experience grew, so did his attitudes about incarceration, much like the plastic made pliable in the homemade weapons of that above prison fight.

“I probably started out being a hard-line conservative,” he said.

“Back then, I was just calling balls and strikes, and that was it.”

‘Right in their front yard’

As a former police officer and prison warden, Lindsay says he knows there are cases where the punishment has to fit the crime.

There are also cases, he said, where incarceration only adds to America’s sociological woes related to impulsive, hurtful behavior and lawless behavior.

“At any given time, there are 1.2 million people locked up in this country,” he said.

“And 95 percent of them are going to be released. What are they going to be like when they get out? Are they going to be any less angry or hostile? Are they going to be equipped to get a job?”

The idea, he said, is to keep people from going back to jail once they’re out,  which is what one-third of all inmates do.

He’s calling for an emphasis on GED and vocational training in the nation’s correctional facilities, with heavy doses of counseling and other treatments addressing  the decisions that put them in prison coveralls in the first place.

Some facilities in the U.S. do that quite well with inmate rehabilitation, he said. Most, however,  he said, don’t.

“Say you’ve got a person with no prior record who gets addicted to opioids and he pulls an armed robbery,” Lindsay said.

“Well, then he’s behind bars for five, seven, eight years. If we don’t try to help those people, then we’re just warehousing them before putting them back out on the streets.”

It didn’t take Lindsay long to see the quiet desperation with which some people live their lives.

It was his first call as Star City officer.

“My first call, ever,” he said. “It was a domestic. I roll up, and there’s an individual beating up his wife. Right in their front yard.”