Stonewalling is normal

 Reporting the prison system
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  December 13, 2006

I could cite many examples of the difficulty in reporting to the Maine public what goes on behind the cement and bureaucratic walls of the public’s prison system — especially, in reporting brutal practices. I will give just a few.

The guard and the suicide
One example involves Ryan Rideout’s suicide. He had been sick for a long time, threatening to jump from a high building in Bangor three times in three weeks in 2004. Since his death, several Supermax prisoners have made disturbing allegations, in letters to me, about a guard taunting him — that he didn’t “have the balls” to kill himself, as his friend Jesus Rodriguez, 22, quoted the guard.

Rodriguez, who has a little more than a year left on a robbery conviction, is convincing and touching in his sincerity when he describes the tragic death of Ryan “Ryno” Rideout: “Because of Ryno’s death I tried to kill myself. . . . I miss the jokes and to hear him laugh and the talks about what he was going to do when he gets out in six or five months and because of a c/o [correctional officer] he ended his life. Nothing has been done to the c/o. He still works here and still gives inmates a hard time. . . . I will always love and miss you, Ryno.”

Another inmate says, “I saw the whole thing happen and have had trouble sleeping.” He alleges that the same guard “told inmate Rideout, when he was hanging from his sprinkler in SMU B-wing Room 114, that he could do better than that. His exact words were, ‘Come on, Rideout, you can do better than that’.”

In 2005, as recorded on prison documents obtained by the Phoenix, Deane Brown filed a grievance with the prison administration involving the same guard. After a Supermax inmate had “cut his arms [and] was taken out on a stretcher,” Brown alleged that the guard had told a sergeant “one down, 49 to go” (there were 50 inmates in that wing of the Supermax). The officer who reviews grievances later wrote to Brown, “Your allegation that a staff member made an inappropriate comment has been confirmed. The comment was unprofessional and corrective action has been taken.”

The Corrections Department won’t say if the guard is being investigated in the Rideout suicide or even confirm his name, because, as associate commissioner Denise Lord puts it, “I can’t comment on personnel matters.” Efforts to contact this guard — named by the Supermax prisoners — were not successful by press time, so the Phoenix is withholding his name.

A sergeant’s complaints
Here is another personnel matter the Corrections Department won’t comment on: a transcription of a frank exit interview of an articulate prison guard sergeant, George Mele, is available on the Internet. A guard gave the transcript to Deane Brown, who gave it to WRFR, the radio station to which he contributed in Rockland. Mele complains vigorously about the prison’s “corruption,” low morale, nepotism, “retaliation for reporting wrongs,” forced extra shifts and overtime, low pay, poor leadership, inferior food, and administrative incompetence.

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