Right now, a bewildered Mark Cible is on a nightmarish journey through some of America’s most violent prisons. Cible (not his real name) is the informant who probably prevented a bloodbath last October during an escape attempt at the Maine State Prison, saving the lives of prison guards and inmates’ wives and children. Maine Department of Corrections officials thanked him by sending him out of state late last year, ostensibly to prevent retribution for his snitching. But they sent him to violent institutions and made little or no attempt to conceal his identity.
So for nine months, Cible has feared for his life, afraid that at any moment the prisoner grapevine could reach him and strangle him as a “rat” — the worst violation of the prisoner code. Prison authorities acknowledge he has been in danger. Cible says he already has been beaten and stabbed. Such has been his reward, he has concluded bitterly, for betting on the honor of state officials. Now, compounding the ironies, Cible believes his best chance to stay alive is to be returned to Maine.
A convicted murderer, Cible watched his nightmare begin last year when Gary Watland, another convicted murderer, taught him how to use the prison’s school and library computers to illicitly access the Internet and, Cible later told prison officials, how to look into the prison’s restricted data files. Watland, a self-described genius, had worked for years as a computer expert.
Watland himself was able to manipulate the prison’s elaborate security system, Cible says, and planned to use his command of the doors and gates to break out. But this plan hit a snag, and Watland’s plot devolved into a less sophisticated scheme: having his wife smuggle a handgun into the prison’s visitors’ room, the gun hidden beneath her big belt buckle.
When Watland confided this scenario to him, Cible became troubled. Watland intended to take hostages and, according to Cible, had bragged, “‘They’ll let me out if I splatter some little kid’s brains all over the window.’”
If Cible revealed the plan to prison authorities, he might save a number of lives. On the other hand, by revealing Watland’s intentions he would break the strictest rule of the prisoner “moral” code: never rat on a fellow inmate. As bizarre as it may seem to those on the outside — especially with prisoners’ wives and children as potential victims — Cible knew he could pay with his life for such a transgression.
When Cible chose to tell about Watland’s plans, he averted what could have become “the greatest disaster in the history of corrections in Maine,” according to the judge who in early August sentenced Watland, who pleaded guilty to hatching the plot, to 35 years — on top of the 25-year murder sentence he’d begun serving in 2005. Maine corrections officials have told a number of people, including news reporters, that the warning saved lives, although they never released Cible’s name.
“It could have been an incredible tragedy. There could have been a major loss of life,” state Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson told a corrections-news Web site. The tragedy could have included “civilian” deaths, he said, because hostages could have been shot.