WARREN, Maine – The 40-foot wall topped with razor wire surrounding Maine State Prison in Warren helps to protect the public from the inmates inside. But these barriers do little to protect AFSCME corrections officers like Sergeant Curtis Doyle.
A 20-year veteran officer and AFSCME Local 2968 member, Doyle must rely primarily on his experience, intelligence and sometimes even his sense of humor to get him home safely to his family every day.
The prison’s official website lists a staff of 410 and an inmate capacity of 916. But only about 220 are correctional officers, according to payroll data, and those officers are split across three shifts. As a result, Doyle and his colleagues sometimes find themselves alone with up to 70 inmates, including convicted murderers, rapists and armed robbers.
When it comes time to feed the prisoners, two officers are left alone to maintain order among 150 prisoners gathered in the “chow hall.” A “man down” body alarm carried by the officers will trigger a quick response if an officer is able to push it in time. But as Doyle is quick to point out, it only takes a few seconds for someone to be assaulted or even killed.
To illustrate his point, Doyle took an AFSCME Council 93 staff member on a tour of the prison.
The tour included a visit to a two-tier cell “pod” housing approximately 65 inmates who at the time were freely roaming the common area. When the two reached the end of a cellblock, approximately 40 yards from the only exit, Doyle told the staffer to turn around and look at the crowd of prisoners standing between them and the exit.
“You see,” Doyle said. “Every time you turn your back in here, there’s a chance you’re turning your back on a killer. If they wanted us right now, they could get us.”
Indeed, officers have been assaulted many times during Doyle’s tenure. He has seen staff members doused with blood, urine and feces, beaten, stabbed and held hostage. In the past few years, inmates were killed by other inmates, according to the Bangor Daily News.
Countless difficult experiences and memories take their toll on officers. Studies show that corrections officers have an average life expectancy of 59 years, according to the Denver Post. And as Doyle points out, it’s not just the officers who are affected.
“When you sign on to work at the Maine State Prison, your family signs on too,” Doyle said. “It brings a great deal of stress to everyone.”
So the next time you hear someone claiming public service workers have easy jobs, tell them about Sergeant Curtis Doyle and the women and men who put their lives on the line every day at the Maine State Prison.