by Nancy Hastings Sehested
It wasn’t the blood on the stairs that sent me racing back down the hallway, or the repeated cries of “Oh, my god!” that turned me away. It was simply this: I couldn’t breathe. I needed air. Air that was not saturated with pepper spray. With eyes burning, I coughed and sputtered my way back to where I could breathe again. After ten years at the prison, I knew where to go for breathing places.
Two nurses and six officers bolted down the main corridor to the housing unit where the assault happened. No one invited me to go along, of course. They were the first responders, not me. They had retractable batons, pepper spray, and handcuffs; they could stop the flow of blood or patch a gash of flesh. But me? I was useless. “Non-essential staff.”
It was 7:30 on a Sunday morning. I prepared for the morning worship service, oriented our new assistant chaplain, and checked on the forty volunteers who were leading a weekend spiritual retreat for forty-two inmates. As I walked through the lobby, the sergeant in Master Control announced “Code 4. Code 4.” Inmate-to-inmate assault. Then “Code Red. Code Red.” Medical emergency. Read more ›