If something can be sharpened to a point or ground to a sharp edge, some offenders in Missouri's prisons will likely do it.
But the inmates don't need a weapon to do serious harm to a guard, according to Stanley Keely, a deputy warden at Jefferson City Correctional Center. Officers have been slashed with makeshift knives, but they've also been beaten with bare hands, kicked, or had bodily fluids thrown or spit on them.
Threats to Missouri's corrections officers are real and constant.
During an interview with the News Tribune, Keely talked about the dedication of staff at the prison and described two recent incidents of assaults on guards in JCCC. In one, a guard was slashed on the face with a razor. In another, an inmate punched a guard so viciously it knocked a hole through the guard's cheek.
When officers are injured on the job, the prison's management team responds to the hospital to attend to their colleague. Sometimes they arrive at the hospital before the injured officers. And they say they are often amazed by the officers' selflessness and devotion to their jobs.
"I wish I could show you the kind of people who will get assaulted in the middle of their shift and go to the hospital and get stitches in their face and come back to work," Keely said while motioning at his left cheek. "We had an officer earlier this year, or 2018, that got punched in the face so hard by an inmate it knocked a hole through his cheek. He was blowing bubbles through his cheek — blood bubbles."
The incident enraged Keely.
The guard tried to calm Keely down. "Oh, don't worry about it, Stan," the guard said. "I'll be OK."
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As the management team waited, doctors sewed up the guard's cheek — inside and out.
Then, because his housing unit was so short-staffed that day, the guard insisted on going back to work because he didn't want his coworkers to have to finish their shift short-handed.
"So he came back and he (returned to work)," Keely said. "To me, if you're blowing blood bubbles, you get to go home for the rest of the day."
In another recent incident, Keely said, an officer was slashed in the face with a razor. He again made a slashing motion along his cheek with his hand.
"He had two huge gashes in the side of his face. He went to the hospital and got it sewed up," Keely said. "He came back to work.
"If your face gets laid open, I'm going to let you go home for the day."
Those incidents demonstrate the dedication staff at the hospital have for their jobs, he said.
"They're not going to let that impede them from doing their jobs," he added.
It's not unusual for officers who suffer an assault to want to go back to work, said Maj. Myles Strid, who is chief of custodies in JCCC, which means he supervises about 400 corrections employees.
"This is not a new phenomenon. People have been getting assaulted and cut up and beat up in prison since the dawn of time," Strid said. "Everyone that walks into an institution — they all walk in knowing that's something they're going to face."
But the threats are on the minds of state officials as they struggle with recruiting and retention of officers.
Officials struggle to reach their goals in those areas, in part because corrections officers in the state are among the lowest paid in the nation. It is an issue governors have struggled with for a number of years.
And although safety for guards and prisoners is the main concern, sometimes incidents do happen.
Only recently, the department has begun posting summaries of reports concerning major incidents at the state's prisons. It lists eight incidents in the state's prisons since Jan. 14.
An assault occurred in the Fulton Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center on Feb. 9. In that incident, an offender struck the officer in the side and the face, according to reports. The officer received medical attention.
South Central Correctional Center in Licking has been the site of three incidents:
On Jan. 13, an offender allegedly threw bodily fluids and food at an officer. Bodily fluid exposure protocols were followed to assure the officer wasn't exposed to pathogens.
On Jan. 21, an offender is reported to have spat in an officer's face in South Central. The offender then head-butted the officer in the neck, cheek and head. Protocols were again followed in the incident.
On Jan. 29, an offender assaulted three officers after becoming aggressive, according to an advisory. The offender punched at officers. Two of the officers were examined by outside medical staff. The third refused medical attention.
Other recent reports of assaults include:
An offender became aggressive and spat in an officer's face during a Jan. 12 incident in Moberly Correctional Center, officials said. Health care staff examined the officer, who declined outside medical attention.
Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center, in Bonne Terre, was the site of an incident Jan. 16. During that mid-morning incident, an offender assaulted a cook, who was injured, and a corrections officer by punching them. He struck the cook three times in the face and the officer once in the face. Outside medical staff examined both victims of the alleged assaults.
An inmate allegedly assaulted an officer and an institutional coordinator in the Farmington Correctional Center on Feb. 4. The officer suffered injuries to a shoulder and ankle. The coordinator received an abrasion on a wrist. The offender will be cited with a conduct violation, according to the report.
In a Feb. 10 incident in the Northeast Correctional Center, in Bowling Green, an offender is said to have pulled an officer toward a food port door. The officer pulled away. No injuries were reported.
The assaults often point to the fact staff and inmates are often working toward two different goals, Strid said.
Lock 1,000 plumbers in a room, and somebody's going to fix a pipe, he said. Lock 2,000 felons in a room, and something bad is bound to happen, Strid said.
Among the prison's nearly 2,000 inmates there is a group whose entire goal is to try to drive a wedge between staff and gain something for themselves — working against a group of about 600 Corrections workers, he said.
Staff are not trying to drive wedges between offenders; instead they are trying to help them re-enter society, Strid said.
"We're trying to help them while they're trying to hurt us. It's an environment that a lot of people in the public can't understand," he said. "It's a unique environment."
Missouri prisons require offenders to set goals for themselves, JCCC Warden Eileen Ramey said.
JCCC has dozens of programs aimed at helping inmates learn skills they can take with them when they leave, she said.
The prison has programs that give training in fields that are in high demand in the public sector, said Karen Pojmann, communications director for Corrections.
Programs cover water treatment certification, horticulture, heavy equipment operations, welding, cosmetology, auto mechanics, culinary arts and many others, she said.
"People are being trained in the areas where employers are desperate for labor right now," Pojmann said. "People are walking out of the facility with jobs waiting."
They even do job interviews through videoconferencing, she said.
JCCC has programs for heavy equipment operations (using simulators), horticulture, welding, mechanics and other professions. The facility has a program that earns inmates water treatment certification. One graduate of that program has a job that takes him all across the state working on water treatment facilities. He calls Keely about once a month to check in and let him know how things are going.
Assaults are relatively uncommon in JCCC, Ramey said. And offenders are involved in the work to turn their lives around.
Missouri prisons release about 1,900 offenders every year, Pojmann said.
"We're trying to help them be your next-door neighbor," she said. "I want them to be able to live next door to my grandchildren and not have to worry about my grandchildren. That's our goal — safety, security and getting them ready to be good citizens."