Maryland state Del Marilyn Goldwater pulled up outside cell No. 33, folded her arms, and began a rapid-fire interrogation of convicted murderer Claude Wallace.
"How long have you been here, young man?" the legislator asked between rusty iron bars at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup.
"'Bout two months," Wallace answered softly.
"First offense?" "Huh? I was playing with a gun."
"Have you spent time at other institutions?"
"Hagerstown, Patuxent . . ."
"What do you think about Jessup? How does it compare? Did you know the inmates who escaped a few weeks ago?"
"This," Wallace declared, gripping the bars that separated them, "is the bottom of the barrel. It's crowded . . . Ants and roaches and rats are everywhere. I knew most of cats who left. If you're doing 10 or 15 here, what else you gonna do?"
This is "the Cut." In its beginning, in 1978, the House of Correction was simply called Jessup's Cut, a reference to the Baltimore & Ohio railroad track that bisects the prison grounds. But in the last quarter century the nickname for the medium-security prison has aquired a new meaning. Every year, the Maryland House of Correction has more stabbings, assaults and other violent incidents than any of the other state prisons.
Last year was a boom year at the Cut. The log included:
Nearly 40 escapes or attempted escapes.
Sixty-two assaults on staff.
Thirty mass searches.
Thirty-one narcotics confiscations and a wide array of countless other unreported incidents.
"In the Cut," says inmate Alexander Lester, "it's every man for himself."
When thirty Cut inmates fled to the surrounding countryside in a mass escape three months ago, it came as no shock to prisoners remaining in the prison -- who call it a "human slaughterhouse" -- nor to the embattled guards, who complain of understaffing.
"I've got five men -- five -- to guard eight tiers of 481 guys in south wing," Lt. James (Buck) Rollins tells visiting members of a state legislative committee. "Inmates say we're to hard on them, that we abuse them verbally. I'm not saying it's right, but what can you expect with odds like that?"
The odds are remarkably different a little west of the Cut on the other side of rolling Rte. 175. Here is the Patuxent Institution, now a model therapeutic prison, but once a most macabre place.
At one time inmates classified as "defective delinquents" were sent to Patuxent for intensive psychiatric care. No matter how long their sentences, they were often kept at Patuxent until doctors considered them fit enough to leave.
Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s lawyers shuffled back and forth to court to argue lawsuits brought by Patuxent inmates. Then two years ago the state altered the prison's charter.
The 610-bed prison is now entirely voluntary. Inmates who consider themselves emotionally unbalanced or intellectually deficient can commit themselves. And they all leave the prison when their sentences expire.
There are more psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, physicians and classification counselors here than in all the state's other prisons combined. The comfortable living conditions and limited freedoms enjoyed by most inmates have produced a waiting list of 150 inmates wishing to commit themselves to Patuxent.
And the prison's 7 percent rate of recidivism is the best in the state.
Today, a look at two sides of Rte. 175 in Jessup -- one a grim example of correction's past, the other possessing the tools of modern prison methodology. c 'The Cut'
Twenty-five years ago most men behind the Cut's red brick walls served sentences of from one to 15 years. There were wife beaters, loiterers, vagrants and drunks. Today it holds some of the most hard-core criminals in the state. Many are here for 50-year to life terms. Others are here on multiple life sentences.
In many portions of the rambling dilapidated structure, the men are stowed two to a cell. On other wings there are rooms the size of basketball courts that hold as many as 130 beds. Countless beds, bookshelves and boxes pack these warehouse-like rooms.
Murderers, armed robbers and rapists climb over each other to glimpse vistors through wire-mesh screens.
"It's so cold at night," says 36-year-old Ellis Douglas, serving 37 years for armed robbery, "that the roaches climb into bed under the covers with you." f
A day does not pass without a fight or two between inmates vying for space.
"Yesterday," says Douglas, "two guys went to blows over a blanket."
In the middle of it all is 47-year-old Nationiel Darone, a cardiac patient who can't move without crutches."Twenty-six months I was in the hospital," he says. "If the ticker goes again, I'll die . . . Ain't nobody here'll save me, that's for damn sure."
Then there are the Cuts notorious series of seven basement cells known as "the Hole" -- by far the most dreaded section of the prison.
"At one time," says Warden Paul Davis, "the Hole was used all the time. Judges actually ordered that criminals spend a portion of their sentences here as 'bad time.'"
The philosophy behind the Hole's use is simple: Shed the troublesome inmate of even the most basic essentials of living -- such as a sink, toilet or bed -- and his behivior will improve.
In fact, the Hole looks like something out of the movie, "Midnight Express." The odors of urine and feces fill the room, which is blocked at both ends by solid iron doors. Each cell is solid concrete. No light. No sink. No toilet or bed. Only a hole in the floor for defecation.
"Watch out for the s---. Watch out for the s---, you'll step all in it," visitors are warned by one occupant, who earlier had thrown feces out of his cell into the corridor.
According to Davis, the Hole is the last resort for inmates who "go berserk in general population and act out their anger."
"I would like to see this place destroyed," he says. "But some men need a place to cool off."
The Cut is an archaic place. Rough chips of insipid green paint litter many floors and corridors. The prison's centruy-old visiting room is pock -marked by chiseled initials, nicknames and mottoes of long-forgotten inmates.
Behind a maze of interior bars, daylight is a distant blur. Jass, disco and blues pour forth from dozens of portable radios, the main connection to the outside. About half the prisoners work in the Cut's five vocational shops. Others work as janitors or clerks, or help out in the kitchen and cafeteria. But nearly one-sixth of the men have nothing to do at all.
Then there are the mental cases. Cut psychologists estimate that 60 inmates are certifiably psychotic.
"They eat [excrement]. I've seen it. They actually put the [excrement] in their mouths, chew and swallow," says an inmate in the Cut's crude segregation wing, pointing toward a man in an adjacent cell.
A piece of manure clung to the man's cheek.
"It ain't right for them to be in here."
Security, though, continues to be the main problem facing Cut officials. Last month a study of the House of Correction reported that inmates in vocational shops have easy access to tools that could be used as weapons. Moreover, the study said the guard force of 292 was far from enough.
Warden Davis, who was appointed to his post a month ago, has beefed up and redeployed his staff of guards but says the Cut could use 60 more.
"I think you'll admit that tension isn't nearly as high as it once was here," he says. "But the worst that could happen is to have 20 or 30 feet pitty-patty out of here again . . . Public perceptions of this place have to improve if we're going to succeed at all."
Hours before Davis said this, an inmate stabbed a guard with a metal bucket handle. Patuxent Institution
Patuxent Institution is the only state prison where treatment is centralized and continuous -- which is why, according to Superintendent Norma Gluckestern, the prison is successful.
"Patuxent is the only inonovative facility in the state," she says. "We treat men from the time thay enter until after they leave."
Eighty-nine percent of the men at Patuxent were convicted of murder, sexual offenses or armed robbery. The primary critierion for admission is that an inmate must have three years or more remaining on his sentence.
The prison's fleet of psychologists uses simple but intensive behavior modification techniques. Inmates are required to take part in weekly group and individual psychotherapy, as well as participate in work and education programs. If an inmate refuses to comply, he is simply sent elsewhere. And therein lies the incentive. "If you don't put out here and let the shrinks do their mombojumbo," says convict Harry McClellan, "The Cut is always hanging over your head."
So in lower-level conference rooms, groups of inmates sit in semicircles around therapists, talking about the motivation behind the crimes that brought them here.
In corridors outside, snipets of discussions are overheard.
"You're right, you're right, man," a man admits before a group of others. "All right, I was scared . . . Damn, the muthah was screaming . . . If you rob a dude and he starts screaming, you shut him up. I shut him up."
The general calm resting behind Patuxent's bright red and yellow bars is a striking contrast from the tension that once swelled here. "I hated getting up in the morning. I knew somebody would confront me and I'd have to use force." remembers Lt. g.c. Higdon. "Now, it's almost a joy to be here."
Another person who remembers the dark times under Patuxent's "indeterminate sentence" policies is 24-year-old Ralph Bellamy. The slender blond Prince George's County man was recaptured last month after escaping from Patuxent nearly three years ago.
During his fugitive days Bellamy worked as a carpenter, toy store clerk, and waited tables.
"Got a whole new circle of friends," he says. "Never been happier in my life."
He was married only three weeks ago. "They caught me in Florida during my honeymoon," he says, sitting in a Patuxent hospital bed. "It isn't like I'm glad to be back. I don't need any shrinks. I had it made outside. l
"But at least," he says, "the stuff that made me run in the first place don't seem to be here now."
"You look younger than when you left, Ralph," Lt. Higdon says, smiling.
"Being outside'll do that, man."
Central to Patuxent's treatment programs is its "graded level" system. There are four levels or categories of inmates at the prison. Each succeeding level offers greater freedom and privileges for good behavior.
On the highest level, inmates' cell doors are never locked. Men can stay up as late as they wish. Televison sets can stay on all night. Pool and ping pong tables are provided in sunlit recreation rooms.
At the bottom end of the scale, below first level, is segregation, where 29-year-old Bennie Witherspoon was cooling off after fighting with another inmate in the recreation yard.
"I had seven previous offenses," says Witherspoon, a convicted rapist and armed robber. "After the last one they figured I was lost and needed psychological help.
"If you don't do this or that they'll send you as out. It's like you can't speak how you really feel about what goes down here."
"Boy, do you need a bath," Lt. Higdon says, holding his nose.
"That ain't all," Witherspoon says.
To some inmates the graded-level system used to improve inmate behavior constitutes a form of "psychological tyranny."
"I been on third level three different times," says Montgomery County convict Daniel Frank, "but they keep kicking me back . . . They said it was therapeutic."
"Them doctors," sighs Ashley Franklin, "it's them doctors that control everybody here, like we're slaves or something."
"Hey, tell it, man Frank comes back. "I was in this therapy group, see, and the doctor told me to express my feeling toward him. Well, I didn't like the bastard at all and I told him if I caught him on the outside I'd break his damn neck.
"So the doctor, he strew me out of therapy and bumped me back to second level. That's called therapy around here. If they don't like your atitude they keep bumping you back till you end up at another joint."
"Do you get along with the doctor now?" a vistor asks.
"Oh, yeah," Frank answers. "I just say 'yassah, you're right all down the line."
"Now dig that," Franklin adds. "Cop that kind of attitude for a few years and see what it does to your individuality. It's tyranny, man."
"At other joints, guards and inmates kick your butt," he goes on. "Here, doctors screw around with your brains. Once you leave you don't know if you're an outpatient or a parolee."
Harry McClellan is more succinct. "Patuxent," he says, "is a fiefdom for shrinks."
Up on fourth level, where good behavior is rewarded by larger degrees of freedom, prisoners lounged around their cell areas and the recreation room strumming guitars, shooting pool and watching the evening news. Several gifted artists are here, including lifer Walter Fisher, who displayed the guitar he had constructed out of wooden matchbooks. Anther inmate exhibited the paintings he produced from leftover house paint.
"Basically," says George Slater, a convicted rapist from Silver Spring, "the shrinks try to make you know yourself. They made me look at all the the crap in my childhood that led up to my being here."
"Being able to shower anytime you want don't seem like a big deal," says Norman Craig, a Baltimore murderer. "But it is, man it is."
"You go on over to the Cut and tell us where you'd rather be," Slater says.
"This was a very progressive place back in the early "50s when it was first envisioned," says superintendent Gluckstern. "Basically the charter said if you took a schizophrenic and told him he would be here forever, it would create enough anxiety for him to change.
"Well, that was bit too cruel and unusual. But the basic ingredient for successful therapy remains."
That ingredient is anxiety -- produced before by the endless sentence, caused now by the threat of transfer to places like Doc's House and the Cut.
And that is incentive enough for Norman Craig.
"Listen, I've been to places like the Cut and Hagerstown before," he declares."Ain't no way I'm backtracking to that."