Each year there are hundreds of unexplained deaths that occur within the Prison System. Most of which are never reported to the media, or anyone outside the system, due to the bizarre circumstances surrounding each incident. . .or the strange and terrifying occurrences afterwards.
It was a cold Monday morning. Extremely cold for October in Arizona. Tom Huntsberry, a new Corrections Officer with Deep Canyon State Prison, in Solar, Arizona, was too excited to notice the weather. It would be his first day, at his new job, on his new post. Since the weather was a lot colder than expected, Tom figured he should start up his old Ford truck to let it warm up a bit before he headed out to work. He was an early bird by nature, but today he was up and moving a lot earlier than most. His wife and 7 month old baby girl were both sound asleep as he anxiously moved around in preparation for his big day.
With his truck running, Tom hurried back inside to make sure all of his gear was packed and ready. He grabbed his duty belt, a necessity for any C.O. to have, especially as a “new boot,” a nickname given to every newbie that made it through the grueling 15 week training. Tom graduated at the top of his class and although he was going in today on 1st Shift, he was already slated to go to 3rd Shift after a month or so of additional on the job training. Funny how ‘The Grave Yard Shift’ had a different meaning at this particular prison.
Tom, now all geared up and ready to head out, stopped by the bedroom where he kissed his wife on the cheek. She was still resting peacefully and he didn’t want to wake her so he checked the baby monitor and backed quietly out into the hallway. The baby’s room, which was across the hallway, was nice and warm. She was him and his wife’s pride and joy, Tom was glad that he could now help to take care of her even better. He had been in the Army for 2 years when he and Esmerialda became pregnant. It was their plan for Tom to have a career in the Army, but a leg injury he sustained while on an overseas assignment ended their Army dreams.
The Army was gracious enough to pay for his Occupational Therapy program which helped him move towards a full recovery. Unless he spoke of his injury, no one would ever notice and Tom was quite happy about that. As he reflected, he leaned over and gently kissed Lacey on her forehead. He left her room, grabbed his gear and made one last stop by the fridge to grab his lunch.
He stepped outside and this time he noticed the bitter cold weather that met him on his porch. He locked the door and headed for his truck. The drive to DCSP was at least an hour and he had to be there, checked in and ready to attend the daily briefing by 6 am. He headed out around 4:30 A.M to give himself more than enough time to get there early. After driving for a few minutes Tom noticed that his radio was on, but there was no sound coming from the speakers. Not even a hum. He loved country music and was known on occasion to blast it as loud as the speakers would allow before distorting. Not today, though. First the temperature, now this. Tom tried to find another station, anything but the silence, to help calm down some of his 1st day jitters. Nothing. GeezeLeweeze did all 3 of the stations in Solar freeze over night?
He remained focused as he traveled on to work. Deep Canyon State Prison was located in the middle of no where. This was the norm for prisons in the area because there was always the unspoken fear of an escape. Having DCSP located in the middle of Nowheresville was a great idea due to the fact that every convict there was responsible for the kidnapping, rape and murder of several people. Shockingly, a lot of the cases happened after the convicts were locked away at DCSP. It was a really dark place full of evil that had no limits. But it attracted people who loved money and benefits. It was the highest paying gig in the entire area and the benefits were better than any Tom ever had.
With his wife, Esmerialda, being homebound after an emergency C- section, the offer came at a perfect time. Offering to pay him triple what he made in the Army and that was an attractive offer. One that Tom would have been crazy to refuse; or so it seemed. As he pulled his old truck up to the Front Gate. An older C.O. stepped out to greet him, ‘Mornin’!’ “Howdy,” responded Tom. ‘You’re one of the New Boots aren’t ya? Do you have any drugs, weapons, alcohol, $100 or more in cash or any other items that would be considered prohibited on the premises?’
Although Tom had grown accustomed to the line of questioning over the past few weeks, he swore that there were at least 2 items added to that never-ending list every time he passed through the Front Gate. He answered, “No.” To answer anything other than no meant that you would have to park your vehicle alongside the road that led up to the Front Gate, which meant a 100 yard walk back to the Front Gate. Most of the DCSP employees lied to avoid that walk back.
As Tom pulled into a parking space close to the front entrance, he took a minute to reflect on all of the training he had received over the past few weeks. One of the most valuable lessons learned was not to become complacent in this environment. It could instantly be the death of you. No warning. No visible signs. Just death. Instantly. It was said by one of his instructors, who had survived DCSP for the past 11 years, if the hairs on the back of your neck don’t stand up when you first arrive here for your shift, you probably need to find a different line of work.
Tom said a prayer, grabbed his gear, his lunch, secured his truck, double checked it and headed for the front door. He was greeted in the front lobby by a 3rd Shift C.O. who looked like she could use a very strong cup of coffee and a couple of toothpicks to help keep her eyes open. ‘You’re early.’ Tom looked at the clock. He had about 30 minutes before he would need to be in the briefing room. Clearing the Front Lobby alone could take 15 minutes depending on how thorough the Front Lobby Officer was. Navigating through here was very much like maneuvering through the security checkpoint at any airport. No matter how thorough though, it never seemed to stop the influx of contraband that flooded this and every other prison on the planet. Funny how 98.9% of the contraband came in through the Front Lobby and Dirty Staff found all kinds of innovative ways to get it through.
Like the Nurse who was fired just as Tom was hired. She would mix narcotics and other various drugs in her food, bring it in and break it down for distribution during her nightly Medic-Runs. The ‘meds’ were distributed, right under the noses of escorting C.O.’s, to numerous convicts who had submitted fraudulent sick-call slips the day before. Nurse Goody-Goods as she was known among the convicts she was taking care of with her special ‘meds.’
Thankfully, the Front Lobby Officer was in the middle of a phone call that must have been more important than slowing Tom down as he cleared the Front Lobby. It took all of 5 minutes and Tom was on his way to the Briefing Room, which on a bad day could take an additional 15 or 20 minutes. There were 5 electric gates separating the Briefing Room from the back door of the Front Lobby. This was because Convict Workers were always out and about during 1st and 2nd Shifts. With so many gates, it deterred any of them from thinking that one day, they could make a run for it. The fact that they were operated by Central Control Officers was even more of a deterrent since the C.C. Officers could see you, but they were in a complex too far away to be seen.
Today Central Control was being nice and simultaneously opened each gate in unison. Tom was sure that this was against policy, but he was not complaining. He hurried through the opened gates and found himself walking into the Briefing Room by 5:40 am. To his surprise there were several C.O.’s already in briefing laughing and talking. Mostly old timers who had been with DCSP since it opened over 20 years ago. Who could do this job, on that level, for so many years?
As he entered, all of the C.O.’s stopped talking and just stared at him. Awkward. Tom made his way over to an empty corner of the room. Once there, he was approached by a C.O. gripping a huge mug of coffee, like his life depended on it. He extended his hand and said, ‘Name’s Stevens. You must be the New Boot who’s gonna shadow me today? I hope you can keep up!’ Tom fought laughing out loud and insulting old man Stevens who was a frail little guy, at least old enough to be Tom’s grandpa. Never mind the fact that Tom was at least twice his size.
Suddenly, the room erupted with laughter. Tom laughed, too, nervously. His hand met C.O. Stevens’ and he said, “I’ll do my best, sir!” In all seriousness, Tom later found out that C.O. Stevens may not have been joking about keeping up with him. A few weeks earlier he had been kicked out of one of the Lock Down Units and suspended for breaking a convicts arm. Tom would also noticed the eagle, anchor and earth tattoo along with the words Semper Fi on his right forearm later, too. No, probably not joking at all.
After the ‘icebreaking moment,’ everyone went back to talking to each other and as C.O.’s began to enter the Briefing Room, Tom started to wonder if he missed the memo on bringing in lunch for the shift. Everyone’s lunch container was larger than his gear bag. Were these people planning to stay for a few days before returning home? Tom thought maybe 1st Shift was having a pot-luck or something. Seriously.
At 5:58 a.m. a burly, mean looking Captain walked in along with a mousey looking Lieutenant. The room fell even more silent than when Tom had entered which made him a bit more nervous than he already had become. The Captain, who Tom figured was a woman who had spent too many years in this line of work, first looked around the room with a very grim look. She then yelled, ‘Gimme 4 lines across the front! FALL IN!’ The C.O.’s, even C.O. Stevens, scrambled to form what the Captain had requested.
Like clockwork, the Lieutenant grabbed his radio and told Central Control not to open the Briefing Room door for any late C.O.’s. The Captain looked over and said anybody who is late today will have to deal with me! With the way most everyone dragged in, Tom was sure there would be at least 2 or 3 late birds. He was glad that he would not be anywhere near that butt-chewing session.
‘Alright, listen up!’ growled the Captain. ‘Yesterday, during the 1 a.m. count, Convict – 76917201 was found beaten beyond recognition in his cell.’ His cell was in D – Building, B pod. Cell B15, to be specific. A cell that Convict – 76917201 had spent the past 17 years in for unspeakable crimes committed against several victims. Now Tom wondered if a few of the C.O.’s were even breathing because they were so silent. The Captain went on to say that a full-scale investigation was taking place and that entire pod was off limits to anyone not on the investigation team.
The other 48 convicts from B-Pod had been dispersed mostly to the Lock Down Units. Normally, it would have been 49, but Convict – 76917201 did not have a cell mate. It was rumored that he was one of the ‘top leaders,’ amongst the convicts, therefore no other convict was worthy of sharing a cell with him. The fact that he did not have a celly caused for even more concern, since he was locked down in his cell alone at 10 pm and the door had not been reopened until his brutally beaten body was discovered at 1 am. Further investigation revealed that the C.O. who found him, last saw him sitting on his bunk reading a book during the 11 pm count.
One of the things that stuck out in the mind of Tom Huntsberry was the fact that DCSP prided themselves in fast and accurate counts. And there were a lot of them conducted through out every shift. The Captain went on to say that the entire building was due for renovation, so the rest of the convicts in the building, 250 total, would be out by the end of the week. Shortly after telling everyone their post assignments, the Captain ended the briefing by telling everyone to ‘stay on there toes’ and to ‘watch each others backs around these convicts.’
At that point, in unison, the C.O.’s yelled, ‘One Team! One Fight!’ and left for their various posts. On his way out of the Briefing Room the Lieutenant stopped Tom and shook his hand. ‘Welcome aboard C.O. Huntsberry! Sorry your exciting first day got downplayed by a dead convict, but we’re happy you have become part of our Team.’ Tom felt that the Lieutenant’s words were sincere, but the look in the Lieutenant’s eyes seemed to scream. ‘Go back home… This place is crazy and getting worse by the minute.’ Tom replied, “Thank you, Sir. I look forward to being an asset to the team.” With that, he took off to catch his partner, C.O. Stevens.
They had been assigned to C-Building and to get there, you had to walk past D – Building. As both men did so, C.O. Stevens took a long sip from his coffee mug. ‘I’ll bet you $20 bucks it was an inside job.’ Tom wasn’t quite sure what C.O. Stevens meant by his comment, so he remained silent as both men kept walking by and staring at D – Building. Tom could not help but wonder what it would be like to go in and check out the pod. Heck, even the thought of taking a peek into the cell excited him. He would have his chance to do just that a week from today.
On Friday, a week after Convict – 76917201 had been found, C.O. Huntsberry was notified that he would be one of the C.O.’s going to 3rd Shift to fill in for several C.O.’s who had either been fired or quit. It was a total of 9 to be exact. All of whom had worked in D – Building since 76’s (the Convict’s former nickname) death. C.O. Huntsberry did not want his wife to worry too much about his new profession, so he refrained from telling her about 76 or what had happened to him. He most certainly did not mention the fact that he was being reassigned to the Grave Yard Shift due to 9 C.O.’s quitting. Then he would have to explain the 76 ordeal. He just told her what he was told, ‘It’s for additional training to help expedite your promotion opportunities here at DCSP.’
He had a great 1st week, and did not take crap from any of the convicts there. He actually thought he could promote rather quickly here so he half way bought the lines the Supervisors had given him. Besides, the ‘fallen officers’ had not reported back to work for their shift and no one had heard from them. How then, could anyone conclude that all of their departures had anything to do with D – Building or Convict – 76917201?
It was Tom’s first night on Graves, as he exited the Front Lobby headed towards the Briefing Room. There was quite a few oddities about 3rd Shift that did not sit well with C.O. Huntsberry. The fact that there were only about 10 C.O.’s and 1 Shift Supervisor along for the night ride bothered him the most. This was in comparison to 35 or 40 C.O.’s on both 1st and 2nd Shifts. Even though the convicts were locked down throughout the Grave Yard Shift, there was always a chance that something could kick off. If that happened, the C.O.’s, most of whom were tired from working day jobs or going to school full time, would be severely outnumbered.
C.O. Huntsberry also noted that there were no ‘attaboy-get-out- there-and-crack-some-convict-skulls’ briefings on Graves either. You were told your post assignment in the Front Lobby and you left from there to secure your post from a very weary 2nd Shift officer who seemed to be allergic to being in a prison after dark. Tonight, he would be assigned as Utility Officer 2. A coveted post for C.O.’s for all shifts prior to the death of 76.
Utility Officers were responsible for passing out and picking up Count Sheets to all of the units at DCSP. The 2 C.O.’s were also responsible for checking all empty buildings to ensure they were empty of convicts possibly hiding out in preparation of escaping DCSP. It was one of the most important jobs of the Utility Officers. So much so, that it was rumored that 3 of the 9 officers were fired due to the refusal to check D – Building.
The truth of the matter was only 1 of the C.O.’s refused to check D – Building and he was fired per DCSP policy. The other 2 C.O.’s, on separate occasions, claimed that when they checked D – Building they saw ‘movement’ in B – Pod. Regardless of what they did or did not see, neither returned after their visit to D – Building. C.O. Huntsberry’s partner, Utility Officer 1 met with him in the Briefing Room to discuss their roles for the evening. He was a little nervous about his U.O.-2 spot since he had not filled that position before. U.O.-1 told him that he would take the 10 pm count while C.O. Huntsberry did the Outer Fence checks. The plan was to switch positions at the 1 a.m. count.
The night was progressing rather quickly. The 10 pm count was conducted as planned. As the count was cleared by Central Control, the 2 C.O.’s met up to discuss and finalize the game plan for the rest of the shift. As they talked C.O. Huntsberry noticed that his fellow C.O. seemed to be holding his stomach and grimacing every few seconds. He asked him if he was okay and U.O.-1 nodded his head. Not convinced, Huntsberry advised the C.O. to stop by medical. The C.O. insisted that he would be okay. He added that a foul smell in D – Building made both his head and stomach hurt. Tom now wondered if there was any truth to all of the rumors surrounding D-Building. His partner was in perfect health less than 2 hours ago. Now he was sweaty and could barely stand on his own.
The C.O. reluctantly allowed Tom to escort him down to Medical where a nurse immediately began to check his vitals. Since there were several U.O. tasks left to be done, Tom took off so that they would not fall too far behind. Almost 30 minutes later, while completing the Inner Fence checks, he noticed an Ambulance racing towards the facility. He switched his radio to Channel 21 and called for Central Control. One of the officers responded, ‘Go ahead’ and he asked what was going on? Central informed him that apparently U.O.-1’s condition had worsened and that he was being rushed out to an emergency room. As he heard the news, Tom’s heart sank in his chest.
It was now 12:47 a.m. and Central Control announced for everyone to prepare for count. C.O. Huntsberry would now be responsible for checking 3 empty buildings. D – Building was the largest of the 3, so Tom decided to save the best for last. Finishing up the 2nd of the buildings, C.O. Huntsberry headed towards D- Building. As he grabbed the handle on the front door to the building, he quickly released it. It was extremely hot, even through his padded gloves. At first, C.O. Huntsberry thought he was imagining things. He calmed himself as he felt anxiety trying to get the best of him. He called for Central Control to open the door and waited to hear the loud buzzing sound signaling that the lock was temporarily pulled back.
Unfortunately, C.O.’s were not given keys to this building even though it was empty. Central Control opened all secured doors which could take forever if they were busy. While waiting for Central to ‘pop the door,’ C.O. Huntsberry’s radio gave off an audible ‘BEEEEP.’ This was the signal that his radio battery was dying and he only had a few minutes to switch to a fresh battery before his radio would be completely dead. He stood there trying to decide whether or not to grab fresh battery. . .‘BZZZZZ!’ Out of reflex, C.O. Huntsberry grabbed the handle quickly, yanking the door open as far as he could. The doors to the units were made of steel and weighed in the neighborhood of 800 pounds each. Had to keep the bad guys in somehow. As the door opened he barely had time to squeeze through it before it slammed shut. Talk about being locked up. His last thought about his radio was that it would last until he was done checking the building.
As he took a step forward he smelled the most disgusting smell he had ever smelled in his life. He gagged a couple of times and had to really concentrate to keep from throwing up. The scent got worse with each step he took. Wow, no wonder the other C.O. got sick, this stench has got to be toxic. Each Housing Unit had a Control Pod in the middle of it facing 6 pods. Each pod had 2 tiers. Stairs led to the top tier. Above each pod door was a letter, A – B, C – D, and E – F which labeled the corresponding pod. Each pod contained 50 convicts each, for a building total of 300. Since 76 lived alone, the total building count for D-Building was 299.
As C.O. Huntsberry proceeded towards the Control Pod, he used his flashlight to find the door handles of the building office, the dayroom, the Staff restroom, the barber room and the Medic Station all along the hallway leading to the Control Pod. As he checked each handle, to make sure it was locked, the only other lights in the building came from red exit signs. With the exception of those signs, a couple of dozen throughout the building, the building was consumed by complete darkness.
The power to the building had been disconnected since there were no convicts living there. As he checked the last door, C.O. Huntsberry aimed his high-beamed flashlight towards the Control Pod to ensure that it was empty and checked the pod door to make sure it was secure. He started with his checks over in A-Pod and decided to skip B-Pod and check it last. As he finished up his count in A-Pod, he exited, secured the pod door and walked quickly by B-Pod to head over to C-Pod. He was grateful that the C.O. before him had left all of the doors propped open when he checked the building.
If they were closed, he would have had to call Central Control to open each one as he stepped up to it. His radio would have died before he got halfway through his checks, if that were the case. As C.O. Huntsberry finished up his checks on the top tier in F-Pod, he was headed down the stairs when he heard a loud ‘BOOM!’ It was the unmistakable sound of a door slamming shut. In a panicked state, Huntsberry aimed his flashlight for the F-Pod door. He was only partially happy that the door was still open. So what the heck was that? His mind raced as he stood at the top of the stairs in F-Pod trying to see something, anything, that could have been responsible for the noise.
After a few minutes he decided that he must have imagined the loud noise that almost made him drop his flashlight. He also imagined that Central Control could be possibly watching him through one of the 5 cameras that were placed in each pod. He felt embarrassed by his jumpy actions. His radio beeped one of its final beeps as C.O. Huntsberry headed for his final destination, B-Pod. He thought to himself this would all be funny later on and later on could not arrive soon enough.
As he arrived to the door of B-Pod a chill covered his body. The door, which was clearly open when he passed it a few minutes ago, was now locked shut. For a few seconds, he thought about just leaving at this point. No one would ever know. Unless the cameras were working. Leaving without checking all of the pods would be unethical but C.O. Huntsberry could barely rationalize staying to finish the job. It had been a full 5 minutes of silence since C.O. Huntsberry had done anything but breath.
He realized that he would have maybe 3 minutes left on his radio once he radioed Central Control to open the B-Pod door. Normally, more than enough time to get in, check out the pod and get out. He made the call. After a few seconds, the door buzzed open. As he stepped into the pod, he held his dying radio in one hand and his flashlight in the other. The toxic smell was so strong in B-Pod that it made him dizzy and nauseous at the same time. As he crossed the pod floor and headed for the stairs, he noticed cell B15.
It was located at the base of the stairs. The caution tape, that fluttered all across the door, tattered and torn, made it the whole idea of looking into the cell for checks seem ridiculous. Trying not to look beyond the tape, C.O. Huntsberry did notice that it seemed to be darker in cell B15 than anywhere else in the building. He tried to smile as he thought boy, my imagination is really trying to get the best of me. As Tom hurried pass the cell and climbed the stairs another thought flooded his mind, if the cameras are working, what was taking so long for 76’s case to be solved? To his knowledge, there were still no answers as to who or what could beat a person so severely and not leave a trace. As he made it to the top of the stairs, his radio gave a final, weak, beep and died.
Now, C.O. Tom Huntsberry could clearly see himself running out of the pod, full speed headed for the front door. He quickly turned it off and back on hoping to get it work for a few more minutes. Nothing. He stood there frozen with fear. Unable to move. Paralyzed where he stood. Suddenly, he heard the toilet in cell B15 flush. The terror that raced through his body caused him to loose grip on his flashlight. He dropped it from the top of the stairs, lens first onto the concrete floor. It shattered the bulb upon impact. The pod filled with darkness and Tom heard movement at the bottom of the stairs.