My project continues to move forward and for the time being it has left my hands. Hopefully I will have some exciting news to bring you before long. Meanwhile I will continue to post my weekly columns and this week I am starting a four part series that dates back to when I first met Chub and began interviewing him in 2006.
This week will be the start of a four week adventure that will take you behind the walls of the oldest penitentiary in the Kansas/Oklahoma territory- dating back to the days when Oklahoma sent their inmates to Kansas to be imprisoned.
You’ll be with notorious inmates Richard Hickock and Perry Smith and hear how Truman Capote moved around freely behind the prison walls. You’ll also learn how life is for Chub Anderson and his strange crossing of fate with Hickock and Smith. You’ll visit the old prison cemetery which Walter Cronkite comes to every year and learn why and meet a Supreme Court Justice along the way. We’ll go on location to what was the largest cultivated marijuana crop field in the state, find out how it was discovered and interview several of the people involved including the growers. You’ll meet Rudy Briggs who was one of the first sheriff’s investigators on the scene of the Mullendore murder and follow his steps around the country in this made-for-the-big-screen real life mystery.
So fill up your canteen and come along with me to Lansing Kansas for the first installment of the Original Buffalo Dale Behind The Walls.
It’s July 27, 2006 and we’re being searched by the first of many guards we’ll face on entry.No phones or smoking materials are allowed and naturally no guns, knives or weapons of any type. And no cash over $50 can be taken into the prison. Money is not needed inside these confines and you will be searched coming out also. The thought is that visitors might be laundering money for the inmates.
After being processed I am issued a badge to be worn at all times, my hand is stamped with invisible ink and my license is returned to me to be kept handy throughout my visit. I am told to take a seat in the waiting area where I meet two men who are being released that morning and are waiting for a bus that will take them to anyplace they choose in Kansas. I don’t have to wait long but I have time to visit with one of the two inmates who told me about the bus ticket, the $100 “gate money” every inmate receives when released and the games you have to play to survive behind the walls. The anxiety of this young man is clearly visible and he says that just waiting for the bus to arrive is the worst. He just wants to taste his freedom. I wish him well as Brett Petersen, Executive Officer to the warden arrives and my journey inside Lansing Correctional Facility begins.
Our first steel door opened and my driver’s license was required to proceed. Then we walked down a long hallway to a set of steel bars where my hand was swiped under an infrared blue light. Then I moved through another set of steel gates where my ID badge was scanned. Along the way I’m getting to know Brett and asking him what now that I look back seem like some pretty dumb questions because after this last gate I’m standing in an island like place where they have their own system of rules that you live by. The thought of someone coming up behind you is ever constant as you look at the inmates who are moving around freely, going about their business. It takes some getting used to but as we head to the industrial area Brett’s manner is so professional that my fears drift off and before long my blood pressure goes back down and I am peppering Brett with questions again.
Our first stop is the toy shop where some of the finest woodworking I’ve ever seen is done, creating toys for not-for-profit and government fund raising events and for distribution to underprivileged children. Next door is a laser design shop where men are doing some extraordinary work making signs and other products. Then comes the paint and metal working shop where all the Kansas State highway signs are made and the paint is produced for the highways and school buses. There is also an embroidery shop which makes all the hats for the NCAA, the NFL, major league baseball teams and companies such as Gear and Sprint. In addition there are several other smaller shops that make goods of various kinds, all with inmate labor. It is quite fascinating and keeping these men busy I believe is the reason this area seems so tranquil. There are several private companies that work inside the walls and supply “civilian” crew bosses who teach the inmates how to operate the machinery and provide them with a trade if they don’t have one..
At any given time there are 500-600 men working in the industrial division on three 8 hour shifts- 24 hours a day if needed. They are paid minimum prevailing wage to start and 25% goes back to the penitentiary for room and board. 10% is put into mandatory savings, a small amount is paid into each inmates commissary account and the balance is paid into a victims’ restitution fund.
Next we go into the C unit where disruptive inmates are housed in segregated cells to maintain the security of the prison. You don’t want to go here and my impression is that you’d better be tough if you’re working in this area. My hat goes off to the guards securing these men. On average a guard works about three years before deciding either to leave or make this their career. If they stay they begin to work their way up the chain of command as warden Dave McKune and Brett Petersen have done- two fine dedicated men. While I’m talking about the guards- there are 463 working three shifts here watching over the 2,400 inmates in residence. This works out to about 154 guards on each shift. My blood pressure is going up again! I’d better take a break. Next week “D” block, “H” block and the Safe Harbor prison Adopt-A-Dog program that Brett is involved with. It’s a great story. Also coming up- coal mining inmates, the clinic, maximum security “B” block and the Chub Anderson-Truman Capote connection. Until then official guest #938 will be seeing ya down the road…..