Lockdown

lockdown
iron grip (6/6)

This gritty series plunges head-first into the world of America’s most dangerous prisons and gets up close and personal with some of the world’s most hardened criminals. Tonight’s programme concludes the series with an examination of North Carolina’s Alexander Correctional Institution – a facility with a reputation for ultra-tough security and strict rules and regulations.

Located in Taylorsville, North Carolina, Alexander is one of the state’s newest maximum-security facilities and houses some of its most dangerous criminals. The staff must rule these volatile men with an iron grip to maintain total control, earning the prison its reputation as one of the tightest in the state. Assistant superintendent Keith Whitener makes sure the inmates know who is in charge as soon as they arrive. “It’s not their cell,” he offers as an example. “It’s my cell. It’s my staff’s cell.”

However, as much as the staff focus on maintaining the upper hand, things may not always be as controlled as they seem. One of the biggest threats to security in any prison is gang activity, and Alexander is no different. The North Carolina Department of Correction has established the Security Threat Group (STG) to keep tabs on gang members, and Alexander’s tactics include taking pictures of new inmates’ tattoos and brandings to identify any gang affiliations from the outset.

The STG assesses and rates gang affiliates on a scale of one to three – three being the most dangerous – based on their threat to prison security, and inmates are immediately restricted according to their threat level. The most dangerous are sent to segregation, or ‘the hole’, where they spend 23 hours a day in seven by ten-foot cells – and some are here for years.

Lieutenant James Gribble is the security intelligence officer at Alexander. He is following up a lead which suggests that there maybe a power struggle between some of Alexander’s nine gangs, and is appealing for assistance from Avery Cummings, a level-three gang member serving 16 years for murdering a rival. Avery and Gribble have established a unique relationship: although each has his own agenda, they are also able to work togther to keep gang violence inside Alexander down. Avery is no snitch, but what he does choose to tell Gribble can give the officer the insight he needs to make headway in his investigation.

For Gribble and his men, one of the most reliable ways of gathering information on gang activity is to sift through the rubbish. Unaware that this material is searched, the inmates will often use it to communicate with each other, aided by inmate janitors. Gribble estimates that 90 per cent of his intelligence relating to gang activities comes from this source – but even he is unprepared for a shocking document which threatens prison security and could well tip the balance of power at Alexander. A note has been found which indicates that a major drug ring is operating inside the prison –and when a cell search turns up evidence that a staff member may be involved, Gribble has a major investigation on his hands.

Gang activity is not the only factor that must be controlled at Alexander: violence, both between the inmates and against staff, is also a big danger. Larry Carver, one of the prison’s youngest officers, works in the Blue Unit and spends some of his time controlling the traffic of inmates within the block. Here, prisoners are not restricted to their cells and can mix freely in the day room – which means that the potential for violent conflict is high, and the officers in the room are at risk. Officers are even more vulnerable in the yard, where they can be outnumbered by inmates by 75 to one.

Carver, Gribble and the rest of the staff at Alexander Correctional Institution are waging a constant battle to maintain their famous iron grip on their inmates. And with new waves of prisoners arriving each week, each new face could bring with him information to help them –or more trouble.

lockdown
women behind bars (5/6)

This gritty series plunges head-first into the world of America’s most dangerous prisons and gets up close and personal with some of the world’s most hardened criminals. This programme meets staff and inmates at California’s Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW), where 3,900 of the most ruthless women in the state system are serving their time.

The most violent inmates at VSPW are housed in Administrative Segregation. They threaten prison security, attack fellow inmates and assault the staff, meaning that officers must wear protective gear including stab-proof vests, Kevlarstrengthened gloves and arm themselves with batons and pepper spray. “If people on the outside knew how truly violent these women are,” says one guard, “I think they would be taken aback by it.” Inmate Erline Mitchell is in Adminstrative Segregation, with a record that includes grand theft, running over a pedestrian while drunk and prostitution. She is on ‘cell alone’ and ‘walk alone’ after hitting her cellmate with a padlock swung in a sock and attacking staff.

Isolation frustrates Erline. “This place is crazy,” she announces. “It’s very, very demented; it’s very evil; it’s very mean and it’s very painful… We fight a lot, because we’re so angry.” She finds it hard having no contact with the other inmates, and has now requested a cellmate. But will Erline’s violent history prevent the authorities from trusting her to live peacefully with another person?

The non-segregated inmates at VSPW live in General Population. Unlike male inmates, the women are not housed by threat level, which means that a murderer might be living alongside a thief or a drug dealer. Violence between the women is common, whether stemming from personal clashes, thefts, sexual relationships or drug debts, and Lieutenant James Neeley wants to curb it by stopping the flow of drugs. He heads up the prison’s Investigative Services Unit (ISU), and has his eye on several suspects – will his trained eye spot the dealers among the inmates?

Walking through the prison yard, where most of the transactions take place, Neeley knows what to look out for. Inmate Maureen Green also knows how things work in the yard – she has been in and out of the prison system for three decades, clocking up drugs, battery and carjacking offences. Maureen is due for release in one week, and is nervous about getting out. “I feel more safe here,” she explains. “I feel more loved here; more valued here.” Life on the outside will be tough enough for Maureen – and she already has two strikes against her, which means that a third violent offence will land her back in VSPW for life.

For some of the inmates, ties to the outside world make serving their time even harder. Crystal McLoughlin has two children, and is pregnant again. She is serving a sentence for drug-dealing and second-degree burglary, but being pregnant does not mean inmates are safe from violence inside – “your face ain’t pregnant”, says Crystal, quoting a phrase often heard in the prison. And when her baby is born, Crystal has to let her be taken home by her grandmother, before serving the remaining eight months of her sentence.

Crystal wants to straighten her life out, as does Maureen. “I ain’t planning on [going back to prison] ever again,” says Maureen. “And that’s a good feeling.” However, she adds, “being out there – it’s scary to me.” She knows that it is going to be difficult to resist the fast money of crime – but if she can, she will be one of the few who get out and stay out.

lockdown
gang war (4/6)

This gritty series plunges head-first into the world of America’s most dangerous prisons and gets up close and personal with some of the world’s most hardened criminals. This programme goes inside California’s Salinas Valley State Prison – an overcrowded, maximum-security facility where rival gangs of inmates are on the brink of war.

Officers estimate that 70 per cent of the criminals who enter Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP) were in gangs on the outside. Once inside, the inmates take things one step further, merging with gang members of similar ethnic backgrounds to form massive racial armies. The gangs here are defined as whites, blacks, southern Mexicans, northern Mexicans and ‘others’ – a fifth group that includes Asians and Native Americans. Their battleground is the C Yard, which is the most violent of SVSP’s four yards due to its population of level three and four inmates – the two highest security rankings.

Today, C Yard has been the scene of a violent assault – a common occurrence at SVSP, where nearly 200 gang-related attacks occur each year. A white inmate has been stabbed by two southern Mexicans, and the fact that the racial divide has been crossed is worrying. It is the latest sign that the southern Mexicans and whites are on the verge of a racial war, coming after the discovery of six weapons in the past week. Are the prisoners arming themselves for something big?

Cell block C is home to the most dangerous inmates, including gang leaders, or ‘generals’, who order assaults, riots and murders to be carried out by ‘footsoldiers’. Many of these footsoldiers live in one room – the notorious C Gym, where 120 violent criminals sleep on bunk beds with no cell walls to divide them. This overcrowding increases the tension between the racial groups, and the numbers are by no means equal. The southern Mexicans dominate with 63 inmates; blacks and others have 14 representatives apiece; northern Mexicans number 20 and there are just nine whites.

Every square foot of the gym is territorialised, and disrespecting the boundaries of each ethnic group can cause major problems. “It’s not only about preserving yourself,” says John, one of the C Gym’s nine white prisoners. “It’s about preserving who you hang out with.” Chris is the newest black inmate at C Gym, and quickly learns about the rules. The black inmates’ strategy for survival is to stay on the sidelines, but Chris makes a grave error when he accidentally walks in the southern Mexicans’ territory. He knows that he cannot afford to make that mistake twice.

Most of the southern Mexicans refuse to talk to camera, apart from former general Oscar. He rose through the ranks at SVSP to become a leader, but is now in protective custody after refusing to have his schoolteacher killed and has a hit out on him courtesy of the southern Mexicans. “I was blinded,” he says of his former life, “and it took me many years to see that.” Oscar suspects that the stabbing that took place in C Yard occurred because the whites broke southern Mexican rules – and when the lockdown on C facility is lifted, two whites attack two southern Mexicans in retaliation for the stabbing.

In an attempt to keep the two warring gangs under control, the staff call upon the prison’s Gang Investigation Unit and inform them that they believe two gang members have been making weapons in preparation for the war. A 5am cell raid turns up some valuable finds – including some deadly makeshift knives, or ‘shanks’, and communications between prisoners. Searching the gym turns up more weapons, including some fashioned from toothbrushes, coffee cups and broken pieces of bunks.

That night, once the cameras have gone, a riot finally kicks off in C Gym between the whites and the southern Mexicans. Realising that this may just be the beginning of further violence, the staff can only try to control the gangs – but as they keep searching for weapons, the generals keep plotting and the footsoldiers keep fighting…

lockdown
gangland (2/6)

This gritty new series plunges head-first into the world of America’s most dangerous prisons, providing an unprecedented immersion into life behind bars and getting up close and personal with some of the world’s most hardened criminals. This first programme examines the gang warfare rife inside California’s Pelican Bay State Prison.

Located 350 miles from San Francisco, Pelican Bay State Prison was built in 1989 to control the most violent and hard-to-handle of the prison system’s gang members by isolating them from the outside world in one facility. Unfortunately, it has earned itself a reputation as a ‘headquarters’ for gang members –and its notoriety has turned being sent there into something of a privilege for inmates. “This is where all the killers come,” says Joseph ‘Shotgun’ Harmon, who is serving 17 years for assault with a deadly weapon. “If you’ve made it to Pelican Bay, you’ve made it.”

Not only do inmates continue to hone their criminal skills in Pelican Bay, as one guard puts it, but gang leaders have turned it into a command centre from which they continue to control criminal activity on the outside. From behind bars, they are able to run illegal drug trades in California; control thousands of gang members on the street; and even order killings.

Pelican Bay is divided into two facilities. The gang leaders are separated from the rest of the prisoners and put in solitary confinement in the notorious Security Housing Unit (SHU), where they spend 22 and a half hours a day in small cells. In the so-called ‘Mainline’ section, 2,000 ‘footsoldiers’ are housed in a number of blocks, each containing 120 cells. The prisoner population is comprised of four ethnic groups, who call themselves the Blacks, the Whites (including groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood and Nazi Low Riders), the Southern Mexicans and the Northern Mexicans. And for the officers guarding them all, every day in the yard brings with it the risk of being attacked. “We’re on the losing end of that battle,” explains prison officer Sergeant Navarro.

However, the authorities at Pelican Bay have a new way of controlling the gang leaders. Clint MacMillan, trained as a Navy SEAL, is part of the Internal Gang Investigations (IGI) unit – an elite team of 16 specialists who are leading Pelican Bay’s counter-assault. Their strategy is to destroy the gang leaders’ communication network in order to get important members to leave their gangs and, sometimes, turn informant.

Having convinced inmates like Joseph Harmon to turn, MacMillan and the IGI have their sights set on another key gang member who is believed to be communicating orders through coded letters. With the help of the FBI cryptology unit, MacMillan is able to decode these and confronts the inmate with the evidence. But will this gang member, who knows that even speaking to the IGI is enough to get him killed by his enemies, give MacMillan the information he needs?

Even if he does, not everyone is convinced that the war against gangs will be won. “You’re always gonna have gangs,” explains a former member of Latino prison gang Nuestra Familia. “Gangs are like cockroaches – they’re gonna be around till the end of the world.” Clint MacMillan and his team are determined to go some way to ending the cycle of violence –but with more gang members arriving at Pelican Bay twice a week, is this a war that they can ever hope to win?

lockdown
gangland (1/6)

This gritty new series plunges head-first into the world of America’s most dangerous prisons, providing an unprecedented immersion into life behind bars and getting up close and personal with some of the world’s most hardened criminals. This first programme examines the gang warfare rife inside California’s Pelican Bay State Prison.

Located 350 miles from San Francisco, Pelican Bay State Prison was built in 1989 to control the most violent and hard-to-handle of the prison system’s gang members by isolating them from the outside world in one facility. Unfortunately, it has earned itself a reputation as a ‘headquarters’ for gang members –and its notoriety has turned being sent there into something of a privilege for inmates. “This is where all the killers come,” says Joseph ‘Shotgun’ Harmon, who is serving 17 years for assault with a deadly weapon. “If you’ve made it to Pelican Bay, you’ve made it.”

Not only do inmates continue to hone their criminal skills in Pelican Bay, as one guard puts it, but gang leaders have turned it into a command centre from which they continue to control criminal activity on the outside. From behind bars, they are able to run illegal drug trades in California; control thousands of gang members on the street; and even order killings.

Pelican Bay is divided into two facilities. The gang leaders are separated from the rest of the prisoners and put in solitary confinement in the notorious Security Housing Unit (SHU), where they spend 22 and a half hours a day in small cells. In the so-called ‘Mainline’ section, 2,000 ‘footsoldiers’ are housed in a number of blocks, each containing 120 cells. The prisoner population is comprised of four ethnic groups, who call themselves the Blacks, the Whites (including groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood and Nazi Low Riders), the Southern Mexicans and the Northern Mexicans. And for the officers guarding them all, every day in the yard brings with it the risk of being attacked. “We’re on the losing end of that battle,” explains prison officer Sergeant Navarro.

However, the authorities at Pelican Bay have a new way of controlling the gang leaders. Clint MacMillan, trained as a Navy SEAL, is part of the Internal Gang Investigations (IGI) unit – an elite team of 16 specialists who are leading Pelican Bay’s counter-assault. Their strategy is to destroy the gang leaders’ communication network in order to get important members to leave their gangs and, sometimes, turn informant.

Having convinced inmates like Joseph Harmon to turn, MacMillan and the IGI have their sights set on another key gang member who is believed to be communicating orders through coded letters. With the help of the FBI cryptology unit, MacMillan is able to decode these and confronts the inmate with the evidence. But will this gang member, who knows that even speaking to the IGI is enough to get him killed by his enemies, give MacMillan the information he needs?

Even if he does, not everyone is convinced that the war against gangs will be won. “You’re always gonna have gangs,” explains a former member of Latino prison gang Nuestra Familia. “Gangs are like cockroaches – they’re gonna be around till the end of the world.” Clint MacMillan and his team are determined to go some way to ending the cycle of violence –but with more gang members arriving at Pelican Bay twice a week, is this a war that they can ever hope to win?

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