Over on the ol’ microblog, I probably link to a half-dozen intriguing tales per day, most of which I forget about a few moments after posting. But every so often, one of the stories I toss into the flotsam sticks with me for days, even weeks, to the point that I need to sit down and figure out why it’s still occupying space in my head. Such is the case with this complex prison saga from Alaska, which centers on a guard who was fired for violating a workplace rule: he brought a pocket knife into the facility. But his violation was only discovered after he used that pocket knife to save life:
When Spalding ordered inmates into lockdown, most went to their cells. One refused. “Let’s do this,” the inmate said to him, the same phrase used the day before.
Spalding figured an attack was coming and tried to leave. The inmate, a muscular 22-year-old serving seven years for robbery and assault, got between him and the door. They stared at each other. Then the inmate punched him in the head, Spalding said. Spalding tried again for the door.
“About that time, someone jumps me on the back or someone hits me from behind, I’m not sure what. But there was contact,” Spalding said.
A tornado of fighting men lurched toward the locked door. “I’m getting hit, punched, stuff like that, the whole time,” Spalding said. A third inmate joined in. “If I don’t do something now, I am dead,” Spalding remembers thinking.
He was pressed against a glass wall as he fished for his knife. “I finally get it out, I open it, I turn and then just start thrusting at anything that moved,” Spalding said.
He remembers falling to the floor. “They are putting the boots to me.”
The attack seemed to go on forever but lasted less than a minute, he said.
“One of them said, ‘Hey guys, he’s got a knife,’ ” and the inmates backed off, Spalding said. He got up. Everything was red from blood running into his eyes.
As the story makes clear, the security situation within the prison was so woeful that several guards felt compelled to carry added protection, despite knowing full well that they risked their jobs by doing so. They obviously feared for their lives more than they feared for their employment.
The question, then, is whether they had exhausted all other avenues to address their security concerns before going vigilante on the situation. At what point do we accept that people have no choice but to take the most extreme measures to protect themselves, even when those measures run contrary to established laws? There’s so much rich philosophical terrain to explore in this tale. Though for those directly involved, such questions are probably secondary to more basic issues, like when they’ll get their next paycheck.