Officers Nicholas Denton and Kenneth "Kasey" Rider escort an inmate to meet with their lawyer at the Essex County Jail.
It was a typical morning - everyone got ready for breakfast and had their utensils in place.
However, one of the utensils, a spork, was missing. At home, you’d just replace it with a new one.
In the Essex County Jail, you must find it.
“Everyone is issued a spork and they must use it for the time that they are with us,” Officer Nicholas Denton said. “If one is missing, then we have to do a search of rooms to make sure its not being used improperly.”
That is how the morning started for members of the Essex County Sheriffs Department assigned to cover the jail, preceeded by a morning briefing and shift change where the outgoing and incoming supervisors make sure inmate counts are correct.
On June 13, 95 inmates from Essex, Franklin and Jefferson Counties along with federal inmates called the Essex County Jail their home. During morning hours, two more were added to that population, while one was released.
“It seems to come in waves,” Captain Tom Murphy said. “We can go days at a time without any new inmates, then we have a line at the booking station.”
During last week, business was up at the jail, as five inmates were booked June 11 along with the two on June 13, with more on their way.
“The last couple of months have actually been very busy,” Officer Denton said. “We have had our classification board in booking completely filled and had to start another area to list them all.”
Each prisoner who comes to the jail is given a classification ranking based on their criminal past and behavior while incarcerated at other facilities.
“There are other facilities that do not run a classification and just take the word of the inmate,” Denton said. “We take all of their history into account and give them a rating to determine whether they can be in general population or if they need to be separated.”
The three blocks
There are three main areas, or blocks, in the prison: A, B and C block, with the first two housing 40 inmates and the third, 20.
In A block, Officer Kyle Young spent part of his morning listening to inmates who were upset because they were not able to keep the television on past the 11 p.m. lights out.
“They wanted to watch the rest of the basketball game,” Young said, referring to game one of the NBA Finals. “You will have inmates who will always try to play the officers off of each other. You listen to their concerns, but in the end, it is each supervisor’s call.”
In B block, a pod usually used for male inmates but currently used for female inmates that mostly have been brought in from other counties, the morning started with breakfast and mail call.
When one inmate did not receive any mail, she felt that the officers were keeping it from her.
“We have no reason to do that,” Denton told her.
“It is a very common complaint that we are keeping mail,” he later said. “It’s their link to the outside, so it is important to them.”
In C Block, inmates watched television as officers watched over them, with one inmate asking when the article on the visit was going to be in the paper.
Along with the three blocks, there is also a segregation area - mostly, “for those who do not play well with others,” according to Sheriff Richard Cutting - and a workers quarters, where those who work in the kitchen and other areas sleep.
“They get a couple extra things because they are working within the facility,” Denton said. “A lot of them do it to make the time pass faster and keep them busy. Others do it because they do not want to be in general housing.”
After checking out a potential situation in B Block by playing back the tapes along with Officer Pete Feeley, Officer Denton made his way to booking, where New York State Police were dropping off a man who was arrested in the town of Chesterfield the night before.
Denton was joined by Officer Tom Dorsett, and the two went through the booking process, asking a number of questions to assess the soon-to-be inmates mental state (he admitted to drinking six “tall boys” that night) and to help with classification. The officers also noticed several bruises on the person, calling the facility nurse to take a look at them.
Throughout the process, the officers and inmates exchange small talk, even cracking a couple jokes between each other.
“Once they get away from the Trooper or Deputy who arrested them, you often see them change,” Denton said.
“A lot of times they will come in upset or mad,” Dorsett said. “We find that as we are talking to them, if we try to be as helpful as we can and maybe even lighten them up a little, it will calm them down and make the process easier on them and us. This was an example of that. Other times, we are not as lucky.”
Once processed, the inmate was assigned a bar for his clothing along with items for the jail and escorted into A Block, where he was welcomed by a small spattering of new inmate hazing.
Dorsett said that while he was able to find a place for this inmate, the number of beds to place people were filling up.
“I had about five places where I could have put him,” he said. “With the large population of female inmates, it has taken 20 cells away that were usually used for men.”
Work paying off
Recently, female inmates from Jefferson County started to again be housed in Lewis. Sheriff Cutting said that was due in part to the way his officers handled the inmates.
“It costs them less to transfer them to Rensselaer,” Cutting said. “But when there is a problem with one of the inmates, Albany County wants to send them back. We don’t care whose inmate they are, if they are under our roof, we are going to take care of them.”
“It’s nice to know that people like the work that we do here,” Murphy said.