Inside Century Correctional Institution
July 15, 2013
Today, we begin our look inside the Century Correctional Institution with a trip through security and a look at what’s behind the fence and razor wire. Our series will continue this week inside the medical unit, the chapel, the prison’s most secure housing unit and more.
No weapons, no drugs. Must have a picture ID. Subject to search. No cell phones, no cameras. No smartphones.
No smartphone? That one seemed a little harsh and hard to swallow. I live with my smartphone in running NorthEscambia.com — I always figured the paramedics would pry it from my hands one day.
Otherwise the briefing on entering the Century Correctional Institution seemed simple enough. The same rules apply to family visiting prisoners on the weekends, but we were getting the all-access pass, far beyond the visitation room and yard.
We were told the no camera and no phone rules did not apply to us — Tallahassee had pre-approved NorthEscambia.com for the tour. But no photos of locks, guard control rooms or anything else related to security. And no photos that showed the identifiable faces of a prisoner. Seems that the state’s rules say prisoners have a right to privacy behind bars unless they sign a photo release.
Col. Joseph Schwarz is in charge of keeping the prisoners in and the rest of the world out as security boss. A commanding voice, with a bit of an accent, he seemed fit to play himself in a movie giving orders and watching over a Southern prison chain gang.
Standing under the razor wire that surrounds the 40-acre CCI campus, the barbs look like enough deterrent to keep one on the proper side of the fence.
Then it was through the gate, five people at a time on a Community Partnership Tour. Gates and doors must close behind those entering the facility before the one in front opens. There was no slamming sound like the movies. If you are headed into CCI to begin your life sentence, you’ll miss the gate slamming closed sound that momma warned you about. Just the sound of a chain link fence gate closing. And an electrical hum as a lock is opened and closed from a control room. Still, it’s hard to imagine what the feeling would be like headed in for 10, 20 years or even life.
In the guard tower, those watching over Century Correctional from above are armed with different weapons. One of the weapons is a shotgun. Aim is not terribly important with a shotgun…it’s not terribly hard to hit the guy trying to get over the fence.
Just inside the first fence, still surrounded by more fence and razor wire, it very much feels and looks looks the typical preconceived idea of a prison. And then there’s the thought of the guy up in the tower with the shotgun.
Stepping through the second gate is a bit of a surprise. A two-lane road, bright painted yellow lines in the middle and sides. Staff walks down the middle, while prisoners must walk outside the yellow lines on the “shoulder”. The grass is freshly trimmed, flowers beds are neat and plentiful around the buildings lining the road.
Library. Chapel. Security. — neat, hand lettered signs are above the doors of each building. A “Town of Century” water tower close behind the buildings. It really looks more like small town USA than a prison…if you overlook the bars on the windows. Somehow the bars look very out of place on the Chapel.
But at the far end of CCI small town, USA, there’s another fence, razor wire and another guard tower. Beyond those are the dorms — the home of over 1,400 inmates. Some will spend their final days and last breaths here.
Our series “Inside Century Correctional Institution” continues this week on NorthEscambia.com.
NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.