It was like any other day working at the bastille. I was training a new guy, Bob, on some of the finer points of Book In. It was still early in the shift and we had an occupant, the subject of this story who we’ll refer to as John Doe, who was being housed in R3. R3 was a temporary holding cell in the book in area of our facility where newly arrested people were held until they went to court. After court, they would generally either be released or they would be processed further and moved back to the Satellite area where the rest of the inmate population was housed. Well, Mr. Doe couldn’t get along with other inmates in population, so we had the pleasure of seeing him and hearing him every single day in book in.
On this particular day, Mr. Doe was apparently growing rather bored with his life in R3. He told me early that morning that, unless I wanted to write a lot of reports that day, I was going to want to go home sick. I told Mr. Doe that I couldn’t take a sick day because for one, I was training Bob. And not only that, I couldn’t leave the shift short like that. I was a team player and if something was going to go down, I was going to be there for it. Over the course of the next several hours, Mr. Doe repeated his sentiments. Telling me quite a few times that I was going to want to go home before lunch.
As the day went on, I could tell that Mr. Doe was definitely cooking something up in his head. I just wasn’t exactly sure what he was planning on doing. I mean, really, what could he do? He was in a jail cell with very few personal items. He didn’t posses any weapons to our knowledge. I didn’t think he could even fashion a weapon out of anything he had either. It was a short time later that he tipped his hand. Mr. Doe made a comment to the affect of, “Whoever comes in here is going to have to jump through a ring of fire.” I thought to myself, “Right, like he has anything in there capable of starting a fire.” As Mr. Doe was saying that, he was ripping up his mattress in the front corner of the cell. The mattresses are made up of a flame retardant material, so I thought there was no way he was going to light the mattress on fire even if he had a torch. I thought he was just being his typical mischievous self.
It was at that point that I remembered the fire extinguisher in Book In was inaccessible due to the key that opened the locked box being bent. I decided that I should probably walk up to Central Control to get the extinguisher out of there – just in case. In the crazy off chance that Mr. Doe did have a way to light anything on fire. I wanted to be prepared to quickly put that fire out.
I retrieved the extinguisher from Central and began walking back towards Book In. While I was waiting for the secure door leading to Book In to be opened by the Central officer, I was talking to the Assistant Jail Commander about the comments Mr. Doe had made. The AJC got on the phone with I believe the Major at the time, and while he was relaying the message, the Central officer got on the radio and advised there was a fire in R3. Great! I called for the door to be opened so I could get back to Book In with the fire extinguisher. As I entered the area and looked at R3, I could see that it was completely full of black smoke. Remember that mattress that was flame retardant? Well, apparently it still smoldered like crazy!
Bob and I ran over to R3 opened the chow hole door. I pulled the pin on the extinguisher and attempted to get some of the contents of the extinguisher onto the mattress. Mr. Doe quickly grabbed his blanket and put it up over the chow hole door opening, preventing me to get to the smoldering mattress. I then told Bob to stand in a certain position placing his foot near the door, only about 12″ away. This would work as a preventative measure to keep Mr. Doe from charging the door in an attempt to open it further. As I was trying to get the contents of the extinguisher onto the shredded mattress, Mr. Doe again placed his blanket in front of the door.
It was about that time when our backup finally arrived. The Sheriff, the Major, a Captain, the Assistant Jail Commander, and a town marshal all showed up to assist us. We had to get Mr. Doe out of that cell, which was filled with black smoke, get him into another cell, and take care of the smoldering mattress. We also needed to figure out exactly how Mr. Doe was able to even start the fire in the first place! Mr. Doe wasn’t going to willingly just walk over to another cell. His intentions were most assuredly malicious; especially at this point. After talking to Mr. Doe for a couple of minutes, and knowing he wasn’t going to go willingly, he was removed from R3 and placed into R1 – one of our padded cells. Restraints were used on Mr. Doe at that point. He was handcuffed behind his back and his legs were shackled. Mr. Doe was then searched for contraband. We had to figure out how he started that fire and if he still had the device that he used.
Mr. Doe was thoroughly searched, strip searched in fact, and nothing was found on his person that he could have used to start a fire. At some point the fire department was contacted. They came into Book In and set up fans to clear the area of black smoke. As the shredded, smoldered mattress was removed from the cell, it too was searched for any evidence of what started the fire. To this day I’m still not quite sure what Mr. Doe used to start the fire. All I know is it made for a rather eventful day and it is the start to so many more stories that I have to share about Mr. Doe and his time in Book In.