View from the Tower

View From the Tower: Stations

By John Schick, Retired Department of Corrections, California

(This post was originally a comment to Hal and Ed’s post about their police stations. It was so good, I had to post it on John’s own column.–Thonie)

Prison_guard_tower_(2967623823)Ok, so we’re talking about antiquated work buildings. CIM (Ca Institution for Men where I worked)) was opened in 1941. It was the only prison ever built by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during WW-II. Originally it was a honor farm work camp: It had no walls. It has four facilities: Reception Center West, Reception Center East, Reception Center Central (RCC), and CIM-Main (minimum custody level 1 inmates.) The entire facility (with additions) held 6,500 inmates. We ALWAYS had more. It was the ONLY Reception Center in southern Calif. until Otay-Mesa (Donovan) was activated in 1987. We used to receive jail buses from the counties of LA, Riverside, San Diego, Orange, and San Bernardino. It made for a busy day every day.

Prior to the installation of electric cell doors EVERYTHING was gang box manual cell control. If you’ve ever toured Alcatraz, you saw manual levers for opening and closing cell doors. Ours was very similar. It took some getting used to. Ofttimes the doors wouldn’t lock, so we had to secure them with handcuffs. Almost every cell block had three tiers. After 8 hours of running up and down stairs you were ready to hit the gate UNLESS you got ordered over due to staff shortages. THEN you got 16 hours of stairs to handle. No overweight people were overweight for long.

On the West yard where I worked most of my career we had one story 150-man dormitories. They were a dilapidated to say the least. Toilets were clogged. The showers quit working. The heaters broke. A/C? Nah! Every Spring the dorms would be overrun by termite queen swarms. They were crawling on the walls. They were flying in your face. They would fill up the overhead light covers. You had to shake out your uniform and belongings to make sure you didn’t take a queen termite home with you. Our maintenance department was ineffective, to say the least.

In the RCC higher security building (erected in 1951) was a concrete dungeon. All it needed was a draw bridge. At night you could count on a visit from either Mr. Cockroach, OR Mr. Mouse, or both. There were THOUSANDS of them. The basement was an adventure. Usually half full of water it was a home to Olympic-sized cockroaches. I measured one at almost three inches in his bare feet! Despite efforts to eliminate their numbers they thrived. It was cool down there. It was moist and smelled like a putrefying bog. Perfect!

dairy cattleI should mention that CIM had a dairy herd of about 200 milking cows on grounds. The flies and smell of manure was in the summer horrific. The ammonia was enough to clear your nostrils! Not only did WE have dairy cows, but the entire end of southern Chino was at one time the largest dairy reserve in the world. So, there was an unending supply of manure aroma to satisfy the most sensitive noses. At night we would get thick fog that would pick up the manure scent and carry it into the dorms.

I heard an inmate complain one particularly stinky night, “Man! That’s 100% bullshit!”

I had to concur.

View from the Tower

View from the Tower: Shadow Guard Returns

By John Schick, Retired California Department of Corrections
prison towerWay back in the 70’s a tragic event took place at California Institute for Men (CIM). A depressed employee went to his assignment on first watch in “A” Tower at the West yard.
Sometime during his shift, he put the barrel of his Ruger Mini-14 rifle under his chin and pulled the trigger. Apparently, he was grief stricken over the loss of his wife. Because towers are fortified with all steel walls, bullet proof glass, and locked from the inside maintenance was called in the wee hours to use a cherry picker to get in, and with local police assistance removed the body.
I guess it wasn’t very pleasant scene inside as one can imagine.
Thereafter, as long as I worked there that tower was the scene of weird events. In fact the administration changed the West towers from alphabetic designations (A, B, C, etc) to numeric leading to Tower “A” becoming Tower 15.
Anyway, over the years odd things happened up there. Inside, patrol sergeants who routinely tour the towers at night would call the tower officer, and ask who the “other” person in the tower was. He would see two dark silhouettes inside the tower instead of one. During shift changes it was routine to check all the ammunition to make sure it was accounted for before relieving the tower officer. Sometimes the 2nd watch relief would find a mini-14 round missing. No one had fired a round, and it was all accounted for, at last—relief. Weird sounds and such continued over the years. It was widely accepted by custody staff anyway that tower “15” aka “A” tower was haunted. In fact, some people refused to work it while others asked for it!
I wonder if it’s still there?

View from the Tower

View from the Tower: Kevin Cooper


110083 met cooper w 3.jpg
Kevin Cooper listens during his preliminary November 1983 hearing in Ontario where he stood accused of murders in Chino Hills in June of 1983. (Inland Valley Daily Bulletin staff file photo)

We’ve all heard the story about Kevin Cooper (AKA David Troutman). He’s the convicted killer who escaped from the California Institution for Men (CIM) State Prison in Chino, California only to break into a home in Chino Hills, and kill five people. Chino Hills was then a small community about three miles from the prison. I worked at CIM then and here’s the real story behind his escape.


Cooper was an escapee for a Pennsylvania mental facility. His crimes there were non-violent property crimes (burglary). He fled to California where he was arrested and convicted for burglary. He received a 4-year sentence. He changed his name to Troutman which oddly escaped notice by the police and California Department of Corrections (CDC).


California State Men’s Prison at Chino (CIM)


He sat in county jail for a while before he arrived by bus to CIM June of 1983. Back then, all non-violent offenders were housed in the minimum-security yard. This was the original 1941 honor ranch facility envisioned by Mr. Kenyon Scudder in the 1940’s as a “prison without walls,” or an honor ranch with bars. It was part of his plan to rehabilitate criminals through hard work, sunshine, and humane treatment. Didn’t work then, or now. Cooper was sent from our Maximum Security building to Minimum Security solely based on the paperwork designating him as a simple thief. It was a common practice.


The Minimum yard consisted of large concrete dormitories, some of which had cells, but most didn’t. It had no guard towers but did have a three-foot-high barbed wire cattle fence perimeter. That’s it. The facility used to keep a decent herd of dairy cows which provided fresh milk to CIM and other facilities. Hence the barbed wire fence. Not exactly except-proof, but a boon for David Troutman/Kevin Cooper.

He was there exactly one night.

When the fog rolled in (which got very thick there), he rolled out! He just stepped over the fence to freedom.

CIM was surrounded by over 2,000 acres of prime farmland (much of which was sold to developers for housing just before I left in 2007). When Cooper left, southern Chino was mostly an agricultural area with corn fields everywhere. Easy place to hide. A lumber mill sat just up the road. Nor were there many street lights to contend with.


June 9, 2003 at the West End Substation to identify suspect in. Chino Hills murders as Kevin Cooper. (Walter Richard Weis / Staff Photographer)

In the darkness of southern Chino, Cooper hid in the lumber mill. Then he made his way to Chino Hills where he committed those ghastly and brutal murders. As soon as he was missed at the next head count, we set out to find him. Mutual assistance was provided by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s and the City of Chino Police. We all wanted this guy who we thought was escaped burglar David Troutman.


After he was arrested in Northern California, his real identity was discovered.

Midge Carroll was the interim Warden who had been assigned to CIM to look into staff corruption. She got the heat for Cooper’s escape. She didn’t deserve it, frankly. Wrong place at the wrong time.

Of course, the state looked for someone to lynch besides our warden. So, they summoned the entire Records staff into the San Bernardino Grand Jury. Nothing came of theat. Records merely followed established protocol.

prison towerAs a result of this, things changed: to this day, all inmates are sent to maximum security until such time as their background paperwork is received into Records for review. Also, a 12-foot-high chain link fence with razor wire surrounds the Minimum yard, and armed gun towers were installed.

Although the fence remains, all the gun towers except sally port towers have been deactivated due to electrified fence installations throughout CIM. It is much more efficient and a whole lot cheaper. The only bad result is the matter of discretion was removed when the fences went up. Before an officer could either wound an escapee (leg shot, etc.) or head shot. It was the officer’s call.

The fence just kills. I never liked that.

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