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: Breaking into Prison

Seal_of_the_Calirfornia_Department_of_Corrections_and_RehabilitationToday is the first time John Schick, retired California Corrections Officer, has appeared on Just the Facts, Ma’am. He is now a regular contributor along with Hal Collier, Ed Meckle, and Mike (all retired LAPD).

By John Schick, Retired California Department of Corrections

California Institution for Men, Chino (San Bernardino County)

First watch anywhere is boring! In a prison, it’s usually really boring. Almost every inmate is sound asleep. Employees do their assigned jobs such as nightly fence checks. This was done on foot around our facility. Big place. On foggy nights it’s cold, and sometimes creepy. Coyotes, owls, snakes, skunks—you name it’ we saw it. One night, however, we saw something very different. One of our gun towers radioed they had a man at gun point between our security fences on the south side.
prison guard towerMy partner and I as well as a motorized outside patrol sergeant hurried to the scene. Sure enough, there was a man in street clothes on the ground with his hands out. In fact, two tower officers had this lame in the sights of their mini-14’s. That could get ugly—227 hollow points make an impression—literally! So we entered the fence line, grabbed this guy, cuffed him, and drove him to the admin building. We interviewed this lump in the Watch Lieutenants office. His story was that he paroled out a week ago. He had no money. He had no job. He had no family. He was hungry, tired, cold, and wanted to come home. We called the Chino Police who arrested him for a parole violation, and trespassing, and destruction of state property—he cut a hole in our fence with bolt cutters!

After his parole agent violated him, he did, in fact, come home. We advised him next time just get caught stealing a can of beer. Much safer and easier! Many crazy things happened in there. Just pays to keep your eyes open.

Surprises are not always pleasant.


John started working for CDCR in April 1982. He worked
custody positions for many years to include Search & Escort Officer,
Complex Transportation Officer (Bus & Van Crew), Perimeter Towers,
Administrative Segregation Unit, and various other assignments. In
2000, he promoted to Correctional Counselor, and took a desk job. In that
capacity he got involved in the classification, gang investigation,
court pre-sentence report referral, and numerous other related
activities. He interacted with many other agencies, and met some VERY
unusual and interesting people. No regrets. He retired intact 2007.