Widow of slain guard asks for tougher safety measures at prison

Monday, June 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALTUS, Okla. (AP) -- The widow of a prison guard has made a public plea for higher safety standards at the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite, where her husband was killed by an inmate and where his former colleagues say they still fear for their lives.

Sherri Gamble joined other employees from the prison and a state workers group Wednesday in presenting their concerns to three area lawmakers.

"We're not here for the money; we're here for better equipment," said Mrs. Gamble, told state Sens. Gilmer Capps and Robert Kerr, both D-Altus, and state Rep. David Braddock, D-Altus.

Mrs. Gamble's husband, Joe Allen, was fatally stabbed June 5 while helping a fellow state correctional officer with a prisoner.

"I don't want any other families to have to go through what we just went through," she said. "I'm not gonna go away. I'm not gonna watch while my friends die one by one."

Some former co-workers of Mrs. Gamble's husband took turns complaining about what they called poor safety conditions at the Granite prison.

"I was told not to talk, or else I'd be fired," said one prison employee who asked to remain anonymous. "But I'm afraid for my life out there."

Mark Bledsoe, a government relationship coordinator for theOklahoma Public Employees Association, said state Department of Corrections representatives were not invited to the meeting for that reason.

"DOC was specifically not invited so officers could have a free conversation with each other and their state legislators," Bledsoe said. "The loss of Sergeant Gamble has put them at the point of no turning back."

Officers want to be better armed by the state with equipment such as protective vests, pepper spray and expandable batons. Some officers told Capps, Kerr and Braddock that for $69.99 -- the priceof an AutoLock Baton -- Gamble's life might have been saved.

Some also argued that officer William Callaway, who was stabbed 13 times during the prisoner Dorhee McKissick's assault, probably would have been helped greatly by a protective vest.

Lt. Al Mobley, a veteran correctional officer, pulled out a pocketknife to make his point.

"If an inmate comes at me with this, all I have (are) these( hands) and a set of keys." Mobley said.

Employees also are concerned about the rising number of maximum-security prisoners.

State Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said 383 of the Oklahoma State Reformatory's 774 inmates are categorized as low-maximum, a group the prison began receiving last year. Prison employees contend that since that time, there have been no facility upgrades or staffing increases.

Massie said state corrections officials have obtained input from employees at the Granite prison since the fatal attack. As are sult, Massie said, a walk-through metal detector has been installed at the entrance of the prison's industrial operations building, as well as mirrors for blind corners and additional surveillance cameras.

Ten hand-held metal detectors and 16 more radios also have been purchased, Massie said.

"For the last two weeks, we've had people meeting with staffing down there," Massie said. "We're trying to do everything possible to help the situation. But there are no quick fixes."

In the letter to OPEA president Ty Todd, Corrections Director James Saffle said the agency has more than 30 job fairs in the past year, placed advertisements in newspapers, and had recruiting campaigns in an effort to recruit staff.

Correctional officers say low wages and poor safety conditions have undoubtedly hurt recruiting.