After the murder, things went from bad to worse inside the walls. On May 11, 1992 there was a major commotion inside the Castle that led to a riot.
The Disciplinary Barracks Command wanted to prohibit the speaking of Spanish, ban colored head bands, and added more restrictions on smoking. They also wanted inmates to stand when a military officer entered the room. Most military protocol was dropped upon becoming an inmate and so this was absurd.
On top of that, about eighty percent of all parole attempts were denied. Inmates were upset with this percentage rate and it made them feel like it was nearly impossible to earn it. Inmates were also frustrated at the fact that most were forced to work without pay. There were very few paid positions available and if you refused to work your assigned detail, you were sent to solitary confinement. So it was work for nothing or go to the hole.
Over the previous seven weeks, tensions had risen over some of these rules that the guards were trying to enforce. Around 9 pm a fight broke out in one of the wings between two inmates. Within a few short minutes, five inmates were injured. Guards were able to stop the fight and assist some of the injured including evacuating the seriously injured to the Army hospital.
After the fight was broken up, fifty-eight inmates refused to be locked down. They didn’t act in a threatening manner, but gathered in groups and wrote a list of demands to be given to the commandant. At around 3:30 am, the Chief of the Security Battalion convinced the inmates to go back to their cells, promising that their demands would be discussed the next day.
It seemed as if the entire inmate population was trying to peacefully unite. They even elected a white, black and Hispanic representative from each domicile to an inmate council. Hoping to show racial unity and to discuss the demands with the Chief of Security. In the afternoon, they met and discussed the concerns and were promised only that their list would be given to the Commandant of the DB.
During recreation call that evening, about three hundred inmates banded together to plan another disruption. They felt like they were just being pacified and decided to hold a strike in which they would not comply with lock down and refuse to work the next day. A guard saw what was happening and quickly dispersed the group. They were told to go back inside to their respective wings.
At around 9:30 pm, more than six hundred Medium Custody inmates in three of the wings refused to lock down. Also around three hundred Minimum Security inmates from buildings B-5 and B-6 refused to stand for headcount. Inmates from one of the buildings walked out and occupied the courtyard.
After a three hour standoff, inmates in 3 and 6 Wings started to riot. They destroyed furniture and electric fans. They smashed video monitors and TV sets. The inmates started to arm themselves with homemade knives, and weapons made from pool sticks and furniture legs. Unarmed staff remained in the wings trying to restore order.
The inmates barricaded themselves into sections of the wings and even broke into the mess hall looking for weapons. The kitchen staff pro-actively moved knives and other potential weapons somewhere secure. They then locked themselves in a back office. The inmates were not able to find anything of use and left the mess hall.
Waiting in staging areas were about one hundred forty specially trained military police soldiers in full combat and riot gear. They were prepared to end the riot by retaking the prison by force. This ended up not being necessary. Several hours later, in the early morning of May 13, the disturbance was brought under control with minimal injuries and no fatalities.
Once again, around 2:30 am, the Chief of the Security Battalion convinced all inmates to return to their cells or buildings. Guards who were stuck in the wings as well as other staff were safely evacuated and order was restored.
The prison was put on 24 hour lock down with that being extended until further notice for 3 and 6 Wings. Many of the inmates would eventually lose their good time earned and faced charges such as, possessing a weapon, destruction of property, disobeying orders and incitement to riot.
It did sound like the DB Command was considering increasing the $25 given to inmates upon release and changing more work details to paid status. As far as all of the other demands, it didn’t seem like there was much that could be done. When it came to parole in the civilian prison system, first time offenders were granted parole about forty percent of the time. The USDB command felt like they held a higher standard when releasing military inmates than their civilian counterparts. There were no plans to change the way they granted parole.
Making it to the Local Parole Unit when I did could not have come at a better time. We were far away from all of this and only heard what happened. It seemed as if the entire DB participated and I have no idea what would have happened if someone said they weren’t interested in revolting against the system. It couldn’t have been worth it in the end.
I understood the pressure from living inside the walls was more than some could take, especially as long as some of those guys had been locked up. It just didn’t make any sense to me why anyone would want to fight a losing battle like that.
Did they really think that they were going to change the Army’s mind?
Did they think that risking all the rights and privileges that they earned up to this point was worth it?
What did they really have to gain from this, other than a blip on the history radar and a couple days of dangerous excitement?
And then I remembered, I ran away from the Army…