The prison guard didn’t see the fire extinguisher smash into the side of his head. He just went down in the July sun. He looked up from the heel-packed red dirt of the Wyoming prison yard at three prisoners. They fell on him and he disappeared beneath their orange jumpsuits. He fought with his fists and feet. Red dust rose around them. Half a minute into the hot struggle, one of the prisoners shoved a dull shank deep into the guard’s gasping lungs.
The next day I stood in that prison yard at the Wyoming State Penitentiary looking down at the red ground where that young prison guard, a husband and father named Wayne Martinez, had been murdered.
A veteran guard solemnly described what happened. I was then a reporter for the local newspaper, the Rawlins Daily Times. This guard was helping me to understand the horrifying murder. But it was also what he told me about prison guards and prisoners that stayed with me.
“If you are too soft with the prisoners, they’ll lose respect for you and so will be more likely to harm you,” he said. “If you are too hard on the prisoners, they will also find a way to get you. You have to walk a line. That line is justice. These prisoners all want the dignity that just treatment gives them. And, what really bothers me, is that Wayne walked that line better than anyone. As he was in the yard, he was unarmed, but this shouldn’t have happened. The prisoners respected him. A guard in that tower, though,” he said, nodding at a stone guard tower, “didn’t have the nerve to shoot to protect him.”
Later, he pointed to some prairie dogs near a fence and said, “Some prisoners we get here don’t understand how to walk this line. We had a gang member come in a while back. He was a convicted murderer. He wanted to prove he was tough, so when one of these prairie dogs went into his cell, he killed it. Now, some of the prisoners treat those varmints like pets. We look the other way when they sneak a little food from the cafeteria to feed them. When that prisoner killed that pet prairie dog, he’d stepped over a line. We found him hanging in his cell the next morning.”
The veteran guard shrugged. We talked about how the three men who’d murdered Martinez had been caught and about other prison escapes. He mentioned that Wyoming residents tend to be armed and that this is a good thing.
“Out here,” he said pointing to sagebrush hills south to the Sierra Madre, “police response times aren’t instant. Society needs its Second Amendment freedom. We need strength to walk the line. Otherwise, the criminal element we have within these walls, and out there in society, won’t respect the citizenry.”
Now, looking back on that late-afternoon conversation in a prison yard, I can’t imagine that veteran guard approving of bail-reform laws that let violent criminals walk right back onto the streets. I can’t imagine him backing the views of today’s woke, George Soros-funded district attorneys. America needs a fair and impartial justice system that treats everyone equally. America needs to walk that line, to wield justice fairly but strongly. American citizens need the freedom to defend themselves.
The last thing that veteran guard told me was that Wayne Martinez was due to go on vacation the next day. He was taking his family to Disneyland.