By Tom Shull Department of Correction's Teacher - 1972-1995
Hell Behind Prison Walls
The Devil's Den of Prison and Justice
It is my pleasure to write about an individual, a former
colleague of mine, and a true gentleman, Mr. John Pecchio.
John began working at the Elmira Reformatory (Known today as
the Elmira Correctional Facility) in 1966 as a shoemaker in one of the many
Vocational shops in this prison. His career developed at the end of a very
important era in New York State History. A "Military Style Drill
Program" had been used in New
prisons system for years, and was being phased out. The end of this program was
to be the turning point in handling inmates constructively. It was soon
abolished in all maximum-security prisons, and later placed in prison camps.
Strict discipline at the Elmira Reformatory, as well as the rest of the
all-male maximum-security prisons in New
had faded by the wayside. Prisoners' rights took precedence over employees'
safety and individual rights. The Issue of often disregarding employees'
safety, and paying more attention to greedy lawmakers as well as
"outside" inmate attorneys promoting their own hidden agendas, lead
to our prison system becoming more dangerous for both employees and inmates. New York State couldn't build newer facilities
fast enough. Society's mismanagement of criminals and their wants and needs has
lead to millions upon millions of dollars being spent in hope of quelling
John Pecchio wrote his first book,
titled, "Hell Behind Prison Walls" in 2003, just eight years after
being brutally assaulted by a student who was in his Vocational class. In
essence, John was a product of non-caring, ruthless administrator; and their
actions, or lack of actions, almost ended his life. It must be pointed out that
others were not so fortunate. Although I was teaching at Southport Correctional
Facility at the time, I can vividly remember hearing about this incident, and
understood how an event of this magnitude could happen to any employee. John
lived through this incident; however, his 25 year career with the Department of
Corrections ended, albeit on a sour note. "Hell Behind Prison Walls"
vividly described how one of New
maximum-security prisons located in Elmira,
and possessing ideal job opportunities for those individuals who desired to
help wayward men straighten out their lives, went from strict discipline
facility to a facility that Mr. Pecchio called, "a prison of shams and
"Hell Behind Prison Walls" indicated how inmates
began being catered to by lawmakers. This practice filtered down to scared
prison administrators. Elmira Correctional Facility, as well as the rest of the
maximum-security facilities in New
saw reform methods, which were once working being replaced by facilities that
expanded prisoner's rights, a dangerous practice which affected all New York
State Prison employees in one way or another.
Mr. Pecchio in his twenty-fifth year of service never backed
down to ideals that were ingrained within him early in life. He described
himself as a leader and not a follower. He believed in what he was hired to do
in 1966 that of teaching his trade as a shoemaker to incarcerated inmates. It's
Mr. Pecchio's opinion (as well as my own) that if New York State held on to its'
practices and principles to strict discipline within their prisons, along with
continuing to teach self respect and pride to the inmate population,
rehabilitation would be more successful and our prison would not be in the sad conditions
they are in today. Needless money has been wasted the past quarter century
because of societies' establishment of giving rights to the murderers, drug
pushers, rapist, and criminally insane, and neglecting the rights of the
Me. Pecchio wrote his second book, title, "The Devil's
Den of Prison and Justice" in 2006. I have had the pleasure of reading
this book, which John goes into detail of describing how prisons need an overhaul
in handling inmates. The reader is captivated by mismanagement in prisons. Crimes
in our society can and should be prevented. Society as a whole is kept in the
dark as to what goes on behind prison walls. Mr. Pecchio describes how today's,
murderers, drug pushers, rapists, and mentally unstable are being kept
incarcerated, often without the help they need to straighten out their lives.
Taxpayers are being forced to pay for needless activities that inmates are
being provided with, just so these incarcerated individual don't go public with
how they are being "neglected" or "mistreated" or how their
rights are being violated. "Military-style-Strict Discipline", if
used today in our prisons, (as Mr. Pecchio so vividly states in his riveting
novel) would take care of the problems that constantly plague not only New York
States' prisons, but the rest of the overcrowded prisons that exist in the United States.
"The Devil's Den of Prison and Justice" is a must-read, not only for
the novice, but for all prison employees and former prison employees. As John
so aptly puts it: "It's better to be a leader who is involved in getting
it right the first time, then being a follower", whose actions more times
then not eventually leads to dangerous consequences. Strict discipline can lead
to a rehabilitated inmate. It's time that society wakes up and starts demanding
why prisons are failing. John has started the ball rolling; it's time that
others follow his lead.
Congratulations in providing two books worth reading, John.
Continue success in your future endeavors.