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We've heard of stir crazy, but this borders on insane

Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times

What's going on at Cook County Jail? The outrageous incidents over there make the place seem like the out-of-control insan e asylum depicted in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," although there isn't a stern Nurse Ratched to impose order. A snub-nosed revolver smuggled in that led to a staged shooting, marijuana snuck in packed in drinking straws and a guard selling cigarettes and vodka to inmates. Who is minding the store?

The superintendent and the chief of the jail's maximum-security Division 11 have been demoted and the vodka-selling guard has been charged with a felony, but it sounds as if there are fundamental problems at the jail that go well beyond a few demotions: such as guards who may be turning a blind eye or colluding with inmates.

Take the gun smuggling incident, for example. Randi White, a 21-year-old single mother, went to the jail on Jan. 26 ostensibly to visit a man named Slaughter, at least that's who she asked to see. Instead she met up with Gregory Sherman in the visitors' area and passed him a .32-caliber FIE Titanic revolver. Either she unscrewed a plate where a phone was on the wall and passed the gun through there, or she unscrewed the cage mouthpiece and slipped the gun through that opening, sheriff's officials surmise. Either way, where were the guards who were supposed to be overseeing the room?

And how did White get the gun past the so-called metal detectors in the jail? Apparently it was concealed in her pants, but why wouldn't that trigger the detector alarms? Didn't anyone notice an odd bulge in her pants or see her pulling the gun out of her jeans in the visitors' room? You have to wonder: Isn't the only way White could have accomplished what she did was with the guards' collusion? There were just too many ways for her to be caught.

Sheriff's officials believe the gun was brought in as part of a scheme to bring a lawsuit against the jail by painting it as an unsafe place; the gun was used by one inmate to lightly wound three others, Sherman, Terry Martin and Lorenzo Evans. Although these men face charges, eve ry guard on duty during the incident should be asked some very tough questions.

The same goes with the incident involving the contraband marijuana. Carolyn Roscoe, 18, smuggled that into the jail sometime within the last few months. She hid the pot in drinking straws that she then tucked into her waistband.

What about the safety factor in the jail? What about the people who are just spending a night or two there? Don't they deserve better protection? Sheriff Michael Sheahan is leaving office but he has a lot of explaining to do about the reprehensible goings-on at the jail, particularly the worrisome incident with the gun. Who is in charge here? The guards or the inmates?

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