Let’s start with this—a prison is no place for a communications person. It’s not that communications people don’t commit crimes, I’m sure they do, but the problem with a communications person in prison is they don’t pay attention to what they should and they can’t be quiet.
Of course, being a communications person, I’m oblivious to this information. So, when a group of Minnesota School of Business criminal justice program students asked if I wanted to tag along on a field trip to tour the Oak Park Heights maximum security prison, I of course said yes.
After only two failed attempts to pass through the super sensitive metal detector, I was in—and after the extremely solid metal door loudly sealed shut behind me, I realized I was locked up.
Lucky for me, our tour guides, a rookie case manager and a 13-year experienced guard, didn’t know a communications professional was amidst the nine criminal justice students before the tour began.
It only took three minutes into the tour for me to ask one of my favorite questions and blow my cover.
“Before we begin, does anyone have any questions?” asked the case manager.
And so began my questioning. By question number four, the case manager asked, “You’re not a criminal justice student, are you?”
Me: “No. No, I’m not, Sir. I’m a communications specialist who watches the TV show, Locked Up, a lot.”
Case Manager: “Ah. That explains a lot. Let’s continue.”
And so our tour begins.
Throughout the tour, the criminal justice students, program chair and I learn about what makes Oak Park Heights different from other prisons in Minnesota.
Here are some of the interesting facts we learned:
- Oak Park Heights is the highest maximum security prison in Minnesota
- The prison houses inmates who are extreme risks to the public, prison guards and other inmates
- Despite holding Minnesota’s most dangerous inmates, it is one of the safest prisons in the United States—they have never experienced an escape or large riot
- Currently, the prison houses 436 inmates with 151 of those serving life sentences
- The average length of stay for inmates at the prison is 205 months
- Oak Park Heights contains the state’s only dialysis center and has one complex solely dedicated to housing inmates requiring medical care
- The prison has a smart porter area built in each segregation cell which allows guards to cuff inmates before opening their exterior cell door
- Every feature in a cell can be controlled by people in “the bubble,” which is a control room—I experienced this firsthand as I willingly walked into a cell and jumped 10 feet when the toilet flushed by itself.
At the end of the tour, I was gracious for all of the information our tour guides provided. For me, it was an amazing look at how prisoners live on a daily basis. For the students, it was an eye-opening look at possible career paths.
As we walked out, I laughed as one of our criminal justice students excitedly said to me, “I’m going to apply to work here.”
My response: “Thank goodness for people like you because I’m going to break the speed limit all of the way home and pray that I will never see the inside of a prison again—unless I’m on a tour.”
As a communications specialist, I’m grateful for students in the criminal justice program and criminal justice professionals—the places that I flee, they are excited to visit.