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Old 06-14-2005, 03:17 PM
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Default ARTICLE: Arizona's Prison Boss

Arizona's Prison Boss
Feature Story Phoenix Magazine
December 2004

Some say she's too soft to run Arizona's troubled prison system,
while others say she's an unflinching ramrod with the grit to get things done.
Time will determine her legacy, but already, Dora Schriro has successfully
managed the longest hostage crisis in U.S. history - and in the process,
became the only prison director ever to get everybody out alive.

She doesn't look much like a prison chief - this diminutive blonde who resembles actress Glenn Close - especially not in a law-and-order state that usually gives the job to tall cowboy types who tend to fancy oversized belt buckles.

But let Dora Schriro, with 30 years of prison experience under her belt, respond to that visual dichotomy herself: "I'm one tough cookie. Pound for pound, I'm one of the toughest, strongest and, hopefully, nicest people in this business."

As it turns out, the lady's modest.

Pound for pound, Dora Schriro could be the most unflinching ramrod that has ever run Arizona's troubled prison system - a mighty assessment for the first female in the job.
But that's not the "first" that pleases her most. The one she likes most is that she's the first woman in the United States to have headed two state prison systems - she also ran Missouri's prison system before coming to Arizona.

And she comes with some impressive credentials: In 1999 she was named the nation's top correctional director by her peers; she's widely seen as "a national star in prison management"; and she has more front-line experience than anyone who's headed the state's prison department in the last 20 years.

Those are just some of the reasons Governor Janet Napolitano brought her to Arizona 18 months ago to take over a 10-prison, 32,000-inmate, 10,300-staff system untouched by imagination. Schriro immediately announced some creative and radical changes. She said she'd run the prisons as a "parallel universe" to the free world; she said she'd encourage inmates to embrace "restorative justice" for their victims; and she faced-down critics that said she was too "soft" for such a rough and gritty job.

And she got a chance to prove it within six months of taking the job.

Last January, Arizona's Lewis Prison became the site of the longest prison hostage crisis in the nation's history - a 15-day ordeal that included gross security breaches at a brand-new prison, the taking of a guard's tower that was supposed to be impenetrable, and a life-and-death struggle for two correctional officers held by two violent inmates with absolutely nothing to lose.

Every day, the testosterone crowd on talk radio screamed at her to storm the tower… to not let the inmates "get away with it"… to show that she had the nerve to go in shooting.

Instead of caving to the pressure, however, and with the full support of the governor, she went through 30 negotiators working around the clock and ended up with a distinction that will forever be one of her most impressive credentials: Dora Schriro is the only prison director in U.S. history to get everybody out alive in a landmark prison crisis.

The two correctional officers who were held hostage lived; so did the two inmates who took them hostage; there was very little destruction of property; and the public was never endangered. And it's all because Dora Schriro showed a patience that had never been seen before in this type of crisis.

"I never flinched once," Schriro says with pride.

"I am alive today because Dora had patience," says officer Lois Fraley, who finally walked out between the two convicts who'd raped her, tortured her and abused her for 15 days. "If Terry Stewart had still been director of DOC [Department of Corrections], I'd be dead now, because he would have stormed the tower, and they'd have killed me."

Repeat those words to Dora Schriro and you get a rare glimpse at the heart that beats inside this smart and strong woman.

"Makes me feel pretty good," she says, as her eyes get wet. "You don't expect that kind of recognition." She pauses and looks down, as though she's remembering something important, and when she looks up, she's smiling. "Pretty cool."

Dora Schriro picks up a memo and turns it over to give herself a clean white sheet and starts drawing. "I'll be able to draw this diagram for the rest of my life," she says, laying out in circles and squares the footprint of the Lewis Prison crisis. In the middle is a circle representing the tower. The only way to get to it is along two long runways - 50 feet from one end of the yard, 100 feet from the other.

Her simple drawing instantly demonstrates why the tower was so impenetrable. Those runways were like shooting galleries - no one could make it to the tower without getting picked off by the armed inmates, who had the advantage of a 360-degree bird's-eye view.

In addition, Schriro had two officers inside the tower that she wasn't ready to sacrifice, even though there's been a policy on the books at DOC for decades that declares: "No negotiations for hostages." (Reporters as far back as 30 years ago were required to sign documents saying they understood that if anything went wrong while they were inside, they were basically out of luck.)

"Our goal from the get-go was to get the staff out alive," she says, indicating that she erased the old rule in a second. And that goal dictated every move.

But she quickly discovered that some of the most basic information she needed was nowhere to be found - like an accurate layout of the tower, like how to pierce the angled glass that crowned the tower for a kill shot, like why the phones wouldn't work from one section to another.

"Considerable time was spent in the 15 days [of the crisis] learning about the tower, with great difficulty," Schriro says. "There was a disconnect between the physical plant, the staffing and equipment. The tower had been built with certain assumptions - like there'd be no weapons inside - but shortly after it was constructed, it was used in a totally different way." It now held an arsenal of weapons that were controlled by two inmates. Beyond that, the staff didn't help much: "There was little linkage between the physical plant and the staff's knowledge of the physical plant," she adds.

To add insult to injury, it was impossible to see inside the prison tower, officers could hear nothing except what the inmates told them over a phone, and even infrared imaging done courtesy of a nearby military base couldn't penetrate the fortress.

In the first few hours, it became obvious that security inside Lewis Prison was lax, sloppy, careless or all three. Schriro also discovered that even though DOC had revised its emergency response strategies years ago, they had never implemented the changes. Nor was there any uniformity in training to know what officers knew.

"We faced some of the most basic issues," Schriro says. When it's suggested that this was a lousy time to discover all they didn't know, her response is pointed: "No kidding."

"If your view is, 'I will take the tower, cost be damned,' then you don't have to know much," she says. "But if your goal is to get the officers out alive, you have to know these things."

Schriro doesn't go out of her way to bad-mouth previous administrations that handed her such a mess, but she's not afraid to be honest about the legacy of her cowboy predecessors. "For an agency that talked tough about its security, there were some real deficiencies," she says.

Even blunter is the assessment of the governor's Blue Ribbon Panel that studied the Lewis Prison crisis and concluded that such an event was "inevitable" because of "long-term institutional neglect and decay," along with "years' worth of bad decisions at all levels of the Arizona Department of Corrections."

But all that came later. For 15 days at the start of this year, Dora Schriro didn't give a damn about assessing blame - she spent every waking moment, which meant most of every 24 hours, worrying about the hostages.

Throughout the hostage crisis, she spent mornings in the command center at the Downtown DOC offices, then quietly went to the prison in the afternoons. "If the inmates know you're there, they want to negotiate with you, but you always want a lot of distance between the hostage-takers and the ultimate decision-makers," she explains.

In the evenings, she'd meet with the families, of both the hostages and the inmates. Then she'd often come back to the command center, where the next morning the cycle would start all over again. "As many hours and days as it would take, I had it to give," she says.

"I never forgot that all six housing units at Lewis Prison are named after fallen officers," she explains. Ironically, the prison itself is named after the guy who had Dora's job from 1985 to 1995 - Sam Lewis.

She says watching Lois Fraley walk safely out of the tower was one of the happiest moments of her career. Although others would take a while to realize the enormity of the moment, Dora Schriro already knew this was historic.

She began her career in corrections about the same time Attica Prison became a textbook example of how not to handle a hostage situation. America's worst prison riot, under the watch of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, lasted only four days in 1971, but in the end, 39 people died - 29 inmates and 10 officers. Another 86 people were wounded in the nine-minute assault conducted by 500 state troopers who shot 2,200 bullets.

The troopers did all of the killing at Attica, although, at first, officials lied to the media and claimed the inmates had cut the throats of hostages. Afterward, a commission was formed to study what had happened. It concluded that this was the bloodiest conflict between Americans since the Civil War. It also concluded that the inmates had legitimate grievances, which had caused the riot. Many families - of inmates and officers - filed wrongful-death lawsuits that are just now being settled. Finally. So far, some $8 million has been paid out to compensate families for the bloody assault.

Closer to home, back in the 1980s, the State Penitentiary of New Mexico became the second bloodiest siege, with 33 inmates killed in an armed assault that ended a two-day hostage crisis. In the 1990s, it was Lucasville, Ohio, which once reigned as the longest hostage situation, 11 days, and matched that number in deaths - 10 inmates and one correctional officer.

And then came the Lewis Prison standoff in Arizona, the longest hostage crisis in U.S. history, which ended without a single death.

Schriro knows that old-timers still believe you should "never negotiate" with hostage-takers, but she doesn't care. "As long as the negotiations proceeded, as long as it was likely we could get the staff out alive, I was prepared to do that."

And she maintained that patience even as she knew inmate Randy Wassenaar was whispering to negotiators that his partner, Steven Coy, was intent on murdering Lois Fraley.

DOC released the taped conversations after the crisis, including this chilling exchange between a negotiator named Bob and Wassenaar:

Bob, in a very low, conspiratorial voice: "How do you see everybody getting out of there with nobody being hurt?"

Wassenaar then whispers back: "There's no way."

Bob: "No way?"

Wassenaar: "No way."

Bob: "I need your help in making sure everybody gets out of there safe, because nobody needs to die in this thing, man, nobody needs to die. Can you come down with Lois?"

Wassenaar: "Absolutely not. Under no circumstances… He's got his mind made up, and she's gonna die."

Dora Schriro grew up the oldest of four children in a secure family where Dad was an aerodynamic engineer and Mom was a teacher. And then there was her maternal grandfather, Michael - a man so influential that he opened her mind to what would become her philosophy of prison management.

She remembers her grandfather took her and a little sister on summer trips and was always trying to stretch their minds and imaginations.

"At the end of the second grade, he took us to Washington, D.C., and we did all the traditional stuff - we went to the FBI and got fingerprinted, we went to the Smithsonian and the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. He also seemed to get lost a lot and ended up in blighted neighborhoods, where he'd drive through at a snail's place. To this day, I remember all those grown men sitting on their front stoops in the middle of the day. In my first corrections position, I walked through the housing units and I saw all these grown men in the middle of the day sitting in their cells. I thought, 'I've been here before,' and decided we've got to do something different - they're doing their time, but this isn't doing anyone any good."

While grandpa planted the seed, Dora remembers that her "V-8" moment came in high school at a lecture on corrections that convinced her that this was the field for her. And she's been getting degrees to fit that agenda for the last 32 years. She holds a bachelor's in sociology from Northeastern University in Boston, a master's of education in psychology from the University of Massachusetts at Boston, an education degree from Columbia University and a law degree from St. Louis University.

Along the way, those images of wasted, worthless men helped develop her theory of a "parallel universe," which has become the guiding principle of her administration.

"We have 32,000 inmates in Arizona, and 96 percent of them are going to be released when their sentences are up," she says. "How do you want 'em? The answer is always 'civil and productive.' My job is public safety now, and public safety later."

Traditionally, prisons have not done much about the eventual release of prisoners until a few months before their time is up. Schriro says that's foolish, wasteful and dangerous. Her strategy is to look toward their release from the first day of incarceration.

"The average age of inmates in Arizona is 33, and the average sentence is 33 months - I have 33 months to undo those 33 years. I can't even begin to deal with the scope of the problem if I begin a couple months before they're released."

Instead, her approach always aims at turning out inmates who are not only civil, but also productive. She wants three things from the men and women who leave the hospitality of the Arizona prison system: literacy, employability and sobriety.

In her parallel universe, everyone has to work, and inmates who don't have a high school education are strongly encouraged to get at least a GED equivalency. If they don't, their wages stay low and some jobs are closed to them, and if they do, their wages get bumped, and they get a chance at better jobs - "just like the real world."

She happily reports that GED certifications have almost doubled in the first year of her administration.

Schriro also believes in "restorative justice," where inmates are encouraged to face their victims and the results of their crimes, including repaying victims from their prison wages. "It's extremely transforming," she says, and has already gotten some good press.

But these kinds of ideas are ridiculed by some as too touchy-feely, and are cited as examples of how she "coddles" inmates. "That's junk," she responds. "When you get 32,000 inmates to get their buns out of bed every morning, that's a whole lot tougher than letting them lay around all day. We press them to be responsible for everything they do - there ain't anything soft about that."

She also takes a new approach to her vast staff, most of whom are underpaid correctional officers (don't ever call them "guards" in her earshot). "Empowering our workforce is our goal," she says, with a focus on her "3 R's": recruitment, retention and recognition.

The governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on the Lewis crisis cited a "lack of professionalism" on the part of DOC staff, but Schriro says that's not the fault of officers, it's the fault of management.

"We conducted a peer-review assessment at Lewis" after the crisis, she says. "We found 425 peer deficiencies - 372 of them couldn't be fixed immediately, but demanded action plans. In a very short time, we found and fixed a number of very basic problems, and today, we've fixed all but 11." She also found that 25 percent of the Lewis staff couldn't pass even the lowest level of competency - instead of pointing blame, the department began a retraining program, and now she reports that all officers test at proficient levels.

In addition, she's instituted a slogan for the department - "We Strive Toward Excellence" - and had the staff create a flag that now joins the state and national flags at every formal ceremony. One of the new flags also hangs proudly in her outer office.

Beyond that, the in-house DOC newsletter is filled with accolades for the staff, which seems to be treated like a "partner" in fixing the prison system. Her office already holds one memento that shows that her staff not only gets it, but also appreciates it. Their first physical gift to the new director is a ship. A schooner, to be exact. It arrived after Governor Napolitano attended a staff recognition program and told the group that she expected them to become the country's flagship in corrections. (That charge alone is pretty astonishing for a department that has been known mostly for doing little but "locking them up and throwing away the key.")

It's not all work for Dora Schriro, however. Away from the prison, she's dating "a really swell guy" she identifies as "Jim." They've been together for a decade, and she expects to one day take him as a legal partner. Also, she's bought a home in Central Phoenix, and her favorite leisure day is trying to create "splendid flower beds" in her back yard. She says she'd be too nervous to order anything if she had a last meal on Death Row, but given her druthers, she'd eat chocolate ice cream before almost anything else. She owns an old wooden Chris-Craft speedboat that is kept at a lake in Indiana for weekend visits. She's not much of a pleasure reader - recently, she was reading The Wisdom of Crowds. She's making friends through the Arizona Women's Forum and the half-dozen other women that head state agencies these days.

If she has a weakness, it's that her skin can get a little thin when it comes to criticism - when asked about people who don't like her, her friendly demeanor immediately goes cold. On the other hand, she doesn't spend much time bad-mouthing her critics. "If you can't say something nice…" she murmurs when refusing to discuss a critic. In addition, an unflattering profile in New Times is met with dismissal: "A serious journalist would not have done that." (Arizona's so-called liberal paper thought it was cute to feature Schriro changing hairdos over the years in a bit of sexism that the same paper would have decried in its halcyon days.)

Her life seems pretty complex - the logistics must be a nightmare - but she seems a woman who likes that kind of challenge. And she's certainly in a job that offers that.

"Governor Napolitano says she wants to put 'corrections' back in the corrections department," she says. "I'm here for the long haul."

Longtime observers of Arizona's prison system have sometimes wondered who got treated worse by the good ol' boys in charge - the inmates or the men and women hired to guard them. So it's pretty incredible to hear the president of the Arizona Peace Officers Association say this: "We absolutely back her 100 percent."

Joe Masella knows better than most how at odds his union normally is with the central office in Downtown Phoenix. But it's not that way anymore. "She's like a breath of fresh air," he says. "She has imaginative management skills and her ideas have helped morale, she's worked with all the labor groups, she fought with us to defeat a plan to privatize all the prisons last year, and she's open to input from all the staff. In the past, if you brought up a problem, you were tormented. She's already had four or five strategic planning sessions."

So when her confirmation came up before the Arizona Senate last July - without approval, the governor would have been forced to fire her - the labor unions and staff of the prison system were all there singing her praises. They also appeared before the Blue Ribbon Panel that studied exactly what went wrong at Lewis Prison.

Masella is convinced Schriro handled the Lewis crisis just right. "She has 30-something years of professional experience, and she knew what she was doing," he says.

He agrees with hostage Lois Fraley that previous directors would not have shown that patience. "Terry Stewart would have stormed the tower for his own glory - never mind the consequences," Masella says. (The union clashed repeatedly with Stewart, and the bad feelings obviously still linger. Neither Terry Stewart nor Sam Lewis wanted to talk publicly about Prison Director, Dora Schriro, the woman who holds their old job. Both men now work for a firm promoting private prisons.)

The same assessment comes from the guy who was attorney general of Arizona when both Lewis and Stewart ran the prisons.

Grant Woods has most recently been one of the chairs of the Blue Ribbon Panel studying the Lewis crisis. He came away from that with positive feelings about Dora Schriro.

"I think she's impressive - she clearly comes from a different perspective than we've had in the past, and that's part of her talent. She's clearly not one of the good ol' boys, and DOC has been a good ol' boy network for a long time," Woods says.

He finds it ironic that Republican lawmakers came down hard on her - and held up her confirmation until the very last second - because they thought she'd done something wrong at Lewis. "The big picture here is that the corrections officers got out alive, when they rarely do in these situations," Woods says. "It's the Old West mentality - as long as you act macho enough, it doesn't matter what the outcome is."

But Woods won't go so far as to predict a different outcome with the previous prison directors. "I would hope with Terry [Stewart] or Sam [Lewis] that when faced with reality, they'd have done the right thing, and the right thing was exactly what Dora did."

But instead of praising her for saving lives, some lawmakers tried to portray the Lewis crisis as her failure. The Republican leadership even demanded an "independent" criminal investigation into the Lewis hostage crisis - following the Blue Ribbon Panel that the governor convened, and the internal review within the corrections department - that cost taxpayers more than $400,000. In the end, it found nothing, and has been widely discredited as little more than a "witch hunt."

Woods sees two factors driving the expensive Republican probe: Some lawmakers prefer the old style of management and saw this as a way of getting rid of a director with too many new ideas, and some lawmakers are always out to "get" Governor Napolitano, and thought this would embarrass her.

"There were rumors that snipers had the opportunity to take out the inmates, and the governor and/or the director had prevented it," Woods says. "It turns out [the rumor] was completely false, but they thought they had something, and they weren't willing to wait to get the facts."

The same thing almost happened on KFYI radio in the midst of the crisis, except for the quick talking of reporter Bart Graves.

He remembers the morning he was driving out to Lewis Prison when he heard a promo for an upcoming talk show on his station. "The host was saying they were going to talk about rumors that the snipers had two clear shots, and the governor personally told them not to shoot," he recalls.

He got on the phone and said to host Bruce Jacobs: "You don't know anything about this - I checked that rumor out, and it isn't true - don't get on the air and say stupid ****." The host listened and never ran that topic.

Graves, a reporter with 23 years under his belt, came away with positive feelings about Schriro, too. "I think she's the nice progressive change they need," he says.

Andy McKinney of KTAR radio - the reporter heard inside the tower as the inmates monitored that one station - remembers Schriro being "calm, calculated, collected and very cordial."

Back at the state Capitol, Senate President Ken Bennett, a Republican from Prescott, says he thinks of Schriro as "very dedicated in trying to improve DOC, and I'm anxious for her to have that opportunity. I wish her the best in handling one of our most difficult agencies."

And if you'd allow her, Lois Fraley would spend all day singing the praises of the woman who kept her alive. Lately, Fraley has been traveling to other states, going to a conference on "Women in Corrections" in Albuquerque and to the "Hostage Association" meeting in Colorado. "In traveling, I've had more people come up and say, 'You've got the best director,'" she says.

Fraley was one of the strongest, clearest and most convincing voices that spoke up for Schriro at her confirmation hearing before the Arizona Senate. And she has this to say about that experience: "They'd have been a bunch of dumb asses if they hadn't confirmed her."


Inside the Tower

Lois Fraley, who was held hostage in a guard tower at Arizona's Lewis Prison
for 15 days, was raped, beaten and pushed to the brink of suicide.
In the end, though, she survived. Here's her story.

"He never once called me Lois. He called me woman… bitch… slut… dyke... lady… brown shirt."

Lois Fraley is smoking a Camel Light as she sits in the courtyard of the Maricopa County Superior Court building. She's spent the last hour in the second row of Courtroom 904, watching the man who never used her name.

Convict Randy Wassenaar is now acting as his own attorney as he contests the state's new charges against him for the Lewis Prison hostage standoff and botched escape attempt. Everyone here knows he's guilty, and everyone knows that he has no defense - although he's cheeky enough to plead that he needs the $253.03 he had in his prison account to help pay for investigators. But this con, who was already facing 26 years, has nothing better to do, so he's using the criminal justice system as entertainment.

Fraley is there every time he appears in court. She's using these hearings as therapy. She says she needs to see him get what's coming to him. The first time they were in the same room, Wassenaar tried to stare her down before sheriff's officers blocked his line of sight. It left her shaken.

After all, this is the man who ran the show in the prison-escape-turned-hostage crisis. This is the man who decided what she'd eat for 15 days - if she'd eat at all, which wasn't often (she lost 30 pounds during the crisis). This is the man who told her when she could pee. The man who'd taunt her with games - "He'd say, 'Kill me 15 flies, and I'll give you a cigarette,' and I'd kill the flies, and he wouldn't give me one." This is the man who pointed a shotgun in her face and asked her with a sneer, "Are you prepared to die?" She remembers answering him with strength: "I looked him right in the eye and said, 'From the time you walked into the room.'" This man, like his partner, raped her. And this man has told the judge, "If I had it to do over again, I'd do it."

As she sat in the courtroom on this Friday afternoon, she turned and shared: "I'd kill him if I got within five feet." But she'd never be able to get that close to him now, and he'd never be able to get that close to her. In this courtroom, there are four burly men in Sheriff's Department T-shirts - two standing near the doorway, two directly behind Wassenaar - and from the thickness of their necks and biceps, you just know their hands must be registered as lethal weapons. They watch diligently, as though the convict in handcuffs and leg irons could do damage to something. And when Wassenaar is handed a legal document, one of these guards takes the paper and removes the staple before handing the loose sheets to him. ("He might use the staple as a weapon," Fraley whispers.)

About 45 minutes into the hearing, it is clear to see that half her bravado is real and the other half is for show. At first, she holds herself and moves with a swagger that, if she were in her prison uniform, would quickly signal "bad ass." But then her resolve starts to slip and she nervously jiggles her legs. Her entire body language screams that she's just holding on.

As soon as the hearing is over, she hightails it outside - she hates being indoors too long since the incident - and she quickly lights one of the many cigarettes she'll smoke over the next hour and a half.

Wassenaar, who she called "Rooster," never looked in her direction during the hearing, but as everyone started to leave, he craned his neck to watch her.

"You know the Stockholm Syndrome?" she asks, referring to hostages who start identifying with their captors? "I have that with [Wassenaar]," she says. "I started relating to him like he was my uncle - he kind of looks like my uncle. I have to attend these hearings because he's not my uncle."

It is one of the many traumas she's working hard to overcome. She's seeing a psychiatrist and she's staying away from crowds. She doesn't eat much these days, she smokes too much, drinks too much coffee, and can't sleep without medication. If she tries, the dream starts all over again - the dream that begins the first moment Randy Wassenaar invaded the tower.

It was around 4:20 a.m. on January 18, and Fraley was in the tower with officer Jason Auld. Both were new officers, although Fraley had previously worked at the Department of Corrections. She remembers looking over as Auld hit a button opening the first of two doors into the tower that had a total view of the prison.

In the monitor, Fraley could see a man standing at the door in an officer's uniform. "Who wants in," she remembers asking Auld, and he replied, "Looks like Martin."

"My stomach just knotted-up - it didn't feel right," she remembers, but before she could say anything, "he was already popping the door to the tower." Wassenaar, wearing the uniform of a guard he'd subdued more than an hour earlier in the prison kitchen, came rushing up the stairs with a long-handled metal paddle he'd taken from the kitchen. "He hit Jason like he was hitting a home run," knocking him unconscious, Fraley remembers. She rushed to attack the inmate and got kneed in the eye. Both officers were quickly handcuffed by Wassenaar, who was soon joined by his friend Steven Coy.

One of the first things the inmates did was take turns raping Lois. She'd spend the next 15 days handcuffed to a spiral staircase. Officer Auld was released seven days into the crisis because of his severe injuries.

Fraley says there was one kindness "Rooster" showed her: "He told me, 'I want you to go up [to the top of the tower] and see all the people fighting for you.' He said, 'They want to kill me to save you.'"

She has to stop telling the story because the memory is so raw and the danger was so horrifying. "I was looking at all these tactical people," she says when she composes herself, "and this one guy waved and stuck up his thumb, and I stuck up my thumb and waved, and it gave me goose bumps."

Although she hasn't spoken of it before, she now admits that twice during the ordeal she thought of suicide. She still had her badge, and its sharp point would have easily pierced her wrist vein.

"We could get KTAR, and that's how we heard updates on what was happening," she says. "About four days into it, I thought of suicide, but I heard that people were wearing yellow ribbons for me, and putting them on buildings. Another time, I heard the country was praying for me - that stopped me from committing suicide."

With hindsight, she's happy to report: "I was a smart hostage - I was playing their game. I acted like a fish [prison slang for a new officer], telling them I didn't know how to load the rifle, and I didn't know how to operate the control panels. I had to get on their side. I'd agree, 'Yeah, DOC sucks.' When they were negotiating over the interstate compact [a plan to move the inmates closer to their families in Maine and Wisconsin], I kept telling them, 'Dora [Schriro, the prison director] won't screw you on this.' I told them about my family and my daughter. I lied and told them I had a stepfather who abused me to keep them from assaulting me again. I wanted them to see me as a person so it would be harder to shoot me."

She also stopped washing to ward off more sexual attacks, and stopped drinking water so she wouldn't be forced to pee in front of them.

During those 15 days she passed the time like this: "I laughed, joked, cried, I talked to my pictures of my daughter and Tere [her partner of four years], I talked to dead family members, I said goodbye, I prayed… I'm a recovering Catholic."

And she thought she'd die right up until the very last second, when the three of them came down from the tower in single file, with Lois in the middle. Both inmates had loaded guns. Wassenaar put his weapon down, walked out the door, and lay spread-eagle on the floor. Lois was next, with Coy behind her.

"Coy was already facing 185 years, and I knew this when they brought me downstairs. He laid his weapon down, but left the safety off. He was three feet from that gun. Common sense said this was a good time for him to blow me away." (In the end, he surrendered peacefully, and was sentenced to an additional seven life sentences. He was later transferred to a prison in Maine.)

Lois was rushed out the tower door by anxious officers - "They wanted to carry me, but I said, 'No sir, I'm walkin' out of here'" - and sent via helicopter to St. Joseph's Hospital. Director of Prisons Dora Schriro and Governor Janet Napolitano were waiting on the roof when Fraley arrived. "I told Dora, thank you for having patience… thank you for not storming the tower, because they'd have killed me."

It was fitting that this was the woman who saved her, because this woman was the reason Lois Fraley was a correctional officer at Lewis Prison in the first place.

"I'd worked at DOC before, but I'd left for eight years," Fraley says. "I came back because of Dora. I read her bio and loved what she said. I liked that she wanted to take these inmates and get them trained so they can go out into the public and not re-enter - they have a chance at a whole new life."

She also liked that Schriro seemed to stand up for the officers and staff, never dreaming she'd get such an intimate look at that.

"I am forever grateful to Dora," she says. "I'd take a bullet for that woman - nobody better mess with Dora."

That's why she flew back to Phoenix from a recuperating trip to Oregon to testify on Schriro's behalf at Schriro's Senate confirmation hearing. Some say Fraley's declaration that Schriro saved her life became the deciding factor for approval.

These days, the Department of Corrections is letting Lois Fraley ease back into her work. "I'm dealing with it," she says. "I'm jumpy, I have my hurdles, but I'm closing my doors." And she hopes to one day put her uniform back on and walk into a prison and work her shift.
Jana Bommersbach © 2003 - 2005 - 2004
Email: jana@janabommersbach.com
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Old 06-14-2005, 10:37 PM
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Aimee1 Aimee1 is offline

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I personally have alot of respect for Dora. While in the 2 years sh'es been here we havent seen massive changes anywhere, we have seen some changes, and I feel like alot bigger ones are in the works. The big changes take time and I think these new moves going around are going to be part of that.

The one thing she has done so far that affects any of us who visit, is bringing the picures back. We went for about 4 years without being able to ever take pictures at visit because Az took that privilege away, but then Dora brought it back and I for one appreciate that alot!

I think she has alot of good plans and definitely the experience behind her to make them happen, Shes not an all-talk and no-action director like we had in Sam Lewis and Terry Stewart. She seems to genuinely care about the people in the system and their families, and she seems to care that corrections be about true corrections and not be over zealous on punishment.

Anyone who knows me would know that I dont praise alot of government officials, lol especially those involved with ADOC! but I think she has done a good job so far and has alot to offer us in the future. Just my from an Arizona prison wife!

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Old 06-15-2005, 12:15 AM
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Dale'sforever Dale'sforever is offline
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Well said Aimee--I agree with ya, girl.

Last edited by Dale'sforever; 06-15-2005 at 12:18 AM..
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