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Old 03-24-2007, 06:49 PM
cottagegal cottagegal is offline
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Default Prison horrors haunt guards' private lives

Prison horrors haunt guards' private lives
"You treat other people like you treat convicts."
By Bruce Finley
Denver Post Staff Writer

Article Launched: 03/24/2007 01:00:00 AM MDT


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Florence - Prisoners fling bodily waste and attack without warning. Psychotic outbursts fill halls with howls. A man who upset the wrong clique ended up with a pencil driven though his ear.
Yet for correctional officers, getting mad isn't allowed.
Now these men and women, who face growing numbers of inmates in some of the nation's toughest federal and state prisons, say they're increasingly overwhelmed.
They harden themselves to survive inside prison, guards said in recent interviews. Then they find they can't snap out of it at the end of the day. Some seethe to themselves. Others commit suicide. Depression, alcoholism, domestic violence and heart attacks are common. And entire communities suffer.

"You're not normal anymore," said Hondray Simmons, 36, an Iraq war veteran now working in the Colorado State Penitentiary in CaŮon City.
Guard woes are so epidemic in Fremont County, a hub for the booming prison industry, that an enterprising therapist chose this area to launch an emotional-rescue campaign - the first of its kind in the country.
Prison guards work in "an unrecognized war zone," said Caterina Spinaris, 53, who left a lucrative psychological counseling practice in Denver six years ago. She was looking for a pastoral paradise in Florence, a three- stoplight town by the Arkansas River.
Instead, "heartaches opened up," she said, "and wouldn't go away."
Now she counsels scores of brittle men and women at her nonprofit Desert Waters Correctional Outreach center, a mile from the ultra-high- security federal "Supermax" prison.
Letting go of what's held in
From Colorado and across the nation, 168 correctional officers, including several on the brink of suicide, have called or sent e-mails asking for help, Spinaris said. "We're winning trust little by little." Prison work "bleeds over into your private life. You
Hondray Simmons, 36, an Iraq war veteran who has been a correctional officer for nine years at the Colorado State Penitentiary in CaŮon City, listens this month to counselor Caterina Spinaris at the Centennial Correctional Facility. "You're not normal anymore," he says of the work. (Special to The Post / Nathan W. Armes)


You go into restaurants, you sit with your back to the wall. You want to see all the entrances and exits, and you notice if somebody is carrying something bulky. You can't turn these skills off," said Matthew von Hobe, 50, a former manager at the four-prison federal complex in Florence.
He knows of two colleagues who committed suicide.
Once in the medium-security workshop where von Hobe worked, two trusted inmates got into a fistfight over a pen. One grabbed an oak board with a sharp edge, swinging it like a bat before guards could react. He bashed in the other inmate's skull.
Another day, an inmate who crossed into a rival gang's television area and changed the channel later was found dead, a pencil driven into his brain through one ear.
Dealing with horrors like these led to divorce, von Hobe said.
"If your spouse doesn't want to hear about disembowelments in prison, who are you going to talk to? You suppress it," he said.
When Spinaris arrived, guards from the 13 prisons in the area at first shunned her counseling. Then in July 2005, she set up a toll-free "Corrections Ventline" that lets guards anonymously blow off steam before they head home.
Family-practice doctors around Fremont County say they typically put troubled guards on antidepressant drugs and then send them to Spinaris for help.
A staggering downside
Prisons have buoyed southern Colorado economically, providing thousands of jobs with retirement and health benefits that pay around $36,000 a year, lower than police and firefighter pay but enough to support a family in this area.
Yet research suggests a staggering downside. Correctional officers' life expectancy hovers around 59 years, compared with 77 for the U.S. population overall, according to insurance data.
Prison jobs promise a comfortable retirement, "but many of these guys don't live long after they retire," said Dr. Gary Mohr in CaŮon City, who has treated guards who had heart attacks. Their work forces guards "to put up a shield," Mohr said. "It's hard to take that shield off when you go home. It's hard to open up to the wife and kids."



Spinaris' work is groundbreaking, he said. "The guards I've sent to her, they've come back feeling a lot better. ... They say: 'I'm not losing my mind. I've just got a really stressful job."'
Short staffing as the U.S. prison population tops 2.2 million leaves guards short-tempered and prone to "rage attacks" directed at family, said Dr. Robert McCurry, another local physician.
The environment behind bars brings out the worst in everyone, said a former prison staffer now helping domestic-violence victims at CaŮon City's Family Crisis Center.
"If the person has the propensity for abuse, it's definitely going to come out when they work in this profession," she said, asking to remain anonymous to protect a child abused in her own family.
The suicide rate among prison guards is 39 percent higher than the average for other occupations, an Archives of Suicide Research study found.
At Florence, at least nine federal guards have committed suicide since 1994, according to former employees and Spinaris. Federal Bureau of Prisons officials confirmed five staff suicides in the Florence facilities since 1997 - and 45 nationwide.
The bureau now offers psychological counseling through an arrangement with a Public Health Service agency, spokeswoman Felicia Ponce said. Guards using a 24-hour help line can reach counselors trained to discuss emotional, family and financial problems. "They can either talk to someone at the time they call or set up an appointment."
Colorado state prison officials say that they don't track suicides but that at least two guards killed themselves over the past five years.
The suicide rate in semirural Fremont County consistently ranks near the highest in Colorado: 41.8 per 100,000 residents in 2005, more than twice the statewide rate of 16.8.
Trauma stays after cuts heal
Among the first guards asking Spinaris for help was Cory Hodges, 37. A rising star at the high-security U.S. Penitentiary, Hodges worried his work was hurting him as a husband and new father.
Then, in February 2003, an inmate jumped Hodges. Gripping a 6-inch sharpened copper shank, the prisoner repeatedly stabbed Hodges in the face and neck. Only Hodges' glasses prevented him from losing his right eye, he said.
Another guard fled. Inmates chased and cut up a third guard. They surrounded Hodges for more than three minutes until he was rescued.
"They were screaming and yelling, 'Kill him! Kill him!"' Hodges recalled.
The puncture wounds healed, but the trauma remained. Supervisors offered no counseling. A warden asked only when he'd be back at work.
Hodges switched to the adjacent Supermax, where inmates are deemed high risk but mostly are confined alone in double-door cells 23 hours a day.
"I can't seem to get along with anyone anymore," Hodges wrote to Spinaris a year ago. "I can't tolerate anyone. It's like I could care less if everyone fell off the face of the Earth. It seems that the only people I want close to me are my wife and my son, and they don't want to be close to me because I am so miserable all of the time."
Today Hodges works as a railroad engineer based in Texas. He credits Spinaris with saving his life, but he still struggles.
"You still question everything people do. You treat other people like you treat convicts," Hodges said. "You don't wipe this out in a year. I don't know if it ever goes away."
While he and others in federal and state prisons are reluctant to go into detail about their work, they also yearn to let outsiders know what they face.
Prisoners routinely bomb guards with urine and feces. Female correctional officers face unique abuse. As they make their rounds, male inmates sometimes strip and masturbate, said Anne Gard, 47, a correctional officer at the penitentiary now out on disability.
Mandatory sentencing laws, and less time off for good behavior, reduce leverage that guards need to control prisoners, Gard said.
When she drove home after penitentiary shifts, she found her instincts as a wife and mother of three children impaired.
Her 8-year-old daughter was "a chronic spiller" at the dinner table, Gard said. "I made it worse because I would always overreact."
Working at Supermax, veteran correctional officer Gary Kapolites found himself hard-pressed to get out of bed, while his schoolteacher wife raced to her work with passion.
A 225-pound former football player, Kapolites once took pride in cuffing inmates, inserting tubes up the noses of those on hunger strike, or enforcing rules when inmates refused to cooperate.
But after 10 years in Supermax, he said, "that grew shallow." Kapolites said he became uncomfortable with what seemed like sensory deprivation to break prisoners' will.
He quit after the last time he was called to lead an "extraction" - removing a recalcitrant inmate from a cell.
He'd done these many times before, at the front of a line of guards, everyone decked out in Kevlar and helmets, cameras rolling for legal protection.
Kapolites plowed into the inmate, lifting him and feeling him collapse "like a powder puff" as fellow guards piled on to handcuff the inmate. Kapolites won praise as the guards reviewed their extraction on film.
But he just felt hollow.
"That one really changed me," he said. "You expect resistance. When I hit him, there wasn't any resistance."
Now he supports Spinaris' efforts to reach more guards and their families.
Correctional officers, he said, "are doing time too. ... A lot of them are not able to detach. ... Alcohol problems. Domestic violence. They have a propensity. The very things they are supposed to be against, they end up doing.
"You can't just wash it off like in a shower."
Staff writer Bruce Finley can be reached at 303-954-1700 or bfinley@denverpost.com.







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Old 03-24-2007, 06:55 PM
haswtch haswtch is offline
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great article! thanks for posting this
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Old 03-24-2007, 08:00 PM
Valentina Valentina is offline
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thanks, very ineresting. If more of them would see the truth and quit they would have to re-think their sick sentencing policies
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Old 03-24-2007, 08:04 PM
haswtch haswtch is offline
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thing is, quit and do what? all the manufacturing jobs done got up and went elsewhere
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Old 03-24-2007, 08:08 PM
Valentina Valentina is offline
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True, but you have to take a stand sometime.
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Old 03-24-2007, 08:10 PM
haswtch haswtch is offline
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you're absolutely right about that, but it's hard to find that point sometimes. part of me feels like I should be camped on the white house steps, screaming at the top of my lungs- or the court house steps- or somewhere. another part of me has kids to take care of...
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Old 03-24-2007, 08:14 PM
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I know what you mean. On the other hand, if making people disappear from their villages and throwing them out of helicopters (as happened all over latin america) were the only jobs available..what would we do? My son asked me the other day if i would prefer him to work for LAPD or hotdog on a stick. I said hotdog on a stick. (It was all rhetorical since he is a firefighter). At some point we all have choices to make.
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Old 03-24-2007, 08:17 PM
ytakemyguy ytakemyguy is offline
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Sad, very sad but before a CO becomes a CO there are many resources out there to see what happens to them. All these things they are now saying has been out there for years. I was going to beomce a CO until my exhusband told me how they throw urine and feces when they don't get what they want BUT on the other hand something has to be done because they don't get listened to all the time but everyone is human and there is no right for CO's to treat another human being any less and no right for an inmate to treat a CO any less.
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Old 03-25-2007, 06:56 AM
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Interesting article and I really am sympathetic with the COís. BUT I also think the screening process and counseling available to COís is inadequate. This is a job that very few people would be suited for and those who are not, should find work else where. I understand that sometimes it is the best paying job in the area. My husband is in Manchester KY and the population is 5,000 the median income per household is $16,000, median house value is $60,000 so I am sure that a job at the Federal prison is very sought after. But some of the lines in the article jumped out at me, for example "If the person has the propensity for abuse, itís definitely going to come out when they work in this profession". When the wrong person gets in this job, everyone pays. The CO suicide rate, the affect it has on their quality of life and on their families, and the stress the wrong person would experience is terrible. So is the idea of having our incarcerated loved ones under the control of these individuals. I donít see it as being different from any other profession, you just canít take a job for the pay and the power just because it pays well if you are not suited to it. I wouldnít want someone who canít tolerate children working at a day care, I wouldnít want someone who kicks their dog working at my vets office, I wouldnít want someone who didnít respect the elderly working in a nursing home and I donít want someone who has a short fuse or who is abusive working at our prisons. I think some, NOT ALL, COís take these jobs for the wrong reasons, money and power being two of them. I think there should be very, very extensive screening, probationary periods and follow up psych evals and counseling. I know that these are done on some level, but apparently not enough. I know that only a small percentage of the population would meet the standards I am suggesting. However, these jobs normally carry great benefits and retirement and at least moderate pay. I donít have any specific information, but I have never seen a government job that didnít have a lot more applicants than jobs. I am not attacking COís and I am not assuming that they are all bad. But I think one of the points of this article is to say that the job is tough for even those who are mentally suited for it and for those who are not, it spells disaster for both the CO and the inmate.
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Old 03-25-2007, 08:14 AM
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My main question is why would anyone want to go to a prison everyday? While I understand that people have families and obligations, and these CO's understandably want to provide for them, but isn't there something else they could do? Drive a truck? Farm? Do drywall or landscaping? Frankly, the thought of being a CO for the Feds is second only to being an inmate.

The irony does not escape me. My man will be home eventually, but the CO's get to GO THERE EVERYDAY.

The population burgeons weekly, the budget gets cut quarterly, so it's like they've been doing so much with so little for so long, that pretty much they'd better be able to to anything with nothing.

There's a new Warden taking over at the Schuylkill camp on April 1st. We joked about "Furloughs For Everyone!"

April Fool's!!

On a serious note, I just want to reiterate my initial question. Why would anyone WANT to work in a prison? Just sign tax form that the professional you hired messed up, or work in a bank where your stupidvisor made you file something bogus THAT YOU DIDN'T want to file and that's all you have to do except wait until our gummint comes and gets you. The only thing is that you're going to be making $1.15 an hour not $12. Either way, I prefer to have nothing to do with this whole Incarceration Nation after I am through with it.
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Old 03-25-2007, 09:48 AM
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Unfortunately the very nature of the work magnetizes the wrong people and creates an institutional culture in which the, uh, cream is often not what rises to the top. With these jobs becoming more and more common, more attention needts to be paid to the kinds of issues this article discusses. For myself, I intend to BATTLE this Incarceration Nation mess with words as my tools. It's bad for everyone.
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Old 03-25-2007, 04:42 PM
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What I question, is why can't they have more incentives for the inmates so they don't act out violently. If there were more rewards for proper behavior, wouldn't that solve half of the battles. After all if humans are treated like humans, then everybody would be better off. True?
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Old 03-25-2007, 05:38 PM
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I see this all the time - that is, comments made that prisoners are throwing feces and urine at the COs. I am NOT saying that it doesn't happen. I just wonder why? #1, I can't imagine doing it myself and #2, I know my husband wouldn't do it - and no, it isn't that I don't "know" my husband - my husband would not do this.

Are they being taunted? Are they mentally ill? Is no one listening to them when they have REAL problems (i.e., they are ill and no one will let them go to the infirmary or the infirmary ignores their symptoms), are they men (or women) who just learned of the loss of a loved one? It would seem to me that these kinds of acts (throwing feces, etc.) are acts of desperation more than anything else. I could well be wrong but who I would like to hear from former inmates who have seen this stuff happen and might be able to offer up some kind of explanation.

We've had a couple of COs come into our office for workers' compensation claims - PTSD - brought on by their jobs. One story that I recall was a CO having nightmares about an inmate who was slashing his arms with a blade and when the CO closed his eyes he could hear that slashing and tearing of the skin. I know it sent chills up my spine.
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Old 03-25-2007, 06:26 PM
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One study i read suggested that isolation will make a "normal" person mentally ill within two to six months. Cutting is extremely common in isolation. I'm working on a book...I've found out more about this than I ever wanted to know.
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Old 03-25-2007, 06:30 PM
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How sad is that - not to mention cruel to take a "normal" person and make them mentally ill only to send them back into society.

I don't pretend to have the answer but there has to be a better way to punish people without destroying them.
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Old 03-25-2007, 09:48 PM
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If they can't handle being a CO, they shouldn't apply for the job. Prison is a hostile environment. A lot of times the CO's don't get respect, because they don't give it. I'm not excusing the behavior of the inmate, if in fact these incidents are true. But some of the CO's are cold-hearted even without being provoked.
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Old 03-26-2007, 12:07 AM
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Crone, I totally agree with you. My husband has been locked up many years and he would never throw feces or urine on anyone. Neither would I or anyone I have ever met, so there must be more to that story. I hear it all the time too, and it always makes me wonder.
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Old 03-26-2007, 05:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crone2004
How sad is that - not to mention cruel to take a "normal" person and make them mentally ill only to send them back into society.

I don't pretend to have the answer but there has to be a better way to
punish people without destroying them.
Not only cruel, but breathtakingly stupid if you ask me!
Even if someone doesn't care about the inmate (which I certainly do) it's awful from a public safety point of view.
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Old 03-26-2007, 06:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JazzyJFL
If they can't handle being a CO, they shouldn't apply for the job. Prison is a hostile environment. A lot of times the CO's don't get respect, because they don't give it. I'm not excusing the behavior of the inmate, if in fact these incidents are true. But some of the CO's are cold-hearted even without being provoked.
JazzyJFL, in all fairness, people don't often understand what it would be like to take on a position with the DOC until they are there. Sometimes the hell that they witness is just too much for them. Before they know it they are caught up in it. I've felt that same way about some of the jobs I've had in the past too and got out when I felt that I could. A little compassion all the way around might benefit everyone.
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Old 03-26-2007, 07:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crone2004
I see this all the time - that is, comments made that prisoners are throwing feces and urine at the COs. I am NOT saying that it doesn't happen. I just wonder why? #1, I can't imagine doing it myself and #2, I know my husband wouldn't do it - and no, it isn't that I don't "know" my husband - my husband would not do this.

Are they being taunted? Are they mentally ill? Is no one listening to them when they have REAL problems (i.e., they are ill and no one will let them go to the infirmary or the infirmary ignores their symptoms), are they men (or women) who just learned of the loss of a loved one? It would seem to me that these kinds of acts (throwing feces, etc.) are acts of desperation more than anything else. I could well be wrong but who I would like to hear from former inmates who have seen this stuff happen and might be able to offer up some kind of explanation.

We've had a couple of COs come into our office for workers' compensation claims - PTSD - brought on by their jobs. One story that I recall was a CO having nightmares about an inmate who was slashing his arms with a blade and when the CO closed his eyes he could hear that slashing and tearing of the skin. I know it sent chills up my spine.
Crone, while I am not a former inmate, my husband relayed some stories to me after spending time in the hole. He told me there were guys that were in there throwing feces, smearing it on the walls and rolling in it. I asked him why in the hell would someone do that? He told me the guys were mentally ill. He said they had been in the hole for so long, they were losing thier minds. He also said that the hole will do that to you.

Most guys in GP won't do this, you will mostly find it during long stints in the hole.
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Old 03-26-2007, 07:47 PM
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That's what I suspected too Chrissy.

Shortly after my husband went in I received a letter from him relating an incident where a man was dying and everyone just stood around and watched instead of trying to help the man. He said he couldn't understand how people could lack basic compassion for another human being. I just wish the general public wasn't so afraid of inmates that they could see the injustice being done here. I'm fearful it is the only way we can bring about significant changes.
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Old 04-08-2007, 11:05 AM
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When I was at Coleman there was an incident with an inmate in another unit than mine who was accused of defecating in the shower room. I never did know what the outcome was because I was released soon after this was going on. I do believe that there are many inmates that are incarcerated that truly are not mentally able to be in a prison system and have special needs and should be appropiately and routinely treated by "real" mental health professionasl. Instead many are just given a anti-depressant at pill call and never ever evaluated. A older women (in her late 70's) who couldn't even remember how she got to camp and seemed to have demencia could hardly find her way at night to the bathroom, therefore had an accident or two until she was able to acclimate to her surrounding and someone took her under their wing. That of course is a different story and put's me over the edge at a system that would not keep her in her home on a bracelet. I am off subject and apologize. I can not think of how anyone could last as a CO or in any capacity in that miserable system.
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Old 04-08-2007, 01:17 PM
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In MI throwing feces and urine at a CO is called, "Getting dressed out." I worked 5 yrs at a max and I worked alot of seg in the 2 mental health units. I never got dressed out. Many did though. To answer your question Crone, many of them are mentally ill and if they weren't that bad before they went into seg than they may be after doing a little time. I seen man cutters, disembowelers, and I've seen them take their feces and spread it all over their walls, window covers, and themselves. They even eat it sometimes. Now if that isn't mental illness than tell me what is???
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Old 04-08-2007, 01:38 PM
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IHC, you are right, this job is not for everybody and there are many there that do not belong there. Most know nothing about mental illness and are there for the money and power.
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Old 04-08-2007, 01:47 PM
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angelica916 angelica916 is offline
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I don't agree with the statements that the CO"s should have known what they were getting into. Some people go in thinking they can make a difference. Only to find out that they can't. Also to feel no compassion for someone that is attempting to make an honest living in my opion is heartless.
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Last edited by angelica916; 04-08-2007 at 01:54 PM..
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