Courageous Hero of the Week

Truly, Linda Lyons--a jailhouse librarian--stands shoulders and heads above the remaining prison guards. A prison riot erupted at Crowly, Colorado, which is run by a private Company in Tennessee. The prison guards ran away, and forgot they had left a woman librarian behind.

As inmates at Crowley County Correctional Facility grew restless and agitated in the exercise yard on the evening of July 20, officers of the private company charged with managing the prison withdrew to regroup. "They ran," said inmate Robert Horn, serving five years for passing bad checks. "They just abandoned the place." All but one.

As a peaceful protest devolved into arson and riot over five hours, prison librarian Linda Lyons kept sole watch over 37 male inmates. Although she radioed her location, her supervisors from the private Corrections Corporation of America made no move to retrieve her. They then failed to notify an elite anti-riot team from the Department of Corrections that she had been left behind.

While up to 500 inmates in a prison full of 1,100 killers, rapists, thieves and drug dealers brought their riot within one building of the library, Lyons was never harmed. She said the men with her talked, played chess and stayed clear of the melee while she maintained a calm demeanor. "Showing fear would have upset the inmates," Lyons said. (our emphasis)

The genesis of the riot had to do with 200 inmates from Washington State being transferred to the private Colorado prison--there was money to be made.

At 10 a.m. the day of the riot, one of the Washington inmates refused to go to work, according to the department's director of prisons, Nolin Renfrow.

When the inmate struggled with an officer taking him to a disciplinary unit, several officers jerked the inmate to the ground, said inmate Fredrick Morris, 47, who is serving a life sentence for murder. Horn also witnessed the inmate's treatment. "These other guards started pummeling him and kicking him," Horn said. "We'd just had enough, you know? To treat someone like an animal is not going to fly anymore."

Here's how the riot began:

On the night of July 20, correctional officers opened a gate connecting the east recreational yard with the west about 7 p.m. so inmates could play softball in the west yard. Instead of a handful, hundreds streamed into the west yard, said inmate Terry Poole, serving life for kidnapping.

....The outnumbered SORT members used rubber pellets and tear gas to push back inmates who were hurling rocks, furniture and Molotov cocktails

....the captain became concerned for the safety of the prison staff and they withdrew from the yard - effectively relinquishing control to the inmates. "They took off running, and they left the female employees behind," said William Morris, another Crowley County Correctional Facility inmate.

The librarian "kept her cool."

As inmates began setting the prison facilities ablaze, librarian Lyons, 56, ordered the men in the library back to their cells. They implored her not to force them out into the yard, where other inmates were clearly gearing up for a fight.

....Before long, fires were burning in front of each living unit and the greenhouse was burning. In the yard, scores of inmates used filing cabinets and doors as shields as they approached officers. They barricaded doors with soda machines they lit on fire. Unbreakable windows were blown out, and inmates were using shards of glass as shanks. The amount of damage still has not been calculated, but it may approach $1 million.

Renfrow said he asked CCA if all employees had made it safely out of the prisoner-controlled grounds. He said he was mistakenly told they had. If he had known Lyons was still in harm's way, he said, he would have immediately ordered officers to get her. Inmates broke into the shop next to the library, said Nathan Walter, commander of the department's Special Operations Response Team, or SORT.

Still, Lyons, a second-year CCA employee, didn't fret, and she said she is not upset with CCA for failing to dispatch a team to rescue her. In her mind, she didn't need rescuing. "I felt safe where I was," she said.

Here's another reason Lyons was lucky that night:

In the aftermath, they learned that while Lyons was unharmed, a group of as many as 15 inmates had gone on the prowl in the prison to attack sex offenders and men suspected of being snitches. The man hurt worst during the riot, burglar Rudy Lujan, was attacked by a mob of maybe 15 inmates who believed he had snitched on inmates to the guards, Horn said. They beat him, stabbed him, threw him over the railing of the second-floor tier of cells and tossed a microwave oven onto his limp frame. He was hospitalized in critical condition, and officials have not offered an update since.

It's not likely this was a one-time uprising:

Those people (in Olney Springs) need to understand that this is going to occur over and over again," he said. "The population in that area is seriously lucky. At any point, (the inmates) could have just turned to that fence and mowed that fence down. Imagine five or six hundred crazed individuals running into Olney Springs."

Major Kudos for Librarian Linda Lyon's bravery and ability to remain calm during such a combustible situation.

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