Prison guards: Life on the other side of the bars
June 13, 2012
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (June 13, 2012) -- Military Police are known for enforcing military law and regulating traffic, but a small fraction of them do something very different: guard the military's prisons.
MPs in the military occupational specialty of 31E, called internment/resettlement specialists, are trained to be prison guards --and every one of them is trained in Fort Leonard Wood, in Company C, 701st Military Police Battalion.
"Anywhere from eight to 10 percent of actual MPs are 31-Echos," said Capt. Jason Boston, executive officer for Co. C, 701st MP Bn.
Roughly 700 31E Soldiers are trained here each year, including the 10-15 percent of 31Es from the Army Reserve and National Guard, he added.
"They're important for the fact that, when there's misconduct, those Soldiers have to be sent somewhere. The only ones who are trained to handle that are 31-Echos," he said.
These Soldiers are the only ones qualified to work with detainees in a deployed environment, he added.
"They're a big portion of the military, even though they are a small 10 percent."
Company C provides Advanced Individual Training for 31Es for seven weeks. Training includes communication, restraining inmates, searching for contraband, unarmed self-defense and riot control.
During the course, trainees take the "facility exam" to become certified at operating a prison. They also get to run their own jail, taking turns acting as inmates and guards. On Monday and Tuesday, 70 trainees in Company C, 701st MP Bn. practiced unarmed self-defense, including how to avoid confrontation with inmates, protect themselves and restrain inmates.
The training is designed to expose Soldiers to the tougher aspects of working in a prison, said Staff Sgt Justin Stark, a Co. C, 701st MP Bn. AIT instructor.
"Whether it's the detainees or prisoners, they know how to try to get under your skin, especially if you're a private coming in. They're going to say sexually harassing things, belittling things, racist things to you, just to try to get you to do something out of character and get you in trouble," he said.
During one exercise, called "Bull in the Ring," trainees took turns trying to control a group of "inmates" (AIT instructors) ganging up on them.
Exercises like these are good ways to build tough skin, confidence and professionalism -- all key traits of a successful prison guard, said Staff Sgt. Sean Fournier, Company C, 701st MP Bn. AIT instructor.
"Nowhere else in the Army do we put a private in charge of 70 people. That's a lot of responsibility for a Soldier," he said.
Spc. Trevor McGee, a trainee in Company C, is looking forward to a career as a 31E.
"I have a degree in behavioral science and psychology and being able to actually use those skills is a bit surprising," he said. "Moving into something that is actually not only worthwhile, but really rewarding personally, is very good."
There is one thing that he's nervous about: "getting shanked" or stabbed in the back by an inmate.
However, "USD (unarmed self-defense) should come a long way," he said.
Another trainee, Pfc. Lauren Fauchon, added that she enjoys the hands-on aspect of being a 31E.
"So far, I love it," she said. "You get to work with people, know what people are about, and really kind of prove yourself as a person."
As a female, Fauchon said she is a little nervous about encountering large or aggressive inmates, but will count on her training to help her deal with those issues.
"You don't know what you're going to come across when you're working in a prison," she said. "Confidence goes a long way, but you always have to be looking over your back for everything."
Although all Military Police Soldiers are given some internment/resettlement training, only the 31Es are experts in this area, Fournier said, which benefits the MP Corps and overall Army.
31Es are strictly assigned to duty stations with military prisons, such as Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Fort Leavenworth, Kan., allowing 31Bs, or regular MPs, to be assigned elsewhere.
"It takes a lot of burden off of the actual 31-Bravos having to try to cycle in and do it," Fournier said.
Having 31Es also ensures that all Soldiers working in military prisons are held to the same standards, or treating prisoners.
"We're built from the ground up (with) treating detainees and inmates humanely, with respect," Fournier said.
"This is our day-to-day job, so nobody knows it better than we do," he said.