By Arnulfo Garcia
When an inmate first comes into the prison system, the demeanor of correctional officials generally gives him an indication of what prison is going to be like. Rarely is that demeanor upbeat or positive.
Correctional Officer E. Plagman is one of those rare people with a different outlook. His is the voice North Block inmates hear over its PA system on many mornings.
Plagman’s last day at San Quentin State Prison was Nov. 4. He is scheduled to transfer to Old Folsom State Prison.
“We are going to be sorry to lose him. He is definitely going to be an asset at Folsom,” Correctional Sgt. O. Nollette said. “His move to Old Folsom is a step in the right direction.”
Plagman replied, “Since arriving at the San Quentin, where I was first assigned to Badger section back in 2000, I’ve learned and grown so much under the watchful eyes of my mentor Sergeant Nollette.”
The key to being a good officer, he said, is being able to use good communication skills rather than being confrontational.
“I am willing to talk to somebody without judging a book by the cover,” Plagman said. “My word is my bond. I’m an honest person. I’m more willing to work with people and give everyone respect,” he added, “There is that line where I can help people but I can’t go beyond that.
“I feel like I could walk down the tier and do my job professionally,” Plagman said. “That’s because of the respect that goes both ways,” he added, “But, I do know this is prison.”
There have been times where he witnessed violence. His worst day as an officer occurred in 2005. Approximately 250 men rioted in Dining Hall Four as he looked on with his partner.
“We watched these inmates throw trays, kick other inmates, run around swinging at anything and everything that got in their way,” he said. “That experience was a real eye opener. I didn’t get hurt, but it was scary.”
Plagman talked about better days, too.
“My most memorable experience came when I graduated from the academy,” he said. “I knew this life experience would make me a better person at home for my family.”
When asked about the difference between the mainline and the reception center at San Quentin, Plagman said, “I feel like on the mainline, there is progress. When I work with inmates from the mainline, they are respectful. They have goals. It’s easier to do my job. It’s harder to talk to young guys. They haven’t learned the value of respect yet. However, with time and education, I’m sure they will eventually mature.”
Plagman said he sees the importance of offering programs to inmates or at least making them available.
|“I am willing to talk to somebody without judging a book”|
“Reception inmates aren’t offered enough programs to help them get their heads straight,” he said. “It would be helpful to provide books to help educate them. We shouldn’t give up on them. This will make it safer for everyone involved. Rehabilitation works, that’s my belief. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
When asked about the Death Penalty, Plagman replied, “I believe in capital punishment. If the law states that you are convicted of a crime, my personal feelings are that the consequences are based on the crime. The law is the law.”
He further elaborates:
“Richard Allan Davis’ crime brought the Three Strikes law, which increased the prison population. A lot of people were punished for petty crimes and given long sentences. It’s my belief when someone commits a heinous crime, that individual should pay for what he did, not the rest of the population. I believe Three Strikes works if you punish the most violent, not the drug addict who steals to support his habit. I believe balance needs to be in play.”
Summing up his time at San Quentin, Plagman said, “My experience at San Quentin is a hit and a miss. I’ve seen good things. I’ve seen staff have babies, grow their families; I’ve seen inmates turn their life around. I’ve seen the other side; officers throw their careers away, and I’ve seen inmates continually do wrong. It’s a reminder to go down the right path. Watching people change helped me change for the better.”
“The one thing I can say is that I made friends, and I appreciate the people around me with integrity. I also appreciate the people who had experience and were able to give me advice, like Sergeant Nollette, who guided me through my roughest patches. I really appreciate the fact that there were times when I was able to help him through his hard times.”
“I am excited to work in another historic prison to further my adventure and knowledge in this career quest,” said Plagman. “It’s important that I take these experiences learned here and trade them with other staff members and inmates.”
Rahsaan Thomas contributed to this story