Corey Smith presses his face up against the thick glass window cut into the heavy steel door outside his jail cell, his shaggy hair and whispy sideburns curling off his face and the black wire of a single headphone dangling from one ear.
Smith's eyes light up as he sees the half-dozen television cameras and reporters clustering around his cell. He flashes a crooked half-grin. A pair of attractive Spanish-language reporters frown and turn away.
"Man, they ain't here to see you," a tall, white guard chuckles, moving in front of Smith's window, blocking the inmate's view.
Smith, 36, once commanded the fearsome John Doe gang in Liberty City, where he controlled the area's cocaine and marajuana trade and commissioned scores of hits. His power was so far-reaching that during his trial, from his prison cell he managed to orchestrate the succesful murder of a witness. It wasn't enough. Last month, a judge upheld a death penalty conviction.
Thanks to the invitation of Tim Ryan -- Miami-Dade's correction chief and a man whose record we haven't exactly been kind to -- New Times got a rare look this morning inside the world of Corey Smith and the other 1080 inmates in the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, a massive complex just north of the Miami International Airport. Read more about what we saw after the jump.
The TGK prison -- as it's commonly known -- was built in 1989 and can house up to 1300 inmates at a time. It's the only facility in Miami-Dade with every kind of criminal under one roof: men and women, adults and juveniles, sex offenders and petty thieves.
That makes for some challenging logistics, according to Enrique Rodriguez, an affable security operations lieutenant who shepharded us around the building. Every morning, between 70 and 100 inmates are bused from TGK to court appearances, and officers must keep each group segregated from the others.
The building looks exactly how you'd imagine a giant prison, with immense, windowless concrete walls, rows of razor-wire topped fencing, and long corridors of faded blue linolium and florescent lighting. The maximum security guests -- guys like Corey Smith with high-profile cases or particularly disturbing charges -- get individual cells on the eighth floor. The narrow rooms have televisions ("We just updated them all to digital," Rodriguez notes), but yard time is limited to just an hour a day, five days a week.
Four floors down, maximum security prisoners without the need for protection are allowed to roam free in a high-ceilinged room with plastic tables, a small television showing daytime Judge Judy-type shows and access to an outdoor concrete handball court.
TGK has had serious problems over the last five years. Just last month, five inmates and three staffers had to be hospitalized after a diesel spill in the facility. In March 2007, an inmate died from salmonella poisoning and an inspection found raw sewage leaking into the kitchen, rusty refridgerators and filthy ovens.
Rodriguez carefully focused on the prison's innovations -- including new digital readers in the booking area that have replaced the old ink-and-blot fingerprinting tables. But a question from a reporter -- "Have there been any escapes from this prison?" -- forced the most high-profile gaffe to the forefront.
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"Well, yes, unfortunately," Rodriguez says.
In Dec. 2005, Reynaldo Rapalo -- a man known as the "Shenandoah Rapist," accused of raping seven women between the ages of 11 and 79, and eventually sentenced to five consecutive life terms -- tore through the ceiling of his cell, wormed through an air conditioning system, and escaped from a seventh-floor roof with more than 50 bedsheets tied together. He was recaptured less than a week later, but his escape led to the resignation of the Corrections chief, investigations into the current staff and a raft of rule changes.
"Look, we have more than a thousand prisoners and our job is to keep them in," Rodriguez says. "They have 24 hours a day to try to get out. It happens sometimes."