Job Insecurity

For 13 hours, guard Jeanette Bledsoe wondered if she would see one more murder inside prison walls -- her own. Now she wants to make sure TDCJ protects those who protect us from society's rejects.

Just one week after she was held hostage on death row, Bledsoe went back to work, just to prove that she could. "I didn't do much of anything," she says. "I just walked around -- lookin'. I just wanted them, those inmates, all of 'em, to know that I could come back in there, that I was not scared of them, that they had not run me off." Some of the inmates told her that they were sorry it had happened to her, because she was a fair officer. "I have as much respect for them as they have for me," she says. "As long as they treat me right, I'll treat them right." Others didn't buy into Bledsoe's Golden Rule approach to prison life. Some told her that they would have raped her. Gary Graham, the anti-death-penalty poster boy for Jesse Jackson and Bianca Jagger, threatened her life. "I tell you what, Bledsoe," she remembers him saying, "they didn't kill you the first time they got you, but you wait, I'll get you if I can get out."

She took another week off and tried again. She was securing an inmate for escort from a recreation cell to his house when the picket boss opened the door to the wrong cell by mistake. Inside was a death row offender who was not yet handcuffed. Bledsoe began reliving the hostage scenario.

"It's your choice," she told him. "What are you gonna do? Are you gonna come out of there? Or are you gonna back up and let me close the door?"

"Ms. Bledsoe," he said, "I am not touching that door."

She caught her breath, but she knew things would never be the same. "I really tried," she says. "I was just so jumpy. People would come up behind me, and I would just all but attack 'em." Two months after the incident, Bledsoe told her warden that she didn't think she should be working at the unit, that she was a danger to herself.

Since June, she's been holed up at home, hiding from the media, seeing a psychologist, fighting back the thoughts that can bring her to tears, and taking medication for her depression. She's collecting workers' compensation, but she doesn't know how long that will last. Biff's been telling the folks at Terrell that she's never going back to work there. And Jeanette halfheartedly entertains the idea of going back to school. But ultimately, when the checks stop coming, she says, she'll have to go back to the prison. And it doesn't really matter what the legislature does next year in terms of correctional officers' pay. Jeanette Bledsoe will still be scared.

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