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Chicago Prison Break; Torino 2006

Aired February 16, 2006 - 08:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: What in the world is going on at the Cook County Jail? Chicago's big jail is a mess right now, and a series of arrests, suspensions of guards, escapes, guns inside. The question is, is there a political motivation to it all? Is it greed? We're sorting that story out, and while we do it, we've been very curious about what goes on behind closed bars and what it's like for the guards who are charged with making sure the prisoners, or the people -- inmates, the people inside jails are kept where they're supposed to be.
Ted Conover spent a year and wrote "Newjack: Guarding SingSing." He kind of went in surreptitiously with the intent of learning what it was all about, and you got an eyeful, and earful of the whole thing.

Was it what you expected first of all?

TED CONOVER, "NEWJACK: GUARDING SING SING": No, as a guard I didn't have the authority that I expected I would, and I was outnumbered during large periods of the day. When I'd be supervising a floor of inmates, there'd be up to 60 or 70 of them and just me sometimes, so this wasn't what I'd imagined maybe from the movies.

O'BRIEN: That is the dirty little secret about our prison system here in the United States, is that at any given moment, if the prisoners decided to act en masse, they could take over a jail.

CONOVER: That's the thing. The guards are locked in there, too. And there were days where I myself felt a little bit like a prisoner. I'd even think how could I get out of here if I really had to, before before I got to work I'd pass through 15 locked gates, so you share this very particular environment with the prisoners.

O'BRIEN: Fifteen locked gates and you don't have a sidearm when you're inside there, because of the potential danger there. So you really have to operate by your wits.

CONOVER: That's correct.

O'BRIEN: And I'm looking at you, you're not a big guy.

CONOVER: The smaller...

O'BRIEN: What was that like?

CONOVER: The smaller you are, the more you have to operate by your wits, because if you're big, as you can imagine, you have an advantage. They're ail little bit afraid. You can use your fists, and as an officer, you're called upon to do that sometimes. These are people who are there because they don't obey the rules, and push can come to shove.

Normally, you know, you receive some training in this, how to negotiate with people, how to be firm, but fair and get what you need without getting physical.

O'BRIEN: Does that always work?

CONOVER: No, it does not. There are some knuckleheads in prison. There are some people who will only respond to force.

O'BRIEN: Now let's flip this story around for a moment, because what happens, it's almost like a reverse of the Stockholm Syndrome, the Stockholm Syndrome where the people who are taken hostage actually sympathize with their hostage takers. Does it happen where in this case the guards tend to relate or have empathy with the people they're guarding? You mentioned, you're in the same harsh environment together.

CONOVER: It's a really interesting question. You know, in the vast majority of cases, I'd say yes, the guards are human beings. The vast majority are good people. They feel a bit of sympathy for prisoners, but know their job is to keep at arm's length. And you can't do the job if you're buddy buddy. You can't walk down the hall with your arm. You see this occasionally in a prison, and you think what's going on there. That's improper.

Now occasionally relationships develop between a guard and a prisoner. And in a good prison, they're caught. They stop it. But in a lax prison, a female officer and a male prisoner might begin a relationship, and that sounds bizarre. It did to me before I worked there but it happens.

O'BRIEN: It happens.

CONOVER: It happens. These guys are young, they're attractive and they can devote their full energies to making her feel special. That happens a fair amount.

O'BRIEN: Very interesting.

And I guess what you talked about earlier about how you, as a guard, because of the numerical disadvantage, you have to have this kind of negotiating skill, this ability to get along. You're going to find sympathetic ears, and that inevitably leads to those relationships, and that's where you get into the possibility of bribes, looking the other way, whatever the case.

CONOVER: Exactly. When we went through training, one of the red flags, if you're considered for a job, besides, do you have a bad temper, because then you're out, do you have a criminal record, then you're out. Do you have a lot of debt, because if you do, it turns out, you are a better candidate to be bribed. And how do inmates have money? Well, they're not supposed to, but a lot of them are involved with gangs, and gangs have plenty of money, from selling drugs mostly. So officers get caught up occasionally in drug-selling scams. That's how a lot of drugs make their way into prison.

Other contraband comes in cell phones. This is the latest plague in prison. Gang leaders want to be able to talk. It's not hard for me to bring in a cell phone. My lunch bag is checked at the gate, but they don't check my socks; they don't check my pockets. So a crooked officer, and there are some, a tiny fraction, but there are crooked officers who...

O'BRIEN: But it doesn't take more than a tiny fraction to cause real problems in a security system. Were you offered bribes?

CONOVER: That's right.

Yes, there was a Colombian there in on drug charges who offered me a Rolex if I would help him, and I was scared to even to discuss it with him. I was like, bah, bah, bah, bah. It turned out he wanted me to just meet with a friend of his in Brooklyn and have a little chat, and I said, no thanks.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. As part of your research for the book, did you think you should to see how that played out, or did you think it was just too dangerous?

CONOVER: I knew I didn't want to go there, but later, yes, the reporter in me thought, oh, maybe that's a mistake. But no, you got to mind your p's and q's, and I was there, first and foremost, to be a prison guard. I wanted to do a good job.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. Fascinating, fascinating stuff. Thank you very much. Ted Conover, author of "Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing." Talk about undercover journalism. Good job.


O'BRIEN: Let's go to our dash-cam desk this can morning, dash- cam video. There we go. There's a chase, Douglasville. Wow! That doesn't end well for the perpetrator, as they say. This is a little west of Atlanta, Douglas County.

So watch it, there's the Ford Ranger, whatever it is. And OK, the cop's right on him. You're looking at the cop-eye view. Quick turn in, that'll teach him.


O'BRIEN: No, no, actually bad idea. That was a bad idea.

SERWER: That little turn into the...

O'BRIEN: Turn into the thing. It works in the movies, and obviously not in dash-cam land.

SERWER: Watched a little bit too much "Dukes of Hazzard" there.

O'BRIEN: Apparently so.

SERWER: He's arrested and OK. The cops were fine, and it was a stolen car, stolen vehicle.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: There were about 12 police cars chasing them.

Let's go to Andy for business.

SERWER: Zain, we're going to give you the latest on the tech executives versus Congress smackdown.

Plus, one of the toughest competitors ever, Michael Jordan, shows his softer side. We'll get to that in a second, next up on AMERICAN MORNING.


VERJEE: An Olympic medalist on the outs. We have our first positive drug test of these Winter Games. The Russian biathlete, Olga Pyleva, will be the historical footnote. Now she already won a silver medal. That was on Monday. Now she may have to give it back.

Larry Smith is live in Turin.

What do you know about these charges?

LARRY SMITH, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Zain, we know that Olga Pyleva, she is a 30-year-old. And what happens is, there are, you know, two samples taken, how these things go in the doping testing, just testing for steroids and things. The A test came back positive. Now we'll see if they test the B test, and the results of that. Now then she will have to meet with the International Olympic committee, A panel. If she's found guilty, she'll be expelled from the Games and have to vacate the silver medal that she won.

Now this is sort of ironic, because several hours ago we heard from Dick Pound. He is the chief of the World Anti-Doping Agency, and he was saying that he believes doping is going on in these games, he said because there are 12 athletes last week testing with high levels of hemoglobin. That's what he based it on. Here's what else he had to say.


DICK POUND, WORLD ANTI-DOPING AGENCY: For that number of athletes at the same time, two days before the Olympics, you know, what do you think the odds are one in three million that that could happen?


SMITH: That's why Dick Pound thinks that this is happening, and certainly then a few hours later it comes true, that Olga Pyleva, who is in the cross country event, that she does tests positive. She was scratched from today's -- just prior to today's 7.5 kilometer cross- country sprint. And again, awaiting to find out her fate here in Torino.

Let's go back to you.

VERJEE: Tonight, Larry, the men's figure skating free skate. I'll be asleep, but the big question everyone's asking, Johnny Weir, how do we expect him to perform? Will he try to do the quadruple?

SMITH: Well, you know, he knows that Evgeni Plushenko, the overwhelming favorite, and who has a strong lead after Tuesday's short program, he knows that it's going to take something phenomenal to overtake him in tonight's free skate. And so he may try that quadruple just to try it, to see if he can get enough points to try to -- to come up and get Plushenko. But Plushenko very strong to get his first gold medal. Johnny Weir looking for at least a silver. We'll see if he tries it tonight.

VERJEE: What about the snowboard cross. It's hard, I know. It looks like fun. Miles has snowboarded, slipped a number of times, hurt himself, too.

O'BRIEN: That's putting it lightly.

VERJEE: Tell us about that.

SMITH: I'm not sure, Miles, can go at these speeds, yes, because these guys are going so fast. It's a lot of fun. It's like watching a live video game. The finals are under way. There are four Americans in that, including Seth Westcott (ph), who qualified third, as he's trying to go for a medal there. But it's a lot of fun, you know. And when they go on the finals, however, I don't know if Miles has done this or not, but there are four racing straight across each other. So you've got not only to worry about the speeds, and the curves and the different terrain to deal with, but also the competitor next to you, if you intentionally make contact with a competitor, if it's determined it's intentional, you could be disqualified. So we'll see next hour if Americans can medal in that sport. First time ever for snowboard cross, by the way, in a Winter Olympics, here in Torino.

VERJEE: All right, Larry Smith in Torino -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: It's kind of like roller derby, isn't it?


O'BRIEN: No bumping, right? Isn't that how the do that in roller derby, or is it you're allowed to?

SERWER: You're allowed to, bigtime.

O'BRIEN: Do they still do roller derby? Do you see that.

SERWER: Yes, a little bit.

O'BRIEN: OK. You watch a lot of TV, don't you.

VERJEE: Norway is winning, I believe, on the medal count.

O'BRIEN: Go Norway. SERWER: I love that.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's talk about the CEO resume desk again. Is that what we're doing?


VERJEE: We're doing China Internet story.

SERWER: Thank you, Zain.

We're doing the tech executives before Congress yesterday, testifying about doing business there. These executives told Congress that actually doing business in China does more good than harm.

They were blasted, though, by representatives, and an important distinction arose, Google and Microsoft saying they will be able to keep the names of their users offshore, because the servers will be offshore from china. Yahoo! can't do that, because remember, its business there is called by a Chinese company called Ali Baba; 110 million Internet users in China. Number two after the United States. Guess who's going to be number one in about five years.

Representative Chris Smith again invoking the name of Anne Frank, saying that it was like turning over Anne Frank to the Nazis. He's said that before.

Then also Tom Lantos, California Democrat, saying, "Your activities in China are a disgrace. I don't understand how you can sleep." And most saliently, I think, if that's a word, he said, "These companies tell us they will change china but China has already changed them." I thought that was very telling.

VERJEE: Ooh, yes. That is.

Another story you're working on, Michael Jordan auctioning shoes for Katrina.

SERWER: Yes, the softer side of MJ. You know, he was a tough competitor, but now he is auctioning off some of his shoes for Hurricane Katrina relief, and actually simultaneously the All-Star Game in Houston this weekend, and simultaneously the release of AJ 21. Now get this, it is a new Michael Jordan Air Jordan sneaker, "AJ," Air Jordan, and it's 21, because this is the 21st year they've been out. First introduced in 1985. He's getting a little bit long in the shoelace, if you ask me. I mean, people still like these? I mean, the kids still relate to Michael Jordan?

O'BRIEN: I thought they were kind of yesterday's news, but you know.

SERWER: One-hundred and eight dollars?

O'BRIEN: A hundred and eight bucks, that is a little much. The answer is no. You want those shoes? No.

VERJEE: Andy, thank you.

O'BRIEN: All right, Andy Serwer, thank you very much.

Coming up, your eyesight not what it used to be? Andy is definitely in this club.

VERJEE: He can barely read that.

SERWER: I can't hear what you're saying either, so don't worry.

O'BRIEN: What'd you say, Sonny? Yes, can't see, can't hear. For your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, we have just the solution for you. Eye calisthenics, or something like that.

And later, Vice President Cheney finally says a few things about that hunting accident, but is it too little and too late for all the PR damage that has been inflicted? We'll take a look at that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


VERJEE: It could happen to you. Maybe it's already happening. If your vision is starting to go, what can you do to slow the slippage and just keep your eyes healthy? In today's segment of "30, 40, 50," our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen tells us about the wild ride of aging eyes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys having a cocktail, a glass of wine tonight?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Can't read the menu? That's the red Alaskan jumbo king crab legs. And if you've ever needed one of these to skim over your dinner selection, you're probably over 40.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Restaurant is a classic example...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE; I'm having trouble seeing the menu.

COHEN: That's why at this restaurant in Atlanta, popular for its dark and sexy feel, they keep a supply of glasses, magnifying lenses and flash lights. It's rarely a problem before 40.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have perfect vision.

COHEN: But even she and others will eventually have trouble seeing close up. That's why eye doctors say in your 30s protect your eyes. Wear sunglasses to shield out ultraviolet light and eat well. Evidence shows that a diet rich in anti-oxidants may prevent the onset of macular degeneration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have to, like, find that space to adjust to.

COHEN: When you hit your 40s, it's inevitable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether it be contacts, glasses or if you have perfect distance vision unaided, you're still going to lose the ability to focus up close. And it's just a change in the elasticity of the lens internally. It's very predictable. It happens to everybody.

COHEN: And you can't stop it, but a good pair of glasses helps. No line bifocals can correct for distance and hide that you're wearing reading glasses. And then, in your 50s the eyes' natural lenses aren't as clear as before. You'll need more light to read than when you were younger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can read a book in 12 point type without my glasses in a halogen light, but not without.

COHEN: For the eyes as with other parts of the body, time takes its toll. But prevention early on, extra light and help from a doctor can keep them youthful longer...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll leave that right there for you, take it whenever you guys are ready.

COHEN: You'll still be able to read your dinner bill.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I'm seeing the bill!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't want it.


VERJEE: And Elizabeth joins us now.

Elizabeth, you know, I was just thinking, if you're around 40 years old or so, how do you know that, you know, it's time to go out and buy bifocals?

COHEN: Right, Zain, I just turned 40 and I asked my eye doctor that very question. I have to kind of move my paperback, when do I know if I need reading glass? And he said when your arm gets too short. And what he was trying to say was is that there is no set time, it's just whenever it gets too annoying for you. That's when it's time to get bifocals.

VERJEE: How often should people get eye exams anyway, you know, just generally?

COHEN: Right, it all depends on your age and on your particular eye condition. So let's take a look at it broken down by age. When you're under age 40, if you wear glasses or contacts, you should see an optometrist every year and every two to three years if you don't wear glasses or contacts. Now, then when you get over age 40, you should see an optometrist every year if you wear glasses or contacts and every one to two years if you don't. Over age 60, you should see an eye doctor every year, an optometrist every year no matter what.

VERJEE: Elizabeth Cohen with some good advice, as always. Thanks.

There's more health news coming up. We're going to take a look the at growing controversy over some common tests used to check for heart disease. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has that, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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