A view of Rikers Island. [All images on this page are from elsewhere on this web side, except the two below from the book's covers.]
Personal History Vignettes From Larone Koonce's
Correction Officer's Guide to Understanding Inmates

Photo on back cover of retired Larone Koonce's book shows him in uniform when a CO.

Image of front cover of retired CO Larone Koonce's book.

To illustrate 'how to jail,' retired CO recalls incidents during 2-decade career.

From the Introduction:
I became a New York City correction officer in 1987 at the age of twenty-two and retired in 2005 at the age of forty-one. I have no permanent scars or physical injuries, and I have no medical problems or conditions as a result of my service. I have not learned all the secrets of the universe, but there’s one thing I do know and that’s how to jail.

I, like most of you, did not have a relative or family friend in the department that pulled strings for me. I didn't have a hook. I couldn't make a phone call to get a steady post or to get a supervisor off my back. But throughout my career I was lucky enough to come across senior officers who took an interest in me and taught me what I needed to know to make the job work for me.

Now, I want to pass on what I have learned to you. Why take a career’s worth of experience and put it on the shelf when I can share it with you? You shouldn't have to learn things the hard way, the way I and many other officers did. You shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel. . . .

Only the names have been changed . . .

I have written this book to help officers who are trying to work their way the maze of that is the Department of Correction. I want to help those officers make it to retirement without being mentally or physically injured like so many of my friends and colleagues. I have seen officers lose their marriages, their families, their health, their jobs, and their lives during my years in corrections, and I want to prevent as many officers as I can from going down that path. . . .

This is an honest book with real accounts of actual events that have occurred during the course of my career. The names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved in the events and incidents.

I have chosen to use the masculine default to streamline the prose. This choice is not meant to overlook the many brave and courageous women who serve as corrections officers or to imply that only men are inmates. . . .

One view inside the Queens House of Detention.[All images on this page are from elsewhere on this web side, except the two from the book's covers.]
Dealing With Troublemakers

From the third chapter:
When I was assigned to the Queens Detention Complex, I worked in the Warden’s Office. I discovered that wardens constantly received instructions from the chiefs and at times, reprimands as well. However, their instructions and reprimands were done in a professional manner.

The chiefs took great care not to let the rest of the facility know that the warden was in error. The chiefs would never reprimand a warden in front of his command.

You wouldn't like it if the captain reprimanded you about your uniform in front of your peers at roll call. You would prefer that he pulled you to the side before or after roll call and spoke to you about it. It’s more professional.

When you need to instruct or reprimand an inmate, walk up to him, and do it in a manner that will not be so noticeable to all the other inmates. You will get better results. If it is not an emergency and can be done at another time, when the other inmates are not around, wait for that time to tell the inmate of his mistake....

I often would have conditions attached to honoring inmates’ requests. For example, if I noticed earlier in the tour that an inmate had been too loud and boisterous during breakfast, I would remind him of his unacceptable behavior when he asked me for something. I would tell him that I would honor his request but during lunch, he would have to tone it down. . . .

A view outside AMKC entrance.[All images on this page are from elsewhere on this web side, except the two from the book's covers.]

From the ninth chapter:
When I worked on Rikers Island in A.M.K.C. (C-95) there was a period that almost everyday we had a problem with one of the inmate housing areas. The inmates would barricade themselves in their housing area by piling chairs and tables against the gates to protest some perceived mistreatment and dare us officers to come in and do battle with them. And each time we would march down to the housing area where the disturbance was taking place.

We would respond in waves of twenty or more all suited up with riot vests, helmets, and batons led by a deputy warden. We ’d stand at the door of the housing area in full view of the protesting inmates in formation twenty and sometimes forty officers deep, all champing at the bit and itching to rush in to do battle with them.

Then the deputy warden would go into the housing area and negotiate with the leaders of the protest while we stood in the corridor.

We would stand there waiting for the signal to attack. After about fifteen or twenty minutes the deputy warden would emerge from his conference with the inmate leaders and tell us that everything was settled, and the inmates would take down the barricades. While we stood in the corridor, the deputy warden always gave us a speech about why he negotiated with the inmates.

Some Rikers scenes.

Sign at Queens approach
to Rikers bridge.

Flags in front of

Geese roam free
away from razor wire.

Canine patrol partners:
2-legged, 4-legged.

Rikers CO biker
on perimeter patrol.

CO checks for
cell contraband.

CO conducts
inmate count on tier.

Emergency response
unit marches double-time.

The Koonce book has no images illustrating the text. For design and informational purposes, relevant images have been added on this page and captioned by the webmaster.

He said, “It was better for me to negotiate with the inmates than to have to explain to one of your families that you got seriously injured or killed taking back control of a housing area from the inmates.”

Most of us that were suited up in riot gear felt that what the deputy warden was saying was a copout and maybe he was scared of going to battle with the inmates, but we weren't. We wanted to break through those barricades and teach those inmates a lesson.

As I got older and wiser I realized that the deputy warden was absolutely right. My fellow officers and I, who wanted to go to battle, were wrong. The deputy warden wasn't coping out; he was acting responsibly. He knew that it was better to use whatever legal and ethical tools at his disposal to get the outcome that he wanted without using force. When you use force, you risk getting people on both sides hurt.

I've been on riot squads that were allowed to take back housing areas by force and almost every time officers and inmates were injured. I have concluded that it is always better if cooler heads prevail. Take a long-term view of your career in corrections; if you expect to have a long career and make it to retirement, you have to be smart. Don’t use force if you can find another way to get the desired results.

Most inmates are not troublemakers and want to comply with the rules, but they also want to be respected. They don’t want to lose face or be punked in front of the other inmates. If you give them a way out of a sticky situation that doesn't include violence, they will usually take it.

However, if you back them into a corner with no other options, they will fight no matter what the odds are. The smallest mouse, if backed into a corner with all avenues of escape cut off, will fight you to the death. However, if you leave him an avenue of escape no matter how small the avenue, he will chose to escape rather than fight. You don’t have to always go to blows with the inmates to get them to do what you want. . . .


From the twelfth chapter:
When I started in 1987 mandatory overtime was at an all-time high. There were no limitations or quotas on the amount of overtime you could work like there is now.

We often had to work double shifts (sixteen hours) on our first, second, and fourth days and on our third day we would have to work at least two and a half hours overtime for some officer who took time due. (If you are a new correction officer, you will learn about time due when you get to your facility, if not before.)

Occasionally, even on our third day we would have to work sixteen hours. It was especially tough on me because I didn't have a car for the first year, so I had to take two trains and a bus from Brooklyn to Rikers Island and back.

Although conditions are better now for officers, the demanding schedule can still wreak havoc on your personal life.

There are many ways officers choose to deal with the stress that comes with working long hours in a jail and not all are positive. . . .

Once, when I was on a hospital run (that's when officers take an inmate from jail to a hospital, usually to the emergency room); the officers (there were about eight of us from C-95, AMKC) were sitting in the Kings County Hospital emergency room. It was about three in the morning, and we were all conversing.

One officer, who was known in C-95 for working overtime, was bragging about all the overtime he had been working. He went on about how he worked overtime whenever he could get it. He told us how he would regularly work sixteen hours a day almost everyday, which meant he worked overtime five out of seven days almost every week.

He bragged about how he could get any post he wanted on overtime because the captains and tour commanders (ADWs) counted on him to work overtime and really valued his service. He talked about how big his checks were and how he could buy any car he wanted for cash and so on. 1

Rikers Island razorwire

The Koonce book has no images illustrating the text. For design and informational purposes, relevant images have been added on this page and captioned by the webmaster.

Being a young, relatively new officer, I must admit that I was in awe and slightly envious of this officer until an older gentleman in his fifties entered in our conversation.

This older gentleman was a civilian patient lying on a stretcher near by, waiting to be seen. He had been listening to our conversation. He sat up and asked the officer,

“Do you have children?”

“Yeah, I have two boys,” the officer replied proudly

“How much time do you spend with your boys?” the older gentleman asked.

The officer, now on the defensive shot back, “Oh, I spend a lot of time with my boys.”

The older gentleman then asked, “How do you spend a lot of time with your boys when you just said you work sixteen hours a day almost everyday?”

The officer began to try to explain by saying, “Well, whenever I get home, no matter what time it is, I wake them up and spend about an hour with them, and I spend about an hour with them before I go to work,”

The older gentleman then said, “Okay, so that’s about two hours a day with your boys, and sixteen or more hours are devoted to corrections.”

Our area of the E.R. went silent as we realized how much of himself he had given to the department and how little he had given to his children. In less than one minute this officer went from being a big man, working big hours, and making big money to being a misguided father who had not yet gotten his priorities straight. . . .

Too Eager

From the twenty-fifth chapter:
Officer Zeus was a strong, six-foot-three, two-hundred and-fifty-pound weightlifter. He was in my academy class, and he was far and above the strongest and most athletic recruit in the entire class of over two hundred and fifty recruits. Our physical training instructors often remarked that Zeus was the best recruit they had seen at the academy in years. Upon completion of our academy training, Officer Zeus and I were assigned to the same jail on Rikers Island.

One day during count time, Officer Zeus instructed the inmates to stand by their beds to be counted. One inmate ignored Zeus’s instructions and stayed in the dayroom reading a magazine. Officer Zeus went into the dayroom and ordered the inmate to go stand by his bed for the count. The inmate refused to leave the dayroom, and he and Officer Zeus began to argue. One thing led to another, and a fighting ensued.

The inmate was no match for Officer Zeus who easily defeated him. Three other inmates, seeing their fellow inmate losing the fight, jumped in and joined the fight However, the four inmates were no match for Zeus; he was able to single-handedly beat all four of the inmates into submission. By the time the riot squad arrived, Officer Zeus had the entire situation under control.

Rumors of the fight quickly began to circulate throughout the jail. As the weeks went on, Officer Zeus was involved in two more fights with inmates and each time he emerged victorious.

Officer Zeus became the talk of the jail among the officers and inmates. . . . the supervisors were talking about him, as well. Many of them felt that Officer Zeus’s popularity was a good thing, and the jail needed officers like Zeus to get tough with the inmates. Many also felt that Officer. Zeus’s popularity provided a needed boost to the morale of the officers in the jail.

The supervisors wanted to use Officer Zeus’s notoriety to their advantage, so they began changing his post to areas like the Receiving Room or Movement Control, where he would be one of the officers first to respond to any alarm throughout the jail. He would often be assigned to the probe team, an assignment that was usually given to officers that had several years of experience. This was very unusual because Officer Zeus was getting these preferred assignments with only a few months’ experience as a correction officer. . . . .

In the months that followed, Officer Zeus responded to many alarms and battled with dozens of inmates. His supervisors encouraged him to be aggressive with the inmates, and they often praised his actions at the officers’ roll calls.

Zeus felt like he was on top of the world. He thought that he had finally found his niche, the one thing that he was good at. He was proud that in less than a year he had made a name for himself.

Three days before he was scheduled to complete his probationary period, Officer Zeus was terminated. They told him he was being terminated because he had too many uses of force.

Many officers mistakenly believe that their job is secure if their immediate supervisors are happy with their job performance. This is not always the case. . . .

When the committee saw Officer Zeus’s file come cross their desks, with the records of his involvement in dozens of uses of force, and compared that to the average recruit that was involved in only four uses of force, Zeus probably stood out like a sore thumb. They probably assumed that Zeus was a hot head or quick tempered. They probably decided that it was better to terminate Officer Zeus rather than keep him and have to defend him and his record in a lawsuit in the future. The committee had no way of knowing that the supervisors were calling on him to engage in these uses of force. . . . .


This web site features excerpts from many books. The excerpt presentations do not necessarily constitute endorsements, any more than this disclaimer represents a dis-endorsement. The point is that the books and their excerpts are selected because the content is considered relevant to New York Correction History in some way which readers then may judge for themselves.

Strictly speaking, Larone Koonce's "CO's Guide" isn't a history book; it was written as a "how to" book. The retired veteran Correction Officer offers his tips to current and prospective COs on "how to jail." In doing so, he describes, as he recalls them, specific experiences from his own career to illustrate the points he seeks make. These personal history vignettes provide rare in-print glimpses into the challenges which those who patrol the toughest precincts in the city -- its jails -- face every day on the job. In that sense, these excerpts serve to bring into sharper Correction History focus "life on the inside" from the CO perspective.

Koonce divides his "how to jail" guide into "44 Keys," each "key" being in fact a separate chapter. To avoid confusion, this presentation identifies particular excerpts as coming from the third, ninth, twelfth and twenty-fifth chapters, which in the book are the 3rd, 9th, 12th and 25th Keys.

Other than images on its front and back covers, the book contains no photos or illustrations. To break up what would otherwise be a solid mass of text, the webmaster has inserted and captioned generic-type DOC images from elsewhere on the web side.

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