Two Maryland Penitentiary guards were being held hostage today by inmates armed with two handguns at the maximum-security prison in Baltimore following what appeared to be a bungled escape attempt there last night.
State police negotiators and the leaders of the rebellious prisoners in the C Dormitory were talking over a telephone in an attempt to avert a violent confrontion between the inmates and a heavily armed contingent of State Police and Division of Correction officers who surrounded the 180-year-old penitentiary.
The building controlled by the inmates since shortly before 10 o'clock last night houses about 260 prisoners. Three of those inmates left the C Dormitory this morning because they needed their daily insulin injections, officials said.
The inmates had a set of keys that control every lock in the C Dormitory, one guard said.
Early this morning, according to officials, negotiators spoke with one hostage. His condition could not be determined. No communication has been made with the second hostage, officials said.
Officials would not identify the guards, both men who have less than three years' experience at the Pen. They are 31 and 29 years old and it was not known whether they had suffered any injuries.
Cpl. Lee Carter, 31, a six-year veteran at the penitentiary, said he was on duty last night in the prison's A Block, about 100 yards from the occupied dormitory.
Carter said that inmates in the C Dormitory attacked some other officers and took their radios. The prisoners broadcast a "Signal 13" -- an assist an officer call -- for B Block and diverted the attention of the guards to that section of the Pen.
"They wanted to go to the roof," Carter said. "But when they found themselves in an inescapable situation, they just said f--- it and took the hostages."
Ricardo R. Silva, an official with the Maryland Correctional Union which represents some officers in the state prison system, said today that officials had for about a week suspected an escape attempt was being planned.
"Yesterday, the guards were told in their morning meeting to watch out for a diversionary fight to allow an escape," Silva said. "There was also evidence of some inmates in C Dorm hoarding food, and that means only one thing."
Also, Olinda Moyd, an attorney with the Prisoner's Rights Program in Washington, said today that she regularly meets with Pen inmates in a support group and "There have been numerous complaints from the inmates about living conditions, the food, and their being moved to the Maryland House of Correction Annex at Jessup.
"They don't know what's going on," Moyd said. "We sent a letter to Bishop Robinson [Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services] outlining these concerns over two weeks ago. There was no response."
In a series of written notes passed along to prison officials during the siege, the inmates complained about the pen, including overcrowded conditions and poor food, said Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, a prison spokesman.
While no shots were fired during the night, two prison inmates reportedly were attacked by other prisoners. Ambulances took the wounded men to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
James Wardrick, 39, of Silver Spring, was treated for a stab wound to the throat and was in stable condition, according to a hospital source. He is serving a 65-year sentence for rape and two sex offenses.
Henry Lester, 32, of Prince George's County, was in serious condition and was being treated for multiple puncture wounds and facial fractures. He is serving a life sentence for murder.
Outside the downtown prison, scores of city police and State Police, as well as prison guards, many armed with shotguns and accompanied by police dogs, waited to enter the prison and end the situation with force if necessary.
"We want to end this thing peacefully and without injury," Shipley said.
About an hour after the incident began about 9:30 last night, at least one guard who was injured during the hostage-taking was treated at the scene for minor head injuries.
As the incident began, Pen guards grappled with prisoners in an effort to rescue their fellow officers.
The building in which the hostage-taking occurred, C Dormitory, is an early 19th century building that prison officials have long wanted to demolish. The stone building sits on the Madison Street side of the Pen, next to the prison hospital. The building contains cells on five tiers and open dormitories on three.
A total of 259 inmates were housed there last night, Shipley said. It is not clear how many of the inmates took part in the disturbance.
Police on the scene said several inmates could be seen walking and running around the tiers on the inside the dormitory area. Shouts were heard during the night.
Several hours after the situation began, the inmates holding the officers hostage presented a list of grievances to prison officials but correction officials declined to discuss the list in detail.
In response to inmates' concerns about overcrowding, officials sent in a summary of plans to add new maximum-security housing in Jessup, to replace cramped facilities at the Pen, Shipley said.
Shipley said it was unclear if the negotiations were fruitful.
"These things take time," he said.
On the scene were corrections officials, including state public safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson, Corrections Commissioner Richard A. Lanham, and Warden Sewall Smith.
City firefighters learned about the situation before police, when they responded to a small trash fire inside the prison at 10:40 p.m. They reported it extinguished and radioed that a hostage-taking situation was in effect.
L City police then dispatched scores of officers to the scene.
Nearly 100 city police officers from various district stations took up positions around the sprawling prison, setting up traffic blocks at all intersections and detouring traffic from the scene.
Later, some 60 heavily armed State Police from area barracks arrived and took up positions along Madison Street near the Fallsway, close to the Maryland Adjustment and Correctional Center, a facility known as Super Max.
All prison security officers working the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift were held over and were beefed up by the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.
Shipley said the inmates were armed with two handguns but the guns had not been taken from the officers.
"Prison officers working inside are not armed so we can only assume the weapons found their way into the dormitory some other way," Shipley said.
He said there was no indication the hostage-taking was a means to gain freedom by the inmates.
"We haven't uncovered anything that would tell us that this event was planned," he said. However, Shipley hinted that something may have been afoot a few weeks ago. He did not elaborate.
"All I can say is that this is a maximum-security prison and some of them are serving long terms for violent crimes," he said.
Shipley said the building had a shakedown about two months ago but no guns were found.
Four security officers originally were taken hostage but two were released for unknown reasons, he said.