Muhheakannuck Nations at Nu Schodack
The Making of a Sagamore
Never Called By His Given Name Self Directed Training 8 Years in Prison
Life in Prison
He was sent a letter stating that he was disqualified for not having a New Jersey Driver's License. She sent a letter to New Jersey Civil Service in Trenton, with a copy of the Exam notice which said "valid driver's license required", pointing out there was no mention of "state" and that he had a valid New York State driver's license. He was hired. He became Correction Officer D'Amico at Rahway State Prison, a maximum security facility in Avenel, New Jersey on May 17, 1976.
He had no problem going to work at the prison. The building reminded him of his alma mater, Roosevelt High School, located across from Fordham University in the Bronx. Initially, he was an "extra" and was assigned to a different post every day. He was also assigned different shifts each week.
Not long after he became Officer D'Amico, Mr. Miller became Lt. Miller. And Myrna Horner became the Personnel Officer. He met Myrna Horner as she was moving in, carrying boxes into the front house, and he offered to help. She accepted his assistance and they introduced themselves. He always called her Mrs. Horner.
As was his custom, he went to work learning everything he could about the duties and responsibilities of a Correction Officer. He discovered his primary duty was to protect the inmates. They were wards of the state as long as they were in custody. OrientationSome inmates liked him immediately because he called all inmates "Mr." and their last name. Regulations required him to address inmates by their assigned number. Knowing his own limitations, however, he didn't even consider this due to his dyslexia. Whenever he had to report a license plate number, such as "123456", he usually relayed it as "123654", reading both ends to the middle. Doing the same with inmate numbers would just confuse everyone.
Inmates are routinely searched after every movement. The inmates came to prefer being searched by him and his line of those waiting to be search would be the longest. He sang while he was doing it. Since he was different from most other officers, he was given "hints" by inmates. For instance, after his first traumatic experience with the riot bell going off, he was advised to count to 5 before he took off when the bell rang.All traffic in the prison went through the Center. During one of his first experiences with the riot bell ringing off, he and Officer Holliday, a well endowed woman officer, moving fast around corners from opposite directions, had a major collision. Papers flew everywhere and several minutes were spent gathering them all up. It was after this, that he was advised to count to 5. When he started at the prison in Avenel, the riot bell rang a lot.One time the riot bell rang, he was already going through the center. He stopped and began counting. The center keeper asked what he was doing. He told him and Lt. Hanks doubled over laughing, saying "That's my boy".An inmate also told him where the law books were located. He studied them while waiting for the count to clear. Almost from the beginning of his job as Correction Officer, he would "fall asleep" as he entered the New Jersey Turnpike after crossing the George Washington Bridge. He would drive with his eyes closed in the third lane, "his lane". Everyday, a State Trooper would follow him to and from Rahway State Prison, going into the Prison to sign the log at the beginning and end of each tour. If he changed lanes on the way, the trooper following him would pass him to check out what was happening up ahead. The toll collectors became used to him being "asleep" when he exited the NJTP. One who worked Exit 18 was always happy to see him. After Officer D'Amico came through his booth, he would go to Atlantic City and win.
One day, at the end of the 3rd shift, another officer's car wouldn't start. Officer D'Amico offered him a ride to Queens. The drive was uneventful until they reached the toll booth at NJTP Exit 18. Officer D'Amico gave the toll taker the money but not the ticket. The toll collector could see the ticket but not reach it. She went around to the passenger side to knock on the window to get the slumbering passenger to give her the ticket. The other officer awoke with a start and handed the toll collector the ticket after calming down somewhat. Officer D'Amico was "asleep" as usual. The other officer was so upset that Officer D'Amico drove to his Bronx apartment to have his wife drive the man to Astoria. The officer never went back to Rahway, sending someone else to retrieve his car from the Prison parking lot.
After this incident, his wife knew it was time to move to New Jersey. She began going with him on his weekend day tours to look for a house. They went to the Berg Realty on Rt. 27 in Edison. and were shown several houses in Union County. However, every house of interest was suddenly unavailable. After this happened three or four times, the realtor was ready to quit the business. Before he did, however, he took them back to the office and let D'Amico look through all the listings. After going through a couple of books, Mike pointed to a picture, saying "This is the one." They closed on the house in March of 1977 and moved to Rahway in April.
Almost immediately, the Rahway Police were waiting near the house to follow him to the Prison, trying to catch him breaking some rule. One night, the Rahway cop followed him into the prison parking lot. Not only was the officer out of his jurisdiction, since the Prison was in Woodbridge Township, and Middlesex County, the cop was trespassing on state property, having no legitimate business, no "license and privilege" to be there.The Rahway Police Officer pulled up behind Officer D'Amico in the parking lot, got out of the Rahway Patrol car, and started yelling that the shield in the back of D'Amico's car did not give him the right to go through a light. D'Amico hadn't gone through a red light, but ignored that fact and went to look at the back of his car. There was no shield, of course, which he told the Rahway officer, saying he wouldn't mess up his Cadillac by inserting a shield in the back window. The RSP sergeant who came out to handle the disturbance checked D'Amico's vehicle and then called the FOP representative who confirmed Officer D'Amico had paid his $10 FOP dues but had not paid $10 for a shield and so therefore, did not have one.Officer D'Amico went in to lineup, as the Rahway cop was in good hands, with every gun at the Prison pointed at him. Woodbridge Township Police responded to a call about a disturbance at the Prison and called for backup upon learning there was a Rahway City Officer there. The State Police also responded.All the visitors went home by 3 am.
He drove a number of vehicles to the Prison during the time he worked there. When he started at the Prison, they had a green Dodge Monaco. After they moved to Rahway, they purchase a brown Cadillac, their second cadillac, from Miller's on St. Georges Avenue. This was replaced with a Lincoln convertible that he got from another officer for $1000. It had electrical problems which made it incompatible with him, so they traded it in for another newer used Cadillac from a dealer on Route 22. Because this car needed some work before they took possession, they were given a "loaner" which he drove to work for a few days before showing up with his "new" Cadillac. Some officers thought he must be rich because he drove all these cars.
There were always investigations of corruption at the Prison. One involved the Credit Union. Others involved Inmate Funds. The Instution had set up a banking system for the inmates and there were allegations of mishandling of the money. It was even rumored that Officer D'Amico had taken the money of an inmate. When Officer D'Amico was accused, he asked how much was involved, pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket more than 20 times the amount saying he had no need to steal from anyone, and offered to replace the missing money which also contributed to his reputation as being well off.
However, he really wanted to drive a truck, He learned that the US Post Office sold vehicles to the public when they had no further use for them. He visitd the 34th Street Post Office in mid town Manhattan and found "Charlotte", a step in van, used to tow other NYC mail trucks when disabled. This was eventually replaced by "Rita", a 24 foot Ford straight truck. Rita was immediately ticketed for parking on the street at night so he left for work at 9pm until the utility company raised the guide wire so it could be parked on the driveway. And then there was "Aunt Nellie", a 1986 Ford Econoline, cargo van, purchased for $3000 in 1989 and kept until the 2000s.
One day, several athletic teams were eating in the inmate dining hall, outside of regular mealtimes, after several hours of practice. A short inmate and an officer "Tiny" were arguing. Since officers were forbiden to fraternize with inmates, this was the only way they could legally converse without getting into trouble. The two had grown up together and were good friends. However, another inmate thought Tiny was picking on the little guy. When the other inmate couldn't stand it anymore, he loudly objected, starting a fight. Officer D'Amico was just entering the inmate dining room as the riot bell went off. He turned to leave but the gate clanged shut behind him. He turned back just as an inmate was throwing a punch at him, quickly stepped aside and watched the inmate's fist hit the gate, breaking all the fingers in that hand. There were 51 inmates, two officers and a Sergeant present, [lus Office D'Amico when the riot started. Officer Hurd's hand was immediately cut and he spent the riot bleeding under a table. The Sergeant had been hit in the head and was semi-conscious. That left him and Tiny versus the inmates. When it was over, 34 inmates were taken to the hospital and 17 to lockup. He and Tiny were charged with "police brutality". The inmates presented their case, which included 2 inmates suffering broken backs, as well as a number with assorted broken arms, legs and other bones. The Judge was favorably impresed in their favor. However, after hearing the rest of the circumstances, the Judge immediately dismissed all charges against the officers.
After this, whenever there was a hint of a riot, he and Tiny were dispatched to the area. There were no more riots during the 8 years he served at Rahway State Prison which would later become known as First Jeresy.
One of his early assignments was Rahway Camp, a minimum security facility outside the walls of the prison. He learned from overhearing conversations that some inmates assigned to Rahway Camp were leaving the Camp during the day, burglarizing homes in neighboring communities and using the proceeds to support their families. When he initially reported this, however, it was basically ignored.
He was also assigned to Marlboro Camp, a minimum security farm located next to a state psychiatric institution. The inmates at Ancora were know to go for walks at night so the instituion staff had the inmates remove their clothing each evening to discourage this, leaving them naked. The Ancora inmates went for walks anyway. The cows from Marlboro would intercept the Ancora inmates and bring them to Officer D'Amico who found clothes for them, gave them coffee, and then notified Ancora to come and get their clients. This was another unpopular action and he was soon barred from Marlboro Camp.
One of his assignments was to escort nurses to the prison hospital. Officer D'Amico was preferred by the nurses for this assignment because he was always a gentleman.
Another assignment was to accompany inmates to the prison hospital and to Rahway Hospital. One night, he was guarding a critically injured inmate at Rahway Hospital. There was a woman on the floor in great pain who wouldn't stop screaming. This was disturbing the semi-conscious inmate who had been severely beaten and was becoming agitated. Officer D'Amico told the nurse several times to take care of the screaming woman. The last time, the nurse said the woman had been given all the pain killer prescribed, the doctor was not responding, and there was nothing else to be done. Officer D'Amico pulled his gun and ordered the nurse to call the doctor and have more pain killer prescribed for the woman. The doctor prescribed more medication, the nurse administered it, and things quieted down. The Institution was asked to not send D'Amico to Rahway Hospital in the future. The undercover FBI agent fully recovered.
When he was hired as a Correction Officer, off a Civil Service List, there was also a special hiring program in effect for minorities and low income candidates. Officers hired under this special program were being fired just before their six month anniversary which ended the probation period and would make them eligible for a permanent position. Officer D'Amico had the days preceeding and including his six month anniversary off. When he returned to work the day after his anniversary date, he was written up and the verdict was his dismissal. However, he regretfully informed them that he was, in fact, Civil Service, and was already permanent. He began advising those officiers hired under this special program to take the Civil Service Exam and notify Personnel when they passed it so they would also become permanent on their six month anniversary of employment. This made him even more popular with certain people "trying to make an officer" of him.
The IGC housed inmate groups such as the "Lifers Group" and civilian staff such as social workers and inmate advocates. When a complaint was made that he was reading on duty, the administration sent a sergeant to investigate. The investigating supervisor found that Officer D'Amico knew where everyone was and what everyone was doing, including who had arrived and left while the sergeant was questioning Officer D'Amico and which the sergeant himself had not observed. Officer D'Amico was permitted to continue reading the Bible which he did, as his duties permitted, the entire time he worked at Rahway.
It was during this period of assignment to the IGC that Officer D'Amico was charged with not knowing the location of every inmate in the prison. He was found guity. He decided he would learn every inmate's whereabouts and did so, learning how relatively easy the location of every inmate was tracked. He was then charged with knowing the whereabouts of every inmate. When this charge was heard, however, the hearing officer remembered that Officer D'Amico had been previously charged and found guilty of its opposite and the charge was dismissed as double jeopardy.
He was regulary charged by those trying "to make a correction officer" of him. However, there were many obstacles in their way. The charges would often be typed up with errors. For instance, the date was frequently incorrect. Often, the charges specifyied a date and time when he wasn't even in the prison. A favorite was his regular day off, Tuesday. He rarely ever worked Tuesdays. Not only wasn't he in the prison, but he was often out of state and signed in, on duty in New York City. Sometimes, the year on the charge was before he started at Rahway. Once, the 1800s were specified instead of 1900s. Other times, the location within the Prison was inaccurate, such as the wrong wing. Charges were usually given to him as he was leaving the shift. SInce he worked the third shift for nearly the last 6 years, this would be in the morning. He would say "Thank you very much. I need some time off." Then he would calculate how much time off he could get, sometimes several months, adding it up out loud. And then he would tell the supervisor that he needed "to write better charges. These charges don't give me enough time off." He was charged with advising inmates on how to escape. What he did was give them a list to things to do and to not do if they chose to escape. Number 1 was "don't leave the state." This would avoid being turned into Swiss cheese by the FBI. Another key suggestion was to send a post card letting everyone know how things were going. A third was to do it on his day off. Another was to "call the Institution to come and get you when you got tired." When the list was reviewed, charges were dropped.
One morning, while the count was being taken, a well dressed man, wearing an overcoat and carrying a brief case, came into the front house. Officer D'Amico asked the man if he would like a cup of coffee. The man said "yes". D'Amico got two coffees and they sat down on the bench together to wait for the count to clear. A sergeant came in and immediately proceeded to write Officer D'Amico up for fraternizing with an inmate. He took the charges, saying "Thank you" as usual. Charges were normally heard after the count cleared if all parties were present. That was the case this day, so they went before the Judge who just happened to be the man to whom Officer D'Amico had offered the coffee. The Sergeant was given a two month suspension without pay for making a false accusation.
Officer D'Amico had a life long habit of "leaving" whenever anyone started yelling, coming to when his name was called. One time, while standing line-up, the sergeant was yelling and Officer D'Amico was off, traveling among the stars. When the Sergeant yelled "D'Amico, did you hear that?", he snapped to and said "No, would you like to repeat it?", resulting in more yelling from the Sergeant and barely controlled amusemernt among the other officers. Because of his civility, he was liked by many inmates and disliked by many officers. There were a few supervisors, such as Lt. Miller and several Sergeants who were determined "to make an officer out of him". Some inmates grew tired of his being constantly written up and complained to Trenton. The Instituion was surprised by the arrival of an Inmate Advocate from Trenton inquiring about the treatment of inmate D'Amico and asking why there were no records. D'Amico, however, was not only aware of where records were kept, he was also aware that nearly all areas of the prison were under audio surveillance and used this information in defending himself and others against false charges. In one such instance, a supervisor was found guilty and sentenced to 2 years in federal prison for falsely charging a correction officer.
"Mr. Social Worker"
Officer D'Amico permitted no use of fowl language in his presence. This was another reason he was called "The Rev" and the only thing for which he promised to write inmates up, never writing them up for any other reason.
Initially, the absence of foul language by the inmate presenters, lifers, immediately got the youths' attention. However, the youth were enjoying coming to the prison for the program which was a bit contrary to the original intent of the lifers. Therefore, the intent was clarified to give the youth a realistic picture of prison life to shock them into changing their behavior, make something of themselves, and stay out of jail. The presentation was modified accordingly. Now, the absence of foul language, combined with the intensity, focus and matter of factness of the presentation even though it dealt with extemely unpleasant subjects, surprised and impressed the youth, giving them information not generally known to the public about prison life. Word got around about the program, and it eventually became public knowledge.
There were requests to film the Juvenile Awareness Project and the Prison. it was decided to allow this.
During the filming of "Scared Straight", the producers insisted the inmates use foul language. Sgt. August, the IGC supervisor, allowed it. The Lifers knew Officer D'Amico was opposed to this and were not happy about it. And "The Rev," would not permit foul language in his presence which was mandatory since he was the IGC officer. This led to some interesting events.During the filming, the Lieutenent in charge of the IGC fell down the stairs and broke his leg. Another correction officer, also assigned to the IGC, attempted suicide and was hospitalized. Officer D'Amico was written up on 6 charges. Only one had any substance of which he could possibly be found guilty. However, he was exonerated on that charge. He was found guilty on the other five charges, including one of violating every single civil service rule and regulation. He was given a 2 week suspension without pay.
The Lifers were ordered to use foul language during the filming of "Scared Straight" which was to receive a Best Feature award in 1978..
He refused to appeal the suspension. He told his wife to wait. It would be taken care of. He spent the 2 weeks at home, catching up on his sleep and reading the Bible.
When he returned to work, the quilty verdicts on the five charges were overturned. Since there had been no Civil Service or union representative at the hearing, the Institution was prohibited from holding any future hearing for Officer D'Amico without both the Civil Service and the union represetatives being present. This would result in waiting for Federal Civil Service, etc. to fly in from D.C. at future hearings involving Federal regulations. And New Jersey Civil Service enjoyed coming to Officer D'Amico's hearings.
He was also assigned to 2up, an open domitory wing, on the third shift.
At the beginning of each shift, the incoming Correction Officers were responsible for verifying that all inmates assigned to the wings were present and/or accounted for as being elsewhere. He never physically counted the inmates due to his dyslexia but would check each bed and individual inmate assigned to the wing against the rosters and orders. He was normally quicker than other wing officers and 100% accurate. One night, there was an error in the paperwork and resolving it was taking too long for a certain supervisor. A sergeant was sent to the wing to speed things up. When he arrived, Officer D'Amico was ordered to hurry up. So D'Amico began counting each inmate: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ... . The Sergeant yelled "hurry up". D'Amico began counting again: 1, 2, 3, 4, ... . Again, the Sergeant interrupted. And D'amico began counting again. Now, the inmates began yelling at the Sergeant to stop interrupting. They knew this could last all night. The Rev. was a patient man.
Another night, Officer D'Amico was sitting at his desk in 2up, with his feet up, "sleeping". In his usual review of what he had heard at the Prison during his previous shift, he had caught a conversation in his wing of an inmate planning to kill another with a shiv. So he waited, asleep. A fight began. As the fight came close to him, he reached out, grabbed the shiv, put it in the desk drawer, and was back "asleep" before the inmates turned around. D'Amico normally operated at 2 speeds: turtle, most of the time, and lightning. The few who enjoyed watching "The Rev." were delighted. His mother Frankie had been fond of saying "All shut eyes are not sleeping."
While he was assigned to 2up, the Institution decided to take the keys away from the wing officers at night, once the count was cleared. The officers were told to patrol the outside perimeter. Officer D'Amico objected because this would prevent him from fulfilling his primary responsibility of safeguarding the inmates who were not in individual cells, as in other wings, but in one open domitory. He was ignored. This did not keep him from entering the locked 2up gates, however, whenever he needed to do so. The Institution never figured out how he opened the gate and he never told them. For those really interested, "Pirates of the Carribean" offers a hint.
The only food he ate at the Prison was food that he himself witnessed being prepared and cooked. The institution procedure was to bring meals to the towers. He refused to eat them. So, she would make his "lunch", which he carried in a gym bag, along with his radio, and cigarettes. When he arrived at the Prison, he would store the bag in the trash can at the base of Tower 2 and go into to line-up, picking up the bag when he returned to Tower 2 and climbing up the stairs to his post.
He was a little surprised to find out how tower officers were armed. Besides, his .357 magnum, he was issued a shotgun and an AK47. He was well aware he could blow away a building with the AK47.
As a tower officer, his primary responsiblity was the protection of the inmates which meant keeping out all trespassers on the ground or in the air. He daily made written reports on the condition of Tower 2 which were routinely ignored. He also became used to the center ignoring his reports of "visitors". One day, a plane approached the Prison. Officer D'Amico rang the center and advised the Center Keeper of the approaching aircraft. The plane continued to approach. Officer D'Amico rang the Center again, saying he was going to shoot the plane down. The Center took immediate action and the plane changed course. Officers had to qualify with weapons once a year. The first time he went to the range, he immediately qualified with the shotgun. His first discharge dislodged all the bats from the ceiling, explaining the mysterious rodent droppings. He was given a commendation. He had difficulty, however, with the handgun as the barrel was longer than what he was accustomed to. He asked his wife to stand in the back of the range one weekend as he attempted to qualify and he was successful.As tower officer, they kept issuing him a dirty gun and dirty bullets. Every night he cleaned and polished the gun and shined the bullets. When it came time for him to qualify there were only clean bullets and guns. He scored a perfect 300.