Ex-CO describes prison experience as "insane science experiment"

Needed a job in the US to support his family, so a former musician became a corrections officer in Pennsylvania and Maine


By C1 Staff

PORTLAND, Maine – A musician from England, Robert Reilly needed a job to support his family in the U.S. So he became a corrections officer, first in Pennsylvania, and later in Maine.

In a recent interview with NBC promoting his new book, Reilly says he was more accepted by inmates than other staff members.

He said he felt like he was being paid to participate in “some sort of insane science experiment.”

“Well you know, I’m a middle class guy, I had no corrections or military experience and most of the time I was locked up in a block with 60 to 90 inmates, me and them. And it was so much madness going on, whether it was in the mental health unit, whether it was in a protective custody unit, a female unit.

“I felt like I was hanging on all the time to control,” he said in the interview.

Reilly described his ‘magic trick’ to handling the inmates and other staff members, which simply involved using civility toward others. He said if an inmate treated him with respect, he would respond in kind; he used officer’s first names in interactions, and inmate’s full names. He said it created a rapport with them.  

“I never yelled at inmates, I didn’t curse or get into it with them, and they recognized and responded to that.”

He wrote a scathing review of the Maine Department of Corrections in his book, focusing particularly on the administration and on understaffing of facilities. He says he doesn’t think change will come anytime soon.

“Prison reform is not something that’s discussed on the news cycle,” Reilly said. “It is not something that politicians are delving into to help then win votes. Prison reform is not a headline.”

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