Part 4 of 8

An series about a poison gas attack on three Michigan Prisons located in Muskegon, Michigan

Scenario Number Nine: Death by Poison Gas

A True Michigan Prison Story

Part 4 of 8

Warden Biggins and Captain Whelton leave the conference room for the lobby where the armed squads are waiting. Warden Biggie Biggins asks Keri to brief the squads and when she finishes, he asks for questions. No questions. He asks again. A hand up.

“You see, Warden. I mean, what good is this riot gear and these weapons if the problem is . . . is chlorine gas?”

Captain Whelton tosses a should I or will you glance at Warden Biggie Biggins who nods, and the captain says, “It’s a good question. What we have here is different from what we’ve practiced. The gas, dealing with the chlorine gas, is not your objective. You can’t do anything about that. That’s not your worry. Your worry is to keep everyone inside. Your job is to stop anyone trying to leave.”

“Anyone?” someone asks.

“Yes, anyone.”

Some rustling and shifting.

“And lethal force? Are we to use lethal force?” from another.

Warden Biggie Biggins steps closer to Captain Whelton, puts his hand on her shoulder, and says, “Remember your training. Your shift command will tell you when to use lethal force.”

They murmured and looked around but seem to accept his answers. At least no one was objecting.

One more hand raised: “Warden, how long will this last? When will we know it’s over?”

How to answer that one? Tell them what you know.

“From the information we have I estimate the gas cloud will be here by five fifty-five.”

“Could you be more precise?” someone shouts, and they all laugh.

“But I’ll tell you I honestly don’t know what will happen after that, or how long it will last. None of our emergency scenarios cover what we’re facing so we’ll improvise. I guess this is Scenario # 9 in the making.”

Warden Biggie Biggins has no damn idea what else to say.

Keri cuts the silence with, “Warden, why don’t you explain the concept of defending in place?”

Goddamn he loved that woman. Just what’s needed: a female voice giving gentle direction.

“Yes, Captain. Yes, thank you,” and Warden Biggins and explains what Ben Davis said earlier. “That’s how were going to handle it. That’s the scenario.” They all know Ben and respect him, and the word “scenario” brings a few nods of approval. They know what scenarios are. Scenarios ground them in reality and the warden sees their body language relax. He explains how they’re cobbling a ninth scenario, one made up of the pieces of the others they all know and have practiced so many times. It’s the comfort that comes with the first good news after the shock of the bad as in yes you have cancer, but it’s treatable and we have a plan for making you safe. They eagerly suck the tiny bit of hope through their pores.

“I’m going into the housing units,” the warden tells Keri.

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