Jim Wagner "doing time" in the Costa Mesa Police Department Jail
I was hired as a corrections officer for the Costa Mesa Police Department Jail in December of 1988. I worked there for two years until I was hired as a police recruit to go through the police academy. After graduation I became a fulltime, paid, sworn police officer.
The Costa Mesa Jail was a temporary holding facility for all crimes committed in the city of Costa Mesa (Orange County, California); a population of just under 100,000 at the time. The patrol officers would arrest offenders, bring them into the jail, and hand their prisoners over to the jail staff for booking and housing. Prisoners could be incarcerated up to 72 hours, while trusties could serve their sentences up to one year at the facility.
The Costa Mesa Police Jail had four felony and misdemeanor cells (16 beds), two solitary confinement rooms, a drunk tank, two interview rooms, one visiting room, a trusty quarters (6 beds), two booking cages, and a secured sally port. The morning shift consisted of two corrections officers, the evening shift staffed three corrections officers, and the graveyard shift had two officers. At any given time the ratio of prisoners to guards could be 25:2 or 25:3.
Although violence in the jail was not a nightly event, it was a weekly event. Prisoners would come into the jail in various conditions: drunk, under the influence of controlled substances, or angry. I had been assaulted by prisoners on several occasions, which I documented. One trusty, in custory for drug trafficing, put out a contract on my life, and on another occasion I prevented the escape of another prisoner who had assault a fellow correction officer on July 4, 1990. In another incident a prisoner refused to exit his jail cell, who was scheduled to be transported to court, and tried to seriously injure or kill me by shoving me against a metal bunk bed rail. Fortunately, as I fell against the rail I only impacted my shoulders. I was able to fight the prisoner off, escape from the cell, and get a fellow Custody Officer to secure the dayroom cell door.
The jail was the true testing ground for my martial arts. Although most prisoners who wanted to fight me gave only a half-hearted effort, there were some really bad boys in there who wanted to do me harm. I learned real quick what worked and what didn’t when it came to self-defense techniques. Most of the traditional martial arts I had studied in the past simply did not work in real life and death situations against criminals.
The second most important lesson I learned working in a jail was to always be on guard, and be ready to fight at any moment. Many prisoners would act very compliant during the booking process or while being transported, but then a moment later they were trying to take my head off. Like a water faucet I learned to turn on and shut off violence.
When I worked in the Costa Mesa Police Department Jail the custody officers were not armed with any weapons at all: no pepper spray, no batons, no tasers, nothing. If a prisoner wanted to attack a custody officer the fight would be hand-to-hand. Even though there were "panic buttons" placed every few feet along the walls, and just above the highly polished wax floors, activating one would not get the desired help until one to two minutes. The watch commander in the police station had the only key to get into the jail, and that took a bit of time for him to get it out of this desk drawer, gather up some police officers who were hanging around the station, and storm the jail. I only hit the panic button one time in my career, and that was when a man on PCP (Phencyclidine), a very dangerous hallucinogenic drug inducing strong neurotoxic effects, such as super human strength. A police sergeant and I tried to restrain the violent inmate but could not do it. The sergeant, who was a 6-4, 225 pound body builder, tried to apply a carotid hold on the man’s neck, but to no avail. As the sergeant and I were starting to get exhausted I kicked the panic button with my foot.
Although I enjoyed working in the jail I wanted to expand my career by applying as a police officer, and I got it.
Even though I was a corrections officer for only two years (1988 to 1990) I continued to train other corrections officers all across the world to be safer in their jobs, and continues to do so to this day.
I worked closely with the California Department of Corrections for many years, taught a few times for the British Columbia Sheriff’s Department, helped create a training program for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department Prisoner Transportation Unit, worked several times with the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as with other sheriff and police departments.
Upon creation of the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection system on January 21, 2003 my first correctional institution teaching gig was with the Matsqui Prison in British Columbia, Canada. I went on to train the instructors of their Emergency Response Teams. Over the last several years I has trained instructors from various European correctional institutions. Courses included Defensive Tactics for Corrections Officers, Knife Survival, and Special Operations for Corrections Officers.
Copyright Jim Wagner 2003 - 2019 All rights reserved.