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As a formerly incarcerated person, I had for years lived inside California state prisons subservient to those state prison guards charged with my custody and care. Their authority behind the wall is supreme. They hold the power of life, death, and freedom in their hands. One slip up, misplaced word or slight can result in harsh physical abuse, or a phony charge adding years to a prisoner’s sentence, traumatic injuries or death. They hold the keys, the power and write the reports, mostly unobserved or unchallenged by external influences.

Some are simply hardworking, brave, moral men and women just doing their jobs. Yet, every prisoner knows, the very worst thing he or she can do is piss off a prison guard, especially a member of “The Green Wall”. The Green Wall is a criminal “gang” of rogue prison guards who call themselves such in reference to the green uniforms they wear. I can testify to their existence because I was one of their victims suffering a brutal, handcuffed beating simply for complaining about a previous abuse.

However, this January I had the pleasure of meeting a man of uncommon valor, honesty, courage and integrity. This man is former prison guard D.J. Vodicka who, when faced with the cold truth about his fellow correctional officers and their crimes could not remain mute.

D.J. Vodicka sacrificed his decorated fifteen-year career, his livelihood, and even his own physical safety to blow the whistle on the shocking, systemic corruption that ruled the California Department of Corrections and its personnel. His State Senate testimony revealed the dark underbelly of a runaway prison system governed not by reformers and rehabilitators, but by thugs and abusers supported by taxpayer dollars.

Here in his own words is the truth about the state prison system Californians have been paying for five decades running.

“Regrettably, the ‘Code of Silence’ is a way of life among California prison guards. There is not a single institution in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that is immune from its reach. The existence, and perpetuation, of the Code of Silence is justified as a way of encouraging a bond among prison guards who come face-to-face with California's sometimes most violent criminals. It creates an “Us vs. Them” mentality that, unfortunately, nurtures rogue guards and irresponsible wardens who are committed to denying the existence of the Code of Silence rather than eradicating it.

I was a 15-year veteran prison guard who decided I could not turn a blind eye to the crimes I witnessed committed by those who swore an oath to serve the public, or the Code of Silence they hid behind to conceal their betrayal of that oath. At 6 feet 6 and 280 pounds, with a head shaved clean, I was a guard's guard. My career was marked by commendations from wardens and prosecutors. Yet despite a stellar career I knew that the Code of Silence had to be broken. I just would not, and could not, keep quiet in the face of officer brutality and corruption. As a result of my exposure to the Code of Silence, my fellow prison guards labeled me a "rat," a "snitch," a "crybaby." The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the prison guards labor union abandoned me. My life was threatened, and I was forced to retire or face almost certain harm, and even death at the hands of my own colleagues.

I blew the whistle on a gang of prison guards known as the "Green Wall" at Salinas Valley State Prison. My full awareness of the Green Wall came to light after a riot broke out on Thanksgiving Day 1998 at Salinas Valley State Prison. During the course of the violent riot a gang of inmates attacked and injured several prison guards. I was assigned to collect evidence from the riot, including photographing the inmates to document any injuries suffered in the riot. However, before the inmates were brought to me to be photographed, they were taken to a segregated cellblock and brutally assaulted by prison guards. In the weeks that followed, a group of guards began wearing turkey-shaped pins on their uniforms as a symbol of the Thanksgiving beating. Word then spread that some of those same officers and others had formed the Green Wall gang.

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As time passed, Green Wall began spreading throughout the ranks of prison guards at Salinas Valley State Prison, and across the state to other prisons. It even permeated the Investigative Services Unit - a special unit of guards dedicated to investigating crimes within the prison. Green Wall members flaunted their affiliation. Prison guards in the ISU began signing in with green ink. One guard wore a green band on his left wrist, and his motorcycle license plate contained the symbol "7/23." The seventh and 23rd letters of the alphabet — G and W — stood for Green Wall. They took group photos showing several members flashing the same sign: three fingers extended with thumb and middle finger held down — in the shape of a W. They even brazenly violated prison policy by bringing a green-handled knife into the prison and presenting it to a colleague who had just been promoted. The knife had been engraved with "Green Wall" and "7/23".

Just as with criminal gangs, the prison guard gang – Green Wall – embraced the code of silence as its most sacrosanct value. The Warden at Salinas Valley state prison, Anthony Lamarque called upon the Green Wall to strike fear and intimidation into the prisoners. Members of the Green Wall viciously assaulted, injured, and tortured even handcuffed prisoners who offended them, then charged them with assaulting officers to justify their injuries, planted weapons or drugs on inmates, falsified reports, then, in the ultimate inhumanity charged those prisoners with new felonies gaining certain convictions and adding years to already lengthy sentences for crimes they didn’t commit.

I could not idly stand by and watch members of the Green Wall violate the rights of inmates. After all, it was the sworn duty of every prison guard to administer justice with integrity, be truthful and respect our human rights. My duty was clear. The Green Wall and Warden Lamarque were clearly violating this duty and I had to come forward.

After blowing the whistle on the Green Wall in 2004, the consequences were immediate. I was intimidated and threatened by my co-workers at Salinas Valley. I transferred to another prison, but the intimidation only grew. Upon my arrival at the new prison, one lieutenant called out to me: "You big old snitch. You big old rat," and then repeated those words on the yard — in front of officers and inmates, officially marking me for almost certain attack.

I later testified at a Senate hearing on prison reform. Senator Jackie Speier, chairwoman at the hearing listened in shocked horror then said: ‘We have a system so sinister and powerful that it is able to muzzle people who want to tell the truth. Those who do come forward like Mr. Vodicka find themselves sent to a job in the prison's Siberia or fearing for their lives.’

I immediately received death threats and was forced into hiding. I retired from the department but not before witnessing the department implement code of silence training and California legislators establish new legislation protecting whistleblowers. I went on to publish a book about my battle with the Green Wall and have become an advocate for whistleblowers. I still fear for my safety and received a credible death threat just last year.”

Until we can abolish prisons entirely, we need men like DJ Vodicka working to reform prisoners through just application of discipline and by modelling fairness, honor and integrity through his example. DJ and I used to work opposite sides of the street so to speak, but today I call him my friend as we both work to advance the cause of social justice on multiple fronts.

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I hope readers will be inspired by what can be done when we abandon an “us versus them” mentality and just choose “right” like DJ Vodicka did.

Craig Farris

Craig Farris is the author of Drugs, Kids and Crime: Surviving Our Dug Obsessed Culture Revised 2nd Edition -