Interview By: Yusef Michael Marshall
D.J. Vodicka is a former California state prison guard / Corrections Officer who, while watching brutality and corruption taking place in the prisons, decided to blow the whistle on what he was witness to. In doing so, he would take a stand against what he knew inside was wrong but would suffer great losses and sacrifice more than he could imagine for doing the right thing. His life would be irrevocably changed forever.
When Magazine: First, let me thank you for agreeing to our interview today, D.J., I definitely appreciate you giving your time. If we can, let’s begin. Tell me what made you decide to pursue a career in law enforcement?
D.J.: I’ve always wanted some type of career in law enforcement growing up as a child. My neighbor was with the Deputy Sheriff’s department and that really got my interest real quick. I went to junior college in California, Moore Park Junior College, and got a degree in Criminal Justice and shortly after; I played basketball in Texas for a year. I came home and tried to get into law enforcement but there was a hiring freeze. About a year later, after coming home from Fort Bragg, my father told me there was an agency called the California Dept. of Corrections that was hiring and he asked me if I wanted an application and I said, “Sure, Dad.” I filled out the application while still in the military and after, I got a letter to report to the Dept. of Corrections. I tested in 1987 and I was hired in March 1988.
WM: D.J, you described a situation where you noticed corruption in the prison system where you were working. Please briefly describe what you saw and your initial thought at what you discovered.
D.J.: What I observed were prison guards throwing up gang-like signs shaped as a “W”. I also observed guards planting “throw-down” weapons in inmates’ cells. I even had inmates that were coming up to me with lacerations on their faces and bodies, they said there was a certain group of guards that called themselves the “Green Wall” that did this to certain inmates. I had to confront that with the lieutenant at that time and he asked my advice about what to do. It was decided to take it to the warden but nothing was done. I thought it should be taken over the warden’s head. That’s when everything started.
WM: To make it clear for our readers, what exactly is the “Green Wall”?
D.J.: We, as correction officers, wear green uniforms. The “Green Wall” was a symbol of our uniforms. Our uniforms were a green jumpsuit with patches on them. Like police officers who wear blue uniforms and call themselves the “Blue Wall”. We heard it before and in about a week, they were calling us the Green Wall. There were certain officers identified as the Green Wall. They tried to call that as their AKA, or their moniker called “7-23″, which is the 7th letter of the alphabet, “G”, and the 23rd induction. Instead of being called the Green Wall, they started calling themselves “7-23″.
WM: As you watch movies or television programs like The Shawshank Redemption, Prison Break, and movies about corruption, please describe your overwhelming thoughts /feelings.
D.J.: Well, I try not to, Yusef, I try not to watch a lot of that on television, MSNBC Lockup or all that because it brings back old memories. Shows such as Shawshank Redemption, Oz, and Prison Break and all that, are just fiction, you know what I mean? To those people who are watching, they don’t see the real corruption, the real stuff that goes on behind the walls. It’s all basically make-believe! What I saw and knew and had knowledge of was the real thing. I try not to watch those types of programs on television. I hope I’m helping you out. It’s kind of depressing. It brings back old memories. I just try not to watch it. You know? And when they do a lot of prison stuff on the History Channel, those individuals going there are only showing what the public wants to see and what the inmates are all about. They don’t see the corruption. They don’t see how they beat them. They don’t interview the guards. They always interview the inmates. The majority of the inmates don’t like it there but it’s not made known and clear on television.
WM: Makes sense. Can you briefly describe the turn of events during the 1998 riot on Thanksgiving Day?
D.J.: 1998, it was a nice, cold, sunny brisk morning. I was working for a unit called Administrative Segregation or “Ad-Seg” and we just got done. This was a unit basically where inmates who were assaulting staff or inmates and couldn’t get along with the general population were housed in isolation, confinement basically. We were just getting done with breakfast and we all went outside. We always did this. We went outside to the exercise yard to get some fresh air. There were about six or seven of us, including the sergeant. On the other side of the yard, there’s a thick wall of concrete that separates our yard from theirs, we could hear gunfire. Over the loudspeakers, we could hear the gunners yelling “Everybody down, everybody down!” Shortly after that, the loudspeaker from Section Control saying “Staff down, Code 3″. I was told to respond by my supervisor to the upper yard and when I hit the upper yard, I observed several Hispanic inmates low-crawling on the ground, attacking staff members and jumping on top of their backs. That’s what led to the big riot. After an investigation, I found out the Hispanics didn’t start it, but that it was a staff member using excessive use of force on a Hispanic inmate and making him get on the wall. He used excessive force and threw him against the wall. They didn’t like the treatment and that’s what started the riot.
WM: Wow, wow! Have you ever had a moral conflict with respecting the inmates’ rights and crossing the line into excessive force? How hard was this for a prison guard during your day (and even now)?
D.J.: I’ve never used excessive force on an inmate but I have had to use force to break up inmate fights during my time as a Corrections Officer. I did have to go into an area where inmates were combative and I had to separate inmates using my baton or using pepper spray, or firing a non lethal weapon. My job was specifically to protect the other inmates and I had to do that several times. But as far as using excessive force against an inmate and going above and beyond that doing what was illegal, I’ve never done that in my whole career.
WM: Was there ever a time during this process that you felt as though this would never end and no one would listen or help? Did you ever think to just say this is not my problem and walk away?
D.J.: That did cross my mind but then again, I took an oath 17 years ago as a peace officer to uphold the law. We’re there to basically watch over these guys. We’re there to protect their livelihood. We’re not the ones to sentence them, the courts are. But when I saw this wrong-doing by the Correctional system and the guards, and saw them doing things that were conducting themselves unprofessionally and unethically, and things that were against policy and procedure and also the Penal Code, I didn’t want any part of it. When I was ordered to write my report by the Warden, and not knowing that the Warden was behind it, I had an obligation to do that, so I did. I stamped it confidential and did keep a copy, still not knowing that the Warden was behind the corruption. I was approached by staff and those that were apart of these groups of officers that called themselves the “Green Wall”. This started a massive investigation that cost me my career and caused me to be transferred to another facility for my own safety because I basically ratted, snitched on my own peers, correctional officers and supervisors.
WM: D.J., are you in hiding right now?
D.J.: I am in an isolated location right now. Not too many people know about where I’m at. I am not in California but when I do enter into the state of California, there are high people involved, outside of the Dept. of Corrections, that want to know my whereabouts. I do carry a concealed weapon and I am always on alert. I am aware of my surroundings. This is a serious situation! I went up against a government agency, one of the biggest! I had an incident not too long ago, where I called a fraud unit in California on a possible fraud regarding my workers’ comp case. An investigator called me and said she heard about my case. She said that she really couldn’t do anything about my case but she heard about me taking on a government agency and her last comment to me was: “I can’t believe that you’re still alive!” When an investigator tells me that and she doesn’t even know me, my alert status is a lot more heightened. That basically woke up a sleeping giant!
WM: What do you think needs to happen in order for you to no longer have to live this way?
D.J.: I don’t think anything will… The department of Correction will never…The code of silence will always be there. I wish the Department of Corrections, based on what I did, would clean up their act but that will never happen. I’ll always have to be on alert status, probably for the rest of my life. That’s a scary feeling. I lost both my parents during this ordeal. I’m Catholic and I have followed the religion real well. I pray to God every day. Every time I wake up, every morning, I pray to God and thank Him for letting me be here another day. I have to meet him one day and he knows what I did was courageous and right and I had to do the right thing. You know, religion is a big part of me and if I wasn’t a religious type of person, I would have been worse off.
WM: Yes, sir! I’m sorry you have to deal with this, D.J. I know this has to greatly impact your family. Are you aware of how they are handling and dealing with this situation? Were you able to make any contact with them at all?
D.J.: I contact my son but he’s in isolation. He knows about my situation. He’s fourteen years old and he’s proud of what his father did. But he’s in a different state than where I am. We stay in contact by phone and every once in a while, I do get to go see him but he usually comes to see me. But when that happens, there are certain people that are notified. His life has not been threatened. My life was threatened in the beginning when all this happened. And I still get some negative comments on my website, which I’m sure you’ve read. It’s all part of the game. But I know I did the right thing and there are inmates and members of the Correctional system that know I did the right thing and have written letters to my attorney on behalf of what I did and want me to write back to them. But my attorney didn’t want to put me back in that realm again.
WM: Right! Okay, D.J. just a final question for you. If there’s one thing that can be gained from your experience and the story being told, what would you like to see happen?
D.J.: What I would like to see happen out of all this is a change. Not just in the California Dept of Corrections, and California but all of the United States. The corruption going on in California is not just going on in California, but in all areas of law enforcement. People have to understand that just because we wear a badge, we’re not above the law. Just like the warden, he gets up every morning and puts his pants on just like I do. He goes to work and breathes every day like I do. Because he has a title and high authority doesn’t mean that he takes the law into his own hands. I’d like to see change, and hopefully in my lifetime, there is change. I know I made one step towards that change in bringing the Green Wall into exposure in California because when I testified, no one knew about the Green Wall. Upper administration in Sacramento, senators and all that, didn’t know about it because the warden of this institution kept it hush-hush. He didn’t tell anybody. There has to be change. I mean, there are some inmates that need to be there, you know, the ones that commit murder and all that. But there are some inmates in the system that I don’t think should be there. They’re on a third strike for going out and stealing a candy bar trying to provide for their families and they throw them back in prison for 25 years to life. Our system, our judicial system, is wrong. Too much politics!
WM: D.J., thank you very much for being so candid. We know that your story will change lives and we could only hope that your situation improves and you find resolution in your personal and professional life. Thank you. We wish you the very best.
D.J.: Thank you, Yusef.
Note from Curt Bizelli – - -
“God Bless You, Mr. Vodicka! …Thank you for your service to your community, your state, the USA, and the world … for standing up for what you believe in despite the harsh consequences that you face today. I’ll never forget the day that you first contacted me. I felt honored to be speaking to a man of your caliber. We need more courageous men to stand up for the morals & values this great country once stood for. I pray that God Almighty keeps you in his precious site everyday and that your message will truly bring light onto the world.”
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