N.J. CO turned prison kitchen into ‘Fight Club,’ feds, prisoners say

NJDOC's Special Investigation Division installed a hidden camera that captured the abuse


By Joe Atmonavage
nj.com
        
LEESBURG, N.J. — Glen Davies, a prisoner at Bayside State Prison, had his left wrist handcuffed to the fence near the meat slicer room of the prison’s kitchen and his right wrist strapped to the nearby door.

He was about to get the “fence treatment,” which he compared to a medieval torture device. Federal authorities compared it to a crucifixion.

Two correctional officers with the help of another prisoner then opened the door, Davies said, stretching the handcuffed Davies thin. He was defenseless and soon to be their own personal punching bag.

Victims and witnesses said prisoners did not speak up out of fear of losing their coveted jobs in the prison’s kitchen.
Victims and witnesses said prisoners did not speak up out of fear of losing their coveted jobs in the prison’s kitchen. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Davies said Officer John Makos, the supervisor of the kitchen during the second shift, and another officer began pounding on Davies’ body with vicious punches over and over and over again.

“They beat me until I almost passed out,” Davies said in a recent interview with NJ Advance Media. “When they uncuffed me, I just crumbled on the floor.”

It was just one example of the brutal beatdowns Davies said he regularly received in 2019 as a worker in the South Jersey prison’s kitchen, a place multiple prisoners described as a “fight club” that was led by Makos, a macho, ex-military correctional officer who ruled by force.

The assault was also detailed in a criminal complaint that led to the arrest of Makos earlier this month, charging him with one count of conspiracy to violate an individual’s civil rights. Federal authorities accuse Makos of conspiring with others in 2019 to “assault and punish certain inmates in a cruel, unusual, arbitrary, and capricious manner and to use excessive force” that often led to physical injuries.

“He just took s--- too far and thought it was a game. And it really wasn’t. That is our house. That is where we lived. You don’t violate people where they live,” Kyle Scotese, a former prisoner at Bayside who said he witnessed the assaults, said after learning of his arrest. “…We gotta live there and now we gotta deal with this every single day. It’s about time somebody actually did something.”

Makos, of Millville, has pleaded not guilty and was released on a $50,000 unsecured appearance bond after appearing in federal court earlier this month. His attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Makos, who has been a correctional officer at Bayside since 2006, had an annual salary of $84,833 before being suspended without pay last week.

William Sullivan, the head of Local PBA 105, the union that represents correctional officers across the state, said last week that if the allegations have any truth to them, the union “will not support this officer or defend the conduct that he is alleged to have engaged in.”

In exclusive interviews with NJ Advance Media in recent weeks, Davies and three other witnesses detailed the repeated alleged assaults and further revealed how the kitchen was a tyrannical prison setting that was ruled by a code of silence and the threat of violence.

They said Makos was the ringleader of the kitchen’s prison and — along with other officers — routinely assaulted prisoners during and after their work shifts by delivering body blows for any minor infraction or going to other extreme lengths to torture the prisoners, like making them eat Carolina Reaper hot peppers or kicking them in their ribs or smacking a prisoner’s bare bottom with a ruler.

Federal authorities described the “fence treatment” in the complaint, as well as “the motorcycle,” in which Makos allegedly made a second victim place his back against a wall in the prison’s kitchen and sit as if he were riding a motorcycle.

Makos then allegedly kicked the man in the chest, authorities said.

Multiple prisoners provided NJ Advance Media with the names of two other officers they say routinely instigated and participated in the assaults, though they have not been charged. One man described one of those officers allegedly kicking him and telling Makos that “he needs a beating.” Davies said the other officer was the second who joined Makos in the “fence treatment.”

“Looking back that all the abuse wasn’t at the hands of other inmates,” Davies said. “It was the cops who are supposed to be protecting and being responsible. They were the ones making my life a living hell.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office said the investigation is ongoing, but declined to comment further. It is unclear if additional officers are set to be charged.

Victims and witnesses said prisoners did not speak up out of fear of losing their coveted jobs in the prison’s kitchen — the most lucrative paying job in the facility that also gives prisoners access to better food and the ability to spend more time out of their cells.

“I rationalized it like, ‘Yeah, I got punched in the ribs 12 times today and I am covered in bruises, but at least I got to eat a double cheeseburger and tater tots,’” Davies said.

Davies also filed a civil lawsuit in state Superior Court last year detailing the alleged abuse by Makos that has now led to federal charges against the veteran correctional officer.

“I think it is pretty safe to say, I don’t know, I am pretty psychologically f----- up now,” the 32-year-old said. “I don’t know if I am ever going to be back to normal, the Glen I was before all of this.”

‘Have you ever seen ‘Fight Club’?’

Glen Davies said he was quickly singled out as a target by Makos.

When he arrived at Bayside in September 2018 after receiving a seven-year sentence for robbing a Chinese food restaurant in Neptune at gunpoint during an episode of severe heroin withdrawal, it was his first prison bid.

He said he didn’t know how to “jail,” a term used to describe navigating life behind bars.

The new setting was so eye-opening for Davies that he didn’t shower for the first two weeks at Bayside out of fear he would be sexually assaulted, a popular worry depicted often in pop culture. His cellmate eventually dragged him to the showers to show him nothing nefarious was occurring.

“It was all very new to me,” Davies said. “It was a very foreign environment.”

He also did not have financial support from his family so he looked for a job.

The kitchen was his most well-paying option. It paid about $90 a month, while other jobs could receive as little as $15 a month. It also allows prisoners to spend significant time outside of their cells and gives them access to better food since they often cook for the officers.

“It’s the best job you can have,” said Peter M., who recently spent more than 15 years in state prison and said he was also a victim of Makos’ violent outbursts in the Bayside kitchen. He asked not to use his full name as he attempts to re-start his life since being released.

On March 21, 2019, Davies walked into the kitchen to begin his new job.

His life was about to change for the worse.

“I guess the way I carried myself was much different than other inmates,” Davies said. “I have more of a meek, quiet demeanor. (Makos) immediately sensed that.”

When Davies began working in the kitchen at Bayside, he started at the bottom rung of workers, cleaning the pots and pans.

On his first day, a number of the other kitchen workers and officers who supervised the workspace were in the back chatting about what life was like for other prisoners before being incarcerated.

Someone mentioned that Davies was a wrestler in high school. That caught Makos’ attention, he said.

“Makos wrestles. You guys should wrestle,” Davies recalls someone saying.

Days later, they did. Makos took off his radio and they wrestled in the back room of the kitchen, according to Davies.

Davies said the officer got the best of him and as Makos pushed him into the wall, Davies’ right forearm was cut badly by a light socket. It most likely required stitches, Davies said, but he was too afraid to seek medical attention.

Makos soon realized Davies wouldn’t tell about the happenings in the kitchen.

It was all the brash officer needed to see.

Multiple prisoners said Makos had an “inmate mentality.” He instilled fear within the others in the kitchen by the public beatings, but also his braggadocios manner. He bragged about his stash of firearms.

Prisoners said he bragged about killing people during his time in the military, yet an Army spokesman said Makos was never deployed during his two years of service as a unit supply specialist from 1999 to 2001.

“He’s a bully that now has all this power,” according to one former prisoner, who asked not to be named out of fear of retaliation.

And he was connected inside the prison. Makos has been an officer there since 2006. His brother and wife also work there, according to state pension records.

“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Fight Club’? The first rule of fight club is to not talk about fight club,” said Scotese, the former Bayside prisoner. “That is what it was really like.”

It soon became a personal hell for Davies, who multiple prisoners said received the worst of the abuse.

“I deserve to be doing prison time, but I did not know it was going to be anything like this,” Davies said.

‘Time to collect’

Makos, who was the supervisor of the second shift, lurked over Davies’ every move, the man said.

He’d tally up infractions against Davies for minor mishaps, like having his hair net down too low or forgetting to put applesauce on a cart, Davies said. He said Makos often resorted to simply making up missteps by Davies.

Then came the end of his shift.

“Time to collect,” Makos would say, according to Davies.

Davies would walk into the back of the officer’s room in the kitchen, put his hands on top of his head and interlock his fingers with his back facing Makos. For each infraction that day, it was a forceful punch to the ribs. It wasn’t every day, Davies said, but multiple times a week he was brutalized.

“When I started out getting abused, it really physically affected me,” he said. “I couldn’t lay in bed or laugh or cough without severe pain shooting through my ribs. I was in a weakened state for the most part, until my body got hardened to it.”

Steven Ruck, his cellmate, saw the bruises and the toll they took.

“They were taking advantage of him,” Ruck said. “He was the punching bag down there. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t do s---.”

“I have never seen somebody black and blue like this kid was at one time,” said Peter M.

In one instance, according to federal authorities, Makos allegedly had Davies pull his pants down and spanked Davies’ bare bottom with a ruler after another officer’s food went missing. Makos allegedly smacked him so hard, the ruler broke and the hit left a mark, according to the complaint. He then had Davies show his buttocks to others in the kitchen “so that the other inmates could see the result of this beating,” authorities said.

“Of all the things I went through there, that was probably the most psychologically embarrassing,” Davies said about the ruler incident.

But it wasn’t just Davies who felt the wrath of Makos’ violence, according to multiple prisoners who witnessed abuse in the kitchen. The criminal complaint against Makos identifies at least two victims.

Makos allegedly kneed a second victim in the upper thighs “repeatedly” after the prisoner was caught handing out food to others, according to the complaint. An unnamed correctional officer then threw an empty milk crate at the prisoner, authorities said.

Another prisoner told NJ Advance Media about an alleged incident when he put his ID card in the wrong bin upon starting work in the kitchen, and Makos made him scrub a single brick outside the kitchen for an entire shift with a scouring pad because of the mishap.

Makos also allegedly forced the prisoner and Davies to eat homegrown Carolina Reaper Peppers — the hottest pepper in the world — for his pleasure, which federal authorities also detailed in their complaint.

Because Davies ate a plate full of the peppers, he was spared any beatings for a month, he said.

“Eating the peppers feels like being maced,” Davies said. “Your eyes light on fire. Your mouth lights on fire. You sweat. You feel like you’re going to throw up.”

Though he added, “that earned me an entire month of not getting hit so it was really worth it.”

Multiple prisoners told NJ Advance Media that they did not report the abuse out of fear of losing the job in the kitchen as well as retaliatory abuse from Makos. Some said they tried to step in to help Davies, but they were unsuccessful.

“You can’t keep punching this kid,” Scotese recalls saying. “You are going to kill him.”

According to the criminal complaint, Makos allegedly held their desirable jobs in the kitchen over their heads, making them believe they would lose their job if the prisoners reported the abuse.

“By beating me so severely and so publicly, he was letting everyone in the kitchen know, ‘Don’t f--- up because this is what happens to you when you f--- up on my watch. You are going to end up like Glen,’” Davies said. “I think it was really a means of control for him.”

‘I really despise what I have become’

Davies’ last interaction with Makos was a pretty standard one.

It was Dec. 5, 2019 and Davies took his apron off at the end of the shift. That’s when Makos struck him in the ribs multiple times, Davies said.

The next day, Davies was shipped off to East Jersey State Prison. Upon his arrival, investigators took photos of Davies’ bruised body, according to his lawsuit.

They knew what Davies was going through.

Investigators with the New Jersey DOC’s Special Investigation Division had become aware of the abuse inside the kitchen and installed a hidden camera that captured the abuse.

Liz Velez, a spokeswoman for the DOC, said it was the SID’s investigation that eventually tipped off federal authorities to the alleged abuse occurring inside the Bayside kitchen.

Davies could not be reached for comment following Makos’ arrest. His attorney said in a statement that Makos’ arrest was a “step in the right direction,” however, he added that these abuses are often ignored by prison staff.

“(Makos’) sadistic campaign of terror against inmates at Bayside State Prison might be particularly ghoulish in its systematic nature, but unwarranted violence is a shockingly common occurrence,” said attorney Michael Poreda. “Much of the time, it goes unpunished even at the administrative level.

Davies said “there wasn’t a cop back (in the kitchen) who worked that didn’t know what was going on.” Yet none intervened, so Davies said he has been “permanently damaged by what happened.”

“I really despise what I have become and what they forced me to become,” he said. “I am in their custody. I am state property. I am in custody of New Jersey and they are responsible for basically everything that happens to me. The fact that all this abuse went down on their watch.”

Velez said the DOC has “zero-tolerance for anyone who threatens our mission of operating safe and humane facilities.”

“We remain committed to investigating all allegations of abuse and working with the proper authorities to ensure justice is served,” she said.

Some who have been released from prison say they still remain fearful of Makos. Davies, who remains incarcerated at a different facility, relapsed after the beatings and is now on psychiatric medicine to deal with effects of the abuse.

He figured prison could harden him. Instead, he said it ruined him.

“I have become downright pusillanimous and scared of basically everything,” Davies said. “It is just ironic that going to prison made me, instead of becoming a hardened criminal, I’ve become a total introvert, walking with my hands in my pockets with my head looking at the ground. I don’t look people in the eye anymore.”

“Pretty much the only time I feel safe is when I’m alone, locked in my cell with no one else there,” he continued. “The second the door pops open, my feeling of safety vanishes.”

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