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What to do if you get grabbed through a food port

The opportunities an inmate has to assault you through the food port are numerous

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Every time you open the food port, an offender has a golden opportunity to attack you.


The food port of a cell door in a segregation unit can be one of the most dangerous places you encounter. The number of opportunities an inmate has to assault you through the food port are numerous. The reasons you need to open it through the day are endless.

Every time you open the food port, that offender has a golden opportunity to attack you with little worry about injury to himself. The most you can do against the offender is use your O/C spray, but in all likelihood, the inmate will have already set up a countermeasure to protect himself from that.

The dangers

You’re feeding, passing books, exchanging clothes, taking them out for showers, etc. The inmate grabs your wrist and pulls you into the food port. From here he is able to break your arm several different ways. He can break your hand and fingers. If you’re pulled in far enough, he can get a hold of your head and/or hair. A head can fit through a food port, and it goes in easier than it comes out.

The offender can reach out and grab your keys, O/C spray, or anything else on your belt. If he has your spray, then he can use it against you and other officers while his food port is still open. He can use it against the movement team that comes into to get the spray back. Same with your keys. An officer’s set of keys makes one of the best weapons of opportunity I can think of.

Then there is the risk of fluids being thrown at staff through an open food port. In the case of fluids, I have seen many food ports that have a large enough gap around them that they don’t even have to be open. The inmate can throw urine, feces, blood, semen, and any combination thereof.

If you get grabbed

I was working in a solitary confinement housing unit and we were doing cell cleanings. As my partner and I made our way around the top walk an offender on the opposite side of the wing yelled to us he was suicidal. We stopped what we were doing and went to the cell to take him out and move him to a suicide watch cell. I opened the food port and told the offender to turn around and cuff up. He refused a couple of times then turned around. Just as I went to place the restraints on him he grabbed my wrist and pulled me in.

I immediately pressed my body against the cell door. This stopped him from pulling me in more than wrist deep. As I stayed in that position, my partner and I both unloaded a whole lot of O/C spray into the cell and on the offender the best we could. He was very resistant. Now with gloves on and covered in spray myself, on my hands and arms, it was nearly impossible to maintain a grip to pull the offender’s hand off. There was nothing my partner could do once he was out of O/C spray.

It took some time and effort, but I got my hand free. While the injuries I sustained from that incident I still feel today, they could have been much worse. I was always very conscious of staying a safe distance back, not placing myself in front of the opening. The thing is no matter how careful you, you will give them an opportunity sooner or later.

Mental preparation

Should an inmate take advantage of that opportunity you must stay calm. Pressing your body against the door stops the inmate from being able to pull you in any further. In the case of an inmate who is much stronger than you, this is the only thing you can do.

Pry on the offender’s fingers with your free hand, and use your spray. Do not panic and, in the case of a stronger offender, do not take yourself off the door and try to pull your arm away. You will end up shoulder-deep in the food port.

Think and work to minimize the inmate’s ability to injure you. You do not attempt to pull yourself completely free until you are positive the offender’s grip has weakened enough for you to get loose. Once you are free, if possible close the food port, but most importantly get yourself away from the door.

If your partner gets grabbed

If you are assisting an officer who has been pulled into a food port, do not grab them and try to drag them away. Secure the officer’s arm. Then work on the offender’s grip. If your spray is not effective, work solely on the offender’s hand gripping the officer.

Using additional O/C spray will only serve as a lubricant on the back of the offender’s hand and arms. This makes it much more difficult to free the officer since you are unable to maintain a firm grip yourself. The offender’s grip will remain unaffected since the O/C will be on the back of his hands and arms, not under his hand.

top tips

  • Always stay to the side of an open food port.
  • Watch the offender’s hands at all times while you are passing things to the offender.
  • DO NOT EVER look through an open food port.
  • DO NOT EVER put your face in the food port (I have seen staff, custody and non-custody, do this many times. Every time it makes me sick to my stomach.)
  • ALWAYS expect some sort of assault to happen.

This article, originally published 08/19/2014, has been updated.

Charles Morgan started his career as a corrections officer at MECC, a level 3 facility, and then transferred to ERDCC, a level 5 facility. He eventually evened out at FCC, a level 3/4 facility. He works for the Missouri Department of Corrections and is currently a trainer.