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Our stories: She wouldn’t wait

In the space of 28 minutes, a correctional officer and an inmate are changed forever


I have had numerous officers ask me to put their stories on paper because they cannot.


During my 11 plus years in corrections, I have met and come to know hundreds of corrections officers across this country. I am still a “short-timer” among my peers and know I have a huge learning curve in front of me to attain “veteran” officer status.

When speaking and communicating with each other though, I find we have similar, yet extremely unique and highly personal stories from our time behind the walls. While being so very different, we are still very much the same. Some tales are nightmares that are with us forever. Others are experiences that friends and family find unbelievable and at times laughable.

There is something cathartic when officers speak of the darkness in their days. It is these experiences that dirty their soul and change deeply the person behind the badge. We are not the same person we were as rookie recruits. Our families will be the first to tell you so.

I have had numerous officers ask me to put their stories on paper because they cannot. They can explain their world of chaos but cannot put it to paper. Others I feel must have their story told because they are unable to finish the tale themselves and we must not forget.

The stories in this series will not identify officers except for first names or rank in order to maintain some semblance of privacy in these emotionally charged events and tales while still maintaining the reality and tie to individual officers. Occasionally a story will identify details and key participants. This will be done with the key players’ approval and their concurrence with the storyline.

Some officers I know personally and ache with them as they relive their horror. Others I’ve taken the time to listen and hear the pain in their voice or turmoil in their hearts and try to capture their emotions, psyche and strength in words. It takes little time spent with them to recognize the resolve they’ve shown to survive and carry this burden for a lifetime. They inspire me daily.

These stories are real. Officers were hurt, killed, scarred, or amused by the antics of their charges, and each officer can fully appreciate the gravity of another’s story and tale.

Our collective stories as officers are my story as well. Here is the first story told to me by Cpl Michele. Please be advised the following story is distressing.

She Wouldn’t Wait

One day that will never be forgotten began in a most unassuming way. An officer prepared for duty as she always did. She put on her boots and uniform, grabbed lunch and kissed her wee one goodnight. She would never be the same again.

As a third shifter, the officer was completing her shift on a Sunday night. It appeared to be moving along as one of those “quiet” nights where nothing major would occur. She always hated even thinking that word “quiet” as she’d found the mere thought or utterance would create a waterfall of chaos for the remainder of the shift.

“I remember thinking in my head – wow this is a quiet night – and immediately scolded myself for even thinking about quiet,” the officer said. “I hoped I had not jinxed the night.”

It began within the hour. A female inmate in intake was complaining of bad abdominal cramps and pain. The inmate was pregnant and screaming loudly that this was not right, that the baby was coming and she could feel a foot.

The officer stepped into the cell to calm the inmate down and assess the situation and quickly informed the sergeant of what was occurring. A medical emergency was called and multiple officers responded to assist in any way necessary. The officer let the inmate know that a rescue squad was on its way and would be here shortly.

The inmate yelled, “It’s coming now. I can’t help it.” The officer was now focused on the “mother” in front of her – traumatized in fear – not the woman who was arrested on multiple drug charges and had numerous disciplinary outbursts since she’d been in the facility. The officer helped the inmate and she could see the baby would not wait. Within seconds the baby was in the officer’s hands.

“It is so small,” the officer thought. The inmate was crying and yelling. The officer – trying to remain strong for the new mother – held the baby close to her own chest and asked the sergeant for something to place the baby in. The fetus – all of about five inches long – had passed and was not moving. The fetus looked like a complete little baby – just in miniature. She was all there, 10 fingers and 10 toes, with little eyes and a cute little nose. It was everything the officer could do to not burst out in wailing sobs.

There was blood and lots of it on the bench and floor. Both mother and officer were in shock. The officer’s hands shook as she wrapped the fetus in a hand towel and then placed her into a biohazard bag.

In a few minutes, the rescue squad responded and took over the inmate’s care from the corrections team. The officer looked at her blood-covered gloves and arms as fellow officers asked her how she was doing.

“I didn’t know. I couldn’t answer,” she told me. “All I could think about was that little baby (fetus) gone and how devastated I would have been in that same situation. Of how devastated I was then!”

Prior to cleaning up, the officer looked in the mirror in disbelief and didn’t recognize the woman she saw - covered in blood. It appeared she had a little baby footprint, in blood, on the breast of her uniform. She glanced at her watch. It was 02:33. It was only 28 minutes since this all began, 28 minutes that had changed her, 28 minutes shaking her universe to its core.

One life lost. One mother devastated by the impacts of her drug use on her unborn child. An officer and mother looking at life differently than she did a mere 28 minutes earlier.

“We had 5 ½ hours till the end of shift and I wanted to know, how am I going to get through the next two minutes. I was a wreck,” she stated.

She called her sergeant to inform him of what happened. His calm voice over the phone and offer to come in and relieve her (on his day off) and his perspective as a father was invaluable.

The rescue squad transported both the fetus and inmate to the hospital with the officer along for security.

At the hospital, the inmate mother asked to see the fetus and the officer obliged, allowing the mother to hold it against her chest for a few moments of closure. The corporal spoke with the inmate and let her know how sorry she was for her loss. As a mother, the officer knew the pain of a miscarriage personally and this situation hit her deeply.

No one but the officer and third shift team knew what occurred this night or would live with this reality. Inmates were unaware of the trauma occurring within the walls of the facility. The shift knew they dealt with an amazing trauma one minute and moved back to business as usual the next without skipping a beat. That is all that mattered.

There was no mention of the scope of this traumatic event to officers or the officer’s exemplary response by administration. The shift did not receive confirmation of a job well done from administrators. The night’s events were simply relayed in a shift brief. Officers were informed the inmate was taken to the hospital and had lost a child. Nothing more.

Within two years the officer promoted to corporal then left corrections. But the trauma and heartache returned regularly in her thoughts and dreams. She spoke to her sergeant about what she saw and experienced that night and was grateful she had that outlet. She did not share much with her family as she didn’t feel they deserve to be burdened with this. She buried it deep in hopes it would not return.

We all survive these moments and struggle to place it in our safe place – our lockbox depository of experiences – to only bring them out in that “safe zone” of fellow officer conversations and quiet, huddled discussion. Only those who have experienced and thrived through like events can know our pain and anguish.

This was her time of extreme challenge. Few know what occurred or the depth to which this had taken her soul.

This is her story.

Craig Gottschalk entered corrections in 2010 as a floor officer at the Saunders County Corrections Center in Wahoo, Nebraska and was quickly promoted to a supervisor role as a corporal and then shift sergeant. He served as third shift sergeant for five years until he was selected to serve as the assistant director at the Hall County Corrections Center in Grand Island, NE. Gottschalk served as the liaison to the Nebraska Ombudsman’s Office, Nebraska Jail Standards Board and multiple agencies and partners with the Hall County Corrections efforts. He was selected to serve as assistant ombudsman for corrections for the State of Nebraska in May 2022. Gottschalk provides guidance, investigation and oversight for county jails and the state corrections system in Nebraska, addressing inmate claims of rights violations, health care neglect, classification appeals, and other incarceration security and operational challenges.

Gottschalk has testified before the Nebraska Legislature Judiciary Committee regarding corrections issues and has spoken to the media on multiple occasions about corrections issues in Nebraska and across the US. Gottschalk has focused his management efforts on the pursuit of “excellence” versus the challenge of attaining perfection.

Contact Craig here.

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