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"There was a good ol' boy system that was serious," he continues. "A lot of guys couldn't get good time (reduced sentences) because of the color of their skin; they weren't allowed to give blood or do flood details. I've seen guards make guys get naked and stick their noses in each other's ass and crawl across the yard." Looking down, he shakes his head in a slow arc. "And they wonder why people have such bad attitudes."
In April 1967, James Earl Ray escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary and a year later assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. "I worked on the dock he's supposed to have escaped from, and I still can't figure out how he got out," exclaims Wainwright, describing where each guard was stationed. "Man, there was no way." Wyrick could've eased his mind: "James Earl Ray hid in a breadbox, a big ol' wooden box it took two people to handle. They'd bake bread and send it out to the prison farms on a truck. The officer didn't shake it down like he should have."
In 1973, Wyrick, now associate warden ("He was always the warden," mutters Wainwright) was given the job of desegregating the penitentiary. "First I went down to Louisiana to see how Angola had done it," he recalls. "Then I came back and talked to some of the old-time inmates, all of 'em lifers. By then the inmates were all making weapons openly, right in front of the officers -- they didn't care. Had the grinders going and the sparks were flyin', making knives and spears. Finally I decided we're going to lose the place if we don't get these weapons out of here. So I locked the place down and we filled a barrel with 700 weapons, iron pipes, clubs, spears...."
The next year, he was made warden. The year after that, he was accused of beating five inmates during a disturbance. Wyrick laughed off the charges, saying, "Things like that happen around here all the time." (St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Oct. 24, 1975). But allegations continued, and in 1984, a jury awarded $90,000 in damages to a prisoner who had to be hospitalized for four days." He claimed I abused him, which I didn't," says Wyrick. "He had a few knots on his head, but he got them in a riot up at Moberly. We got a bad jury, and they believed him.
"I got sued all the time," he sighs, explaining that in the '60s, inmates (who'd previously been considered "civilly dead") were granted the right to sue, and by the time he took over as director of the division in 1984, their cases had grown increasingly preposterous. "I got tired of spending all my time in federal court, so I retired early."
Still lean, and fit enough to fool his doctor about his chain-smoking, Wyrick lives with his wife in a tidy apartment on the woodsy outskirts of Jefferson City. Surrounded by pictures of 16 grandchildren, he spreads other photos for show-and-tell, arranging them on a crocheted antimacassar: One of a slain guard, eye gouged bloody. Three of wounded guards, khaki uniforms spattered red. One of him with Tammy Wynette, one of the country-western singers he brought in to entertain the inmates. Three of contraband guns he seized himself, one of them a homemade masterpiece of balsa wood hidden in a hollowed-out law book. "Looks real, don't it? He was doing eight lives last time I counted."
Wyrick says he often runs into inmates when he works security for the hospital, and he says they beg him to come back. "Nobody knows where they stand anymore," he explains. "I spent time with those inmates, making them do what they were supposed to do. I'd run home, grab a sandwich and then go back for the evening, listen to maybe 50 inmates' problems. They don't do that anymore. They don't have somebody they can come to who will make a decision.
"Of course, if I went back now I'd last about three days, two of 'em on suspension," he admits. "The officers now are pretty well abused. HIV-positive inmates throw urine and feces on the officers to make 'em think they're going to get AIDS, and the officers are scared to do anything back. That's one thing I did not tolerate, boy, was officers' being abused. I told my officers, "It's a given that the inmate's gonna get the first swing. But I expect you to win.'"
Told their old nemesis is still alive, Wainwright chuckles long and low. "I wonder would he ever tell the truth." Reminded that Wyrick is older now, he drawls, "Yeah, conscience. He might actually have one of those." Then he draws a sharp breath. "We were nothing to them. Wyrick, he was like Adolf, he had his own country. Jesus Christ, that man ran the whole system. Any institution, he could go do whatever he wanted to whoever he wanted."
Paroled from Algoa on April 24, 1964, Wainwright wound up back at the penitentiary five years later, charged with robbery. "When I went home, I wasn't scared of prison anymore," he shrugs. "My manhood had been tested constantly. I'd learned how to hurt people. What do you use to scare a kid with after that? You want to send me back to jail? OK, I'll go back and see my friends.