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Off Topic: Cleveland Browns DL John Hughes had life changing experiences working at a jail


Illustration by Jay Wallace

There was a time in John Hughes' life when he woke up at 7 a.m. and wasn't in bed until 2 a.m.

In need of extra cash while a student-athlete at the University of Cincinnati, Hughes found a job as a guard at a local prison.

He described the experience here to staff writer Kevin Jones.

Kevin Jones: What's the craziest thing that happened to you working as a prison guard?
John Hughes: I saw two guys get in a fight over a game of dominoes. One guy flipped a table, lots of pushing. It got heated. But honestly, nothing too crazy.

KJ: What's the food like for the prisoners?
JH: It's not horrible. I would almost compare it to the elementary school lunches with the pink trays. The prisoners can't have forks or knives. So they only use sporks.

KJ: They would steal the forks and knives?
JH: That was one of my main jobs. Every time they were done eating, a prisoner would have to show me the tray and I had to watch them put their spork and their cup in the washing machine.

KJ: What were your hours like when you worked there? And didn't you work there while also playing football for the University of Cincinnati?
JH: Yeah, it was during the season. I would go to class in the morning. I went to practice in the afternoon. And my shift at the prison was from 7 p.m. – 1 a.m.

KJ: That's ridiculous. How tired did you get? I would be sleepwalking everywhere.
JH: I was pretty tired. But when you've got your mind set on something, you focus. I had stuff going on where I needed to make some money. So working all those hours wasn't a big deal for me.

KJ: Did you read about the prison escape in New York recently? Did you ever thwart an escape plan?
JH: No, no. Nothing ever like that. It wasn't a maximum security prison where guys were doing 20 – life. It wasn't really like the movies. The judge would actually send leniency candidates to our prison, River City.

KJ: But was it still a tough environment?
JH: It's still bad because you are away from your family and you are still being told what to do. What people don't understand is these guys get stripped of their rights. Most people are out doing their own thing, working, going to the store. At River City, you are told what to do at every moment of the day. Being on that schedule, it obviously becomes monotonous. You wake up every day at 6 a.m. You have work details that you are assigned. Guys get caught up in it and go a little stir crazy. They have no choices in anything.

KJ: Did you ever supervise any visitations?
JH: I supervised some of those before. No touching. No hugs. That's what kind of gets guys, too. People take the smallest things for granted like giving your girlfriend a hug. No physical connection. It's depressing in a sense like that. If you are trying to get in and do your time quickly, some guys say it can go fast.

KJ: Was there a life-changing moment working in a prison?
JH: There actually was. I met this guy named Mr. Jones and I was working directly under him. He had actually been a resident at River City 20 years before I met him. He turned his life around after he left jail. He worked, he got a degree. And they say only one in 10 guys are able to change their life for the better. That other nine is either back in prison, dead or committing more crimes. So that 10 percent matters. And Mr. Jones strives every day to reach a prisoner to try and make society a better place. I think that's so powerful.

KJ: What was your favorite part of being a prison guard?
JH: Really, just how everybody interacted. It was such a different experience. You know, you don't get to really see stuff like this all the time. You see pictures and you base your opinions off that. It's not as bad as everybody thinks it is. People always think about the bad stuff – the fights, the drugs. Moral of the story, though: Stay out of jail.

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