FLORENCE, Ariz. (KSAZ) - Maximum security is home to some of the most violent people in our society. Predators, murderers, they've committed terrible crimes and have to be watched every minute, some are double-teamed when they move because they can turn on you in an instant.
In April of 2015, as many as 30 inmates punched and pummeled seven corrections officers at Florence's Maximum Security Central Unit. One of those officers was critically injured and was out of work for months.
That is why when FOX 10 entered the unit, the crew was fitted with stab vests.
"They are worried about your safety first and foremost, our yard is a level 5 yard, so we don't have the average criminal here," said
The goal, to document a day in the life of a DOC officer, one of the most dangerous jobs in our state.
"The first week I was scared, the first time the gates close, you're like 'oh god I'm in prison,'" said Officer Cody.
Officer Cody doesn't want inmates to know his full name; he's been on the job for three years. His day mostly consists of moving inmates, searching inmates, searching their cells, and confiscating contraband, and making sure he goes home at night which is job #1.
So is one of the biggest challenges dealing with men who don't think the way normal people do?
"Yes, we know they have short fuses, we know they have anger problems, some even have mental problems," said Cody.
And those types are housed in the Florence Prison's Historic Central Unit. The gray concrete walls rise high up into the air and are topped with razor wire, above that is an electric fence that will deliver a fatal shock to any escapee. Inside the walls, the men have nothing but time to think of ways to hurt each other and the officers.
"I've seen weapons made out of everything, tray lids, paper, cellophane wrap," said Cody.
Some inmates are considered such a threat, that they are not allowed to walk free even behind these concrete walls.
Inside there are a series of 10 x 10 rec cages. These are men who haven't proven themselves trustworthy enough to interact with other inmates, so they take this step and after a certain amount of time they can interact with other inmates. Quickly it's clear how quickly the inmates mood can change when FOX 10 first arrived they tried to engage us.
Inmate: "That's that fool Troy Hayden."
Inmate: "I just seen you last night."
Inmate: "Ah, he look bigger on TV."
Inmate: "Let em know we're treating you good."
Inmate: "You tell Kari Lake I said I love her!"
But when asked if one of them wanted to talk on camera, the mood quickly changed.
Inmate: "Don't do it."
Inmate: "All you guys gonna do is talk (expletive) about us."
Inmate: "FOX 10 is racist, hey Troy Hayden is that your baby."
Prison officials say if the leader of the group turns, the entire group will follow, and that's a real danger here, it was time to leave the area.
One of the men who did agree to talk with FOX 10 is Richard Coffey. He's considered such a risk that before he leaves his cell he has to take off his clothing, and Cody inspected his entire body while he's locked behind a cell door. Once cleared he is cuffed, and as with all inmates classified like him, two officers have to hold his arms as he is escorted to where he needs to go.
So how does Coffey think the interaction is with corrections officers?
"For me it's fine, I respect them, and they respect me as a man. As long as I get that respect I don't act crazy. I stay here long which I don't want," said Richard Coffey.
Coffey is being taken to a classroom where he is working on changing his violent behavior; he has to graduate from this class before he can be let out of his cell and interact with other prisoners.
For maximum security, that interaction happens in the yard. As FOX 10 approached, the inmates spotted us, and an inmate barked out a warning.
Inmate: "Crew on the yard!"
The most privileged in max get 2 1/2 hours in the yard three times a week. They can run or play basketball, and be outside of their cells.
Being on the yard, it's easy to see the officers are outnumbered, that if they wanted there could be 50 inmates on top of each of us before backup arrives. The officers in the yard carry only pepper spray and stun guns, the only protection is the gunmen in the surrounding towers.
"This guy up here is your ultimate backup when you are on the yard, he's our eyes and ears, he's everything really," said Cody.
When you think about all their challenges, maybe it's not surprising the AZ DOC is short on officers, not dozens, but hundreds.
"Just in this unit alone, and statewide it's over 500," said Deputy Warden Julie Roberts.
The State is trying to fill those positions. Officers are a vital line of defense between hardened criminals and your loved ones, and now you know what their day is like.