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Teen prisoner adds to woes by getting arm stuck in toilet

Friday, June 06, 2003

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

INDIANA, Pa. -- Should the question arise, the answer is yes, indeed, you can get your arm hopelessly stuck in a prison toilet.

Confirmation comes courtesy of a 19-year-old inmate at the state prison near Indiana, Pa. The way inmate Raymond Davenport told it to corrections officers, he just didn't buy the tale about a fellow inmate getting his arm wedged in a prison cell toilet a couple months ago.

So Tuesday, he tried it himself.

"He said that other inmates told him about this, and he was going to prove them wrong," said Douglas Russell, spokesman at the prison, the State Correctional Institution Pine Grove.

In a low moment for scientific experimentation, Davenport didn't prove anyone wrong. He got his arm wedged deep in the stainless steel toilet.

He called for help. Prison maintenance workers had to unbolt the toilet from the floor. And prison officials called for the Indiana Volunteer Fire Co., four miles away, to bring an air chisel to cut the toilet from Davenport's swollen arm.

He didn't require medical treatment, Russell said. But Davenport, doing time for aggravated assault in the Lehigh Valley, now owes his commonwealth the price of a stainless steel toilet and might face other sanctions when he goes before a Corrections Department tribunal.

Pine Grove is an all-male, 620-inmate mix of mainstream prisoners and 15- to 20-year-old young adult offenders. And, should the question arise, another prisoner really did beat Davenport into the 2 1/2-year-old prison's annals as the first to tangle with a toilet that wouldn't let go, Russell said.

That was April 5, another episode in which firefighters had to air chisel the inmate free.

Prison officials ponder such possibilities as whether inmates eye toilets as a place to hide contraband, Russell said.

"But this one said he dropped his soap in," the prison spokesman reported.

While arm-in-the-toilet predicaments confound prison officials a little, the good news for the Corrections Department is that this sort of thing hasn't become the rage across the state prison system.

"These are the first I know of," department spokeswoman Sue McNaughton said yesterday. "I don't recall ever hearing about another inmate getting an arm stuck in a toilet."

Tom Gibb can be reached at tgibb@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1601.

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