FLORENCE, Colo. -- Cory Hodge was a prison guard for less than three years at Supermax, home of America's most feared and notorious criminals, before he decided he had had enough. He left to take a job as a train conductor.
"I felt like staffing levels were coming to a point where it was getting ridiculously dangerous to be there," said Hodge, who was stabbed in the head and arms at another prison before going to Supermax. "I have a wife and children. I want to be around for them."
Guards at Supermax complain that because of cost-cutting, staffing levels are perilously low, and as a result, prisoners are growing angrier and threats and assaults against the staff are on the rise at the prison, called the Alcatraz of the Rockies.
The $60 million institution is the nation's most secure prison, reserved for the worst of the worst. Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, terrorist cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid, and Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols are all here, locked up in solitary, awaiting a single hour outside each day.
As of August, however, of the 221 guard positions allotted to Supermax, only 186 were filled, US Bureau of Prisons spokesman Mike Truman said.
There were 240 guards when the prison opened in 1994, said Barbara Batulis, a union vice president.
Today there are more than 460 inmates, up from 265 in 1995. Supermax has 490 beds.
An arbitrator recently said staffing is so low that job hazards have increased, some cellblocks have been left unstaffed at times, and cells are not being searched regularly. Last year, two inmates were beaten to death by other prisoners -- the first slayings in Supermax history.
"To me, that's a red flag to say let's figure out what happened and not let it happen again," said state Representative Buffie McFadyen, whose district includes the prison. "It could've been a correctional officer that didn't go home those days."
The union has filed a grievance over staffing levels, and critics want Congress to funnel more money for staffing.