The Spike loves a good ghost story. So when The Spike heard that officials at the state Department of Corrections were on the hunt for an elusive criminal known as the Lumley Vampire, The Spike was all over it.
The Lumley Vampire is indeed a wraith, a shadowy spirit that haunts the DOC in the form of a Web site/e-mail newsletter that gives voice to the many and varied gripes rolling around inside a state agency with thousands of employees who are arguably overworked, underpaid and in constant fear for their safety.
Weirder still, no one knows who the Lumley Vampire is. Despite their best efforts, DOC administrators have been unable to nail down this particular perp. Most people assume it's someone within the department, although some think that the mysterious ED (as the Web site moderator calls itself) may be an inmate who is just screwing with the screws (so to speak).
The Lumley Vampire has stalked the DOC for about five years, and DOC administrators have always been bugged by its existence. Of course, the Vampire generally refers to DOC Director Terry Stewart as "The Emperor" and Deputy Director Charles Ryan as "Darth Vader."
In 2000, Stewart used his own newsletter to appeal to correctional officers to root out the bad apples in their midst. He issued a not-so-veiled plea for help in hunting down the Vampire. "When criticism is malicious, untruthful and damaging to the organization," he wrote, "those who are responsible must be identified and separated."
Yowie. The Spike thinks the Vampire may be headed for the SuperMax if the Emperor ever gets his hands on him (or her).
And the Emperor is not without his minions. Recently, some correctional officers have been trying to smoke out the Vampire for what they say is good reason.
It seems the Lumley Vampire was born after the 1997 death of correctional officer Brent Lumley. Lumley was killed by inmates at the Perryville prison who overpowered him as he struggled to open a control room door. His correctional colleagues believe his death was a result of short staffing and other mismanagement at the prison.
Venting took the form of a paper newsletter, written by officers at Perryville and printed with prison equipment. The Vampire tag came from its origins on the graveyard shift. The newsletter was passed around in the parking lot, discussed at after-work tailgate parties and distributed on windshields.
Not surprisingly, the warden put a stop to that. So the Lumley Vampire then found a home in the ethereal world of the Internet, where it has dwelled ever since, its reach extending to other DOC facilities statewide. Besides stories and commentary about budget cuts, staffing changes, assaults on guards and the like, the site also includes a popular message board where people, mostly officers, write in about stuff that bothers them.
Now some officers who appear to be well-intentioned say they want the newsletter shut down. Most important, Brent Lumley's widow has asked (for several years, really) that her husband's name not be associated with a vampire. These officers say Lumley's children are now getting old enough to hear about it, and they want it stopped.
They also say that the information on the Web site is wrong and that the ED is purposely spreading disinformation to make the DOC administration look worse than it really is. That's having a bad effect on new and young correctional officers in an agency that has one of the worst turnover rates in the state, they say.
Worse, they say whoever is behind the current Web site stole pictures and other material from an earlier incarnation of the Vampire.
That's why, they say, they are helping DOC with a criminal investigation of the Lumley Vampire.
Now, The Spike couldn't figure out what actual crime the Vampire might have committed, other than wasting bandwidth. (Note to Vampire: Your site has too many tedious and self-indulgent ramblings. Stick to the good stuff.)
So The Spike called the Emperor's Palace, a.k.a. DOC HQ, and was put in touch with DOC Chief of Staff Gary Phelps, who denies that there is any investigation into the Vampire, much less a criminal one. "That's preposterous," Phelps says (more than once). He says an administrative inquiry was done a few years ago, after Lumley's wife complained, but that the DOC hasn't bothered with the whole thing since then.
"Until your call, I hadn't even thought about it," Phelps adds.
The Spike is sure that won't sit well with the Lumley Vampire, who told The Spike via e-mail and in a phone interview (see, Terry, he's not so hard to find) that the DOC has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years trying to ferret out the Vampire.
The guy who called The Spike, in response to an e-mail sent to the contact info on the site, says the position of ED has rotated over the years. He says he is really ED2 but has stayed involved to help. The current Vampire is ED5, says ED2.
"The EDs are always applying for jobs [elsewhere]," says ED2, explaining the change in management. "DOC has such tremendous turnover."
ED2 says DOC honchos don't like the fact that the Lumley Vampire gives officers a heads-up on what's going on in an agency that is spread across the state information that the DOC itself won't put out.
For instance, ED2 says, the Vampire network was able to let officers know that a new prison gang had been discovered in one facility, so officers elsewhere now know to identify and watch out for people and problems associated with this gang.
"DOC didn't think to say anything about it. But now we're getting a lot of e-mail from officers about it."
Phelps pooh-poohs that story and says it's an example of another Vampire fairy tale. He says the "gang" turned out to be one guy from Chicago.
Still, ED2 says the Vampire "has been unbelievably helpful." And this at a time when DOC has more inmates and fewer staff members than ever before.
"Our focus is officer safety," ED2 says. "I don't want to go to another funeral. I've been to too many of them already."
Judging from the nature and sheer volume of postings on the site, The Spike thinks this is one vampire that will need more than a stake through the heart to get it to go away.
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