Inmates at the Clinton Correctional Facility — where two killers broke out last week — looked for the "weakest links" among the staff in an effort to exploit them for preferential treatment and more, two sources familiar with that prison told NBC News.
A corrections department employee says the manipulation — called "grooming" — has become more of an issue than prison workers wanted to admit. And a former Clinton guard said any employee who showed compassion could become a target.
"It’s a long slow process, that unfortunately sometimes succeeds," the corrections employee said of the situation at Clinton.
"Thankfully (it's usually) only for minor things — extra recreation time, newspapers, food. Pretty innocuous stuff, but sometimes it doesn't end there.”
Officials think grooming was taken to the extreme in recent months when inmate Richard Matt established a relationship with Joyce Mitchell, who works in the tailor shop at the lockup.
She had planned to be the getaway driver for Matt and fellow inmate David Sweat after they cut through the steel walls of their cell and crawled through a pipe — but then got cold feet and backed out, sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.
The corrections source said that prison employees sometimes give up too much personal information about themselves — which is the first ingredient in a "recipe for disaster."
"The right inmate can use that information ... make them feel good, make them feel wanted and make them feel attractive when they don't get the same from those closest to them," the source said.
Once a staffer breaks the rules for an inmate, they are "owned," the ex-guard said. If they don't give in to escalating demands, the prisoner threatens to "rat them out" to authorities, putting their job and even their freedom in jeopardy.
"Inmates have time to study everybody, and figure out what tactic will work best with a certain individual," Anthony Gangi, who trains corrections officers to protect against inmate manipulation and hosts an internet radio show called "Tier Talk," told NBC News Thursday.
"They find a game that fits specifically for that person."