COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Lee Correctional Institution left its mark on Ryan, a former inmate.
"I had to have a plate put in my face. My eye socket here was cracked. Then, there's a plate underneath my eye, which everybody's got, that was shattered, and they had to replace that with a titanium plate," said Ryan, who didn't want his last name shared publicly.
Ryan was sentenced to four years for a felony meth charge years ago. While he says he spent time at other state prisons as part of his sentence, he spent a lot of that time at Lee Correctional.
Back in the summer of 2015, while at Lee, he said he became the target of some fellow inmates, and he wasn't the only one.
"I seen a lot of people get stabbed – a lot of people get ****** up, you know," he said.
Last year, Ryan sued the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC). His suit alleged the department failed to protect him. In fact, it claimed he cried out for help, but no officer immediately responded.
"SCDC had a long history of overcrowding and failing to provide adequate security and supervision over the inmates located at [Lee]," the suit alleged.
Ryan suspects the lack of protection had something to do with understaffing – a problem the department has acknowledged.
"I guess SCDC has a hard time filling those spots at Lee for some reason," Ryan said. "If I had to give a word of advice to someone, I'd say, 'Don't count on them to protect you.' They're not going to. If they see you getting beat, you have to think, that guard's making probably $30,000 a year. They're not about to jump in there. They're not. I've seen it firsthand."
Ryan's lawsuit, settled in January, isn't the only one filed against SCDC after inmate-on-inmate attacks at Lee Correctional over the past few years.
Another one claims seven inmates were attacked by fellow inmates – some alleged gang members – during mostly separate incidents throughout 2017. That suit also claims that inmates weren't where they were supposed to be – a violation of prison policy – and there weren't enough officers to go around.
"Gangs are basically allowed to run free and commit whatever crimes they want," that suit claims.
As for Ryan, he says the key to surviving Lee unscathed is keeping your head down. However, that doesn't always work, he said.
"You can take it, and you can let it, you know, mess you up – mess you up for the rest of your life, you know. Or you can take it and say, 'Man, damn, I don't want to go back to that place," he said.
It's a place where he says inmates run the show, not the state.
"Inmates run these kind of yards, you know. This ain't no Level 1 yard. I was at Stevenson for a little while. You know, the guards run Stevenson – a Level 1 yard. You get to Level 2 or 3 yards – all of a sudden, they don't run **** like that no more," the former inmate said.
As for contraband, Ryan said that inmates can get illegal cell phones so easily SCDC should consider selling them in prison cantinas. He also said that any inmate who wants a knife can easily make one out of even the most ordinary items.
Ryan said he easily maintained a cell phone, drugs, and a knife while behind bars. SCDC wouldn't comment on this story since it involves lawsuits, some of them pending.