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|Delaware Hospital in Wilmington|
Occasionally prisoners must be taken to the hospital, and that's a problem for the authorities. Philadelphia General Hospital had a special prison unit on its grounds, so the problem for the guards was merely to transport the prisoner to the locked hospital ward and bring him "home" after his medical problems were fixed. The State of Delaware doesn't have a prison unit in any hospital, so the security risk must be addressed by sending at least two guards, night and day, to some hospital, and securely manacle the prisoner to the bedstead. Nobody likes this situation, particularly the head nurses, but no one has a better solution to offer.
When prisoners have to make an outpatient trip for an x-ray or similar, there is usually an iron rule: no one is to know about it in advance. In one particular case, however, a convicted Delaware murderer had to have an x-ray of his gallbladder, which in those days required swallowing some large pills the night before. That was the tip-off.
On the specified morning, he was bundled into a patrol car with manacles and guards, and whisked off to the Delaware Hospital, now the Delaware Division of the Wilmington Medical Center. The x-ray department was at the end of a long corridor, with the diabetic clinic on the right and the bathrooms on the left side of that corridor. The entrance was on the side of this corridor, right next to the office for visiting consultants. Things were busy but peaceful that morning when a commotion arose. Three prison guards came marching through the door, surrounding their manacled prisoner. They turned left, and down the long hall to the x-ray department.
As they passed the men's room, the prisoner begged his guards to let him relieve himself, so they took him into the bathroom, removing the handcuffs. He washed his hands, dried them with a paper towel, pushed it into the waste container. Then quick as a flash he thrust his hand deeper into the crumpled waste paper, got the loaded revolver his accomplices had put there, and emerged from the wastebasket -- shooting. The guards got down on the floor, a bullet went into the Diabetic Clinic were a very prominent society lady was working in a pink volunteer's uniform, and another bullet went into the consultants' office, which on other days I might have been using. The escapee was running hard, fired one final bullet into the ceiling at the door, and was out in a second to the waiting getaway car where his buddies were ready. He got away clean, as they say.
There's nothing like an episode of that sort to bring people together. We were survivors of an exhilarating experience, having something in common that no one could take away. For a couple of years afterward, the bullet hole remained unobtrusively in the ceiling by the entrance. The nurses told me that workmen had arrived several times to patch it up, and the society lady, who was a trustee of the hospital, wouldn't let them fix it. That was our bullet hole.
Originally published: Friday, June 23, 2006; most-recently modified: Thursday, September 16, 2021