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Off the cellblock, into the book; The `Laughter' began in jail.

Byline: Shaun Sutner

Mike Szaban has seen it all, as he writes in the blurb for his new book, "Laughter Behind the Tiers," a humorous novel based on his 17 years as a hard-driving correction officer at the rough-and-tumble Worcester County Jail and House of Correction.

Now he's telling it all.

He recently unveiled a self-published 260-page book on his experiences at the West Boylston jail.

But don't expect to find any complimentary reviews from Mr. Szaban's old boss, Sheriff Guy W. Glodis, or Mr. Glodis' deputy superintendent at the jail, Jeffrey R. Turco. The brass at the jail consider Mr. Szaban a disgruntled former employee and they are dismissing the book, sight unseen.

Mr. Szaban, who was a sergeant at the jail and an avid foot soldier in Mr. Glodis' successful 2004 campaign to unseat the longtime sheriff, John M. Flynn, left the jail last March - under cloudy circumstances.

He claims the sheriff forced him to resign after he let inmates in the minimum security unit have a couple of pairs of sneakers and a box of colored pencils. Mr. Turco, a lawyer who handles most of the jail's disciplinary proceedings, won't comment on Mr. Szaban's personnel history, though he hinted that it was tumultuous.

"Some people are going to be mad," said Mr. Szaban, 44, of Rutland.

One likely group of readers is correction officers at the jail. One of them, Peter Boyd, a former union steward, has already ordered a copy and expects to get it soon.

Mr. Boyd, who worked with Mr. Szaban for about 10 years, remembers the former sergeant as a wisecracker with a pencil.

"He always talked about writing a book when he retired. He was always taking notes," Mr. Boyd said. "The book is going to be great. It's everything that happened over a 17-year period."

Mr. Turco's reaction was considerably less charitable.

The deputy superintendent confessed that he had read the blurb on Amazon.com. But that's about all he'll read, he said.

"I haven't seen it. I haven't read it. I will not purchase it," Mr. Turco said. "I will not waste my time reading it."

After inquiries from a reporter about the book, Mr. Turco decided to release an official statement.

"The sheriff runs a tight ship. He holds everybody accountable," the statement reads. "As a consequence, there have been dozens and dozens of political supporters who have been disciplined.

"As a result, you're bound to have disgruntled former employees who make outlandish and outrageous accusations, with an ax to grind," it continues. "We have no intention of reading that book. We will just re-read the officer's disciplinary record."

In addition to over-the-top tales of inmate antics, Mr. Szaban devotes ink to his growing dissatisfaction with the old sheriff's reign, his work to put a new sheriff in charge - and his conviction that nothing changed after Sheriff Glodis was elected.

"He helps to overthrow the infrastructure, only to find that the new sheriff, whom he helped to win the election, is not only worse than the previous one, but becomes the sergeant's demise," Mr. Szaban writes about the fictional character based upon himself.

The book is published by BookSurge, a self-publishing house owned by Amazon that prints books on demand. When one sells, BookSurge prints it and Amazon ships it to the customer.

Mr. Szaban says he wrote the book at his computer in three months in a process he describes as cobbling together the anecdotes he had recorded over the years so he wouldn't forget them.

The 260-pound scribe, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle rider, chess history fanatic and U.S. Army veteran, said his appearance is nothing like what a writer is supposed to look like.

"I'm kind of like a biker guy on too much ice cream," he said.

He said one of his favorite anecdotes in the book is based on an incident about 10 years ago in a maximum-security unit. Mr. Szaban and a 300-pound-plus correction officer whom he calls "Carl" tried to restrain a smallish but powerfully built prisoner who was "ripped," apparently from many hours in the weight room.

The inmate wouldn't stop his loud preaching in the middle of the night, so Mr. Szaban and Carl went into his cell to quiet him.

When they got there, the man was standing naked on his bunk. Somehow, he picked Carl up by his neck and told the giant correction officer: "I'm going to bless you, my brother."

Summoning a third guard, the officers violently scuffled with the inmate, trying to restrain him. Mr. Szaban said he repeatedly punched the man.

As fists and blood flew, the prisoner looked Mr. Szaban straight in the eye and said: "I forgive you."

Contact Shaun Sutner by e-mail at ssutner@telegram.com.

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Mike Szaban, a former correction officer, in his book-laden Rutland bedroom.

PHOTOG: CHRIS MILLER
COPYRIGHT 2007 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 19, 2007
Words:811
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