On Jan. 21, we met with Foster Bates, an inmate at Maine State Prison who serves on the board of the prison chapter of the NAACP.

Do you think the Special Operations Group is helping prevent violence here?

"Their presence isn't necessary here. This facility doesn't have the violence that would warrant it. You have places such as Walpole, Riker's Island, Angola, Pelican Bay, prisons in Baltimore and Jersey that have a high level of violence. I mean constant assaults on prisoners, guards.

"We don't have that here. We have assaults, usually physical altercations with the hands. Very rarely you'd have some kind of stabbing or cut. Very rarely you get that. I'd say on average you have one fight, maybe two fights on average. There's occasionally an assault on an officer; but that only happens rarely. That's usually just an officer and a particular resident having words and the inmate punching the officer and it's immediately over.Other places that have escalated violence don't have a SOG team there."

Have you seen them respond to an incident?

"I haven't heard of them defusing an incident. What I've heard is when they come into the pod, they come in yelling and screaming 'Don't say another word, shut your mouth,' and pointing their weapons. They come in when the inmate is handcuffed.

"Usually what happens is that the CO [corrections officer] hits his code button, and the first CO team responds, and when the SOG team arrives, it's already resolved.

"They come running through the doors with their weapons drawn. That's a problem, because if there's accidental discharge somebody can get hurt. They say the weapons are non-lethal, but in actuality they are lethal, because if they're shot at close range from the pounds of pressure released from the weapon they can hit someone in the temple, in the eye, in the sternum. These are areas of concern."

Have you seen any SOG officers discharge their weapons?

"The bullets that they use are supposed to be rubber bullets, but they are shotgun shell bullets. So when it hits you it kind of expands. One of the SOG officers fired one into a thick plywood board and blew a hole in it this big. That shows you the velocity that comes out of it. I don't know the distance they were at.

"In the early '70s the federal government made the conscious decision to take weapons out of all facilities, so why are these weapons here?"

Where do SOG officers patrol?

"They stand outside the visiting area. Family and friends who come to visit us, they feel threatened, intimidated. They say why are they at a state facility? They're standing there with their guns down, but their hand on the trigger. Why the military presence at a state facility?

"If you're promoting family ties and family communication and connections, then SOG definitely doesn't need to be outside the visitation area. They have the dogs out there. If you have the guys standing there in a military uniform and a weapon, they don't know its non-lethal.

"I've seen them walking with their weapons. They were patting prisoners down on the walkway to and from chow. The technique and procedure was to point the weapon at the prisoner, have them stand backwards with their hands behind their head and walk backward to the SOG officer, then have them take everything out of their pockets while the other SOG officer points their weapon at them. That's a problem. That's military training, that's police officers' training, that's training for the outside, not for in here.

"Correctional officers generally just call you over, ask you if you have anything in your pocket and they proceed to pat you down. Now when a SOG officer pats you down, it's a totally different technique. This was in the first 45 days, they'd call people randomly, I saw that with my own eyes. I was baffled by it. I haven't seen them do it in a while.

"They are doing the job that the IPS [Inner Perimeter Security team] was doing. But their presence wasn't so negative because they didn't have the weapons on them. They had a different attitude. I think the SOG team is trained with a military-type attitude, where IPS was trained with better communication.

"When they called CERT, they'd get those guys who were certified and they'd get suited up and they'd come. They'd get their shields, helmets and knee pads, and the difference was they didn't have weapons. They had mace. They had a big riot container of mace. If you have that, why do you need a SOG team walking around with weapons?"

Do you have any other comments about SOG?

"There has been no racial targeting. I haven't noticed it, nor has any other African-American or minority said anything about that.

"I don't know where they got the funding from, but they chose to give it to SOG, as opposed to giving it to rehabilitation or drug treatment programs. We have D pod. They use it as training [space]. With the funding they received, why can't they turn that unit into a drug treatment unit? We have people going home who desperately need that type of treatment. I had a friend who was going home and a few weeks before he left, he said 'Foster, I'm scared.' He said 'I have a drug problem and I didn't get the help I needed. I needed something more.'

"He said every time he does drugs or drinks he commits a crime, and he's afraid he's going to come back because he didn't get the necessary treatment. I think that's a huge problem.

And, they have three different types of uniform. They have black, camo and tan. Why do you need camouflage inside the facility?"