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After Massachusetts Prisoner Beats Guard, GOP Lawmakers Push to Eliminate Prison Workout Equipment

by Jo Ellen Nott

On October 20, 2022, Massachusetts prisoner Roy L. Booth, Jr. 40, was formally charged with armed assault with intent to murder, assault and battery causing serious bodily injury and mayhem. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan announced the charge earlier, after Booth allegedly attacked a state prison guard with equipment from the gym at Massachusetts Corrections Institution-Shirley (MCI-Shirley) on August 31, 2022.

Booth was in the recreational area of the medium-security prison when he allegedly unloaded free weights from a metal bar weighing between ten to fifteen pounds, using that to strike guard Matthew Tidman, 36, from behind, hitting him in the head and shoulders multiple times and causing injuries severe enough to put him in a coma.

The prisoner is serving a life sentence for a 2001 murder in Virginia. He was transferred to Massachusetts under the Interstate Compact, which allows states to send prisoners to other states for care, treatment, and rehabilitation not available in the state where the offense occurred. In Virginia, Booth had racked up a disciplinary record of 60 offenses, including a violent assault on another prisoner. Citing his poor adjustment, the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) recommended his transfer to an out-of-state prison in January 2021.

A motive for the attack was not announced, but the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union (MCOFU) said it was unprovoked. Three weeks later, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers toured MCI-Shirley and met with the injured guard’s family. State Rep. Steven Xiarhos (R-Barnstable 5th), a former deputy chief of the Yarmouth Police Department, stated it was wrong to send a prisoner with a violent history to a medium-security facility. Fellow state Rep. Timothy Whelan (R-Barnstable 1st), who is also running for sheriff of Barnstable County, declared, “Too many people up on Beacon Hill listen only to the [criminal justice reform] advocates and they don’t listen to the people who are in the trenches, on the front line.”

On October 7, 2022, Kevin Flanagan, legislative representative for MCOFU, reported that DOC would not allow free weights, or anything affixed to a dumbbell or a barbell, back in the weight rooms. The union is also working with Republican legislators on bills that will be filed to make that ban permanent once the new legislative session starts in January 2023. Tidman’s father, John, said he supports the GOP effort.

As of October 13, 2022, Tidman is “walking, eating, and determined to get out of the hospital,” Flanagan noted. Tidman then got off life support and moved to a rehab center. Booth pleaded not guilty at his arraignment the following week.

Sources:  Boston Herald, WCBV, Worcester Telegram & Gazette  

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