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Heroes emerge behind bars

By Keri Janton (CNT) City News And Talk #atlanta-ga

Gwinnett inmates save deputies’ lives when medical emergencies arise.

Two jail deputies sit side by side, their chins raised, tears in their eyes. This is a joyous reunion. Just weeks prior, each man experienced a medical emergency while on the job. Life was at stake for both deputies, and both were saved.

Their first responders? The inmates in their respective housing units. In a matter of minutes, the lives of all these men, those in uniform and those in orange jumpsuits, were changed forever. The line between convict and authority was inconsequential, and humanity prevailed.


From shame to pride

It was July 10 around 6 p.m. when Deputy Warren Hobbs, described by inmates as quiet and respectful, was settling into his shift in Housing Unit 3M at the Gwinnett County Jail. Hobbs, 46, felt fine as he conducted his inmate count and went next door to greet a neighboring deputy. As he returned to his unit, he felt a light headache. He took an aspirin and sat at his desk. When his body began to feel warm, he walked out to the recreation yard, removed the hat he’s known for wearing every day, and began to fan himself. When he returned to his desk, his eyesight became blurry. He removed the hat once more to wipe sweat from his brow, unaware that inmate Mitchell Smalls was watching from Unit 510.

“I’m normally asleep at that time, because my work shift starts at 12:30 a.m., but I was randomly awake,” said Smalls, 27. “I’m in the only room where you can see behind the deputy’s desk. I looked out my window and saw him slouched down. He kept slouching more and more. I pushed my intercom button and rang my bell, but Deputy Hobbs didn’t reply. I knew something wasn’t right. I started going crazy to wake everyone, banging on my door with all I had. I was hoping the deputy wouldn’t fall from his chair, because it’s high, but he fell. His head slammed on the floor and there was so much blood.”


Smalls’ banging woke his fellow inmates and a swell of thunderous pounding rippled down, up and across the housing unit. It was a symphony of slamming fists and bodies against heavy, locked doors; some men even lying on their backs to exert more force with their legs, the thick glass windows in each door trembling in response. Hobbs was roused by the cacophonous drumming.

“I woke on the floor but didn’t realize I was on the floor. My mind told me I was still sitting at my desk,” said Hobbs. “I heard inmates calling my name. I was in and out, trying to figure out who needed help, then I locked eyes with the inmates in Unit 617.”

Hobbs pulled his long, thin body up with the tips of his fingers, hit the button to open the door to Unit 617, then fell back to the ground.

At some point, Hobbs unknowingly keyed his mic, which signaled to other deputies that he needed help. Assistance was en route, but the inmates did not know that.

The residents of Unit 617, Walter Whitehead and Terry Loveless, immediately ran out their door and down the stairs. As they made their way to Hobbs, they feared he was dead.

“His color had changed and there was blood everywhere,” said Whitehead, 46. “His phone was ringing, so I picked it up and said we needed help. Loveless grabbed his radio and did the same.”

Hobbs was in and out of consciousness while the men rendered aid. They kept him still, talked to him, told him it would be OK.

Whitehead, Loveless, and Smalls are all being held for nonviolent, drug-related charges.

“I didn’t hear them, see them, or feel them. I have no idea how much time passed,” said Hobbs. “I eventually heard Deputy Weary and I saw Sergeant Ross, who is a medic. As he was talking to me, I felt pain in my chest, like someone was squeezing my heart.”

An EMT arrived and administered an electrocardiogram, or EKG, on Hobbs’ heart. He was placed on a stretcher and taken to Northside Gwinnett Hospital, where the doctor said Hobbs’ heart rate was abnormal, his blood pressure was high, and his potassium and magnesium levels were low.

“I get physicals annually and had no medical history,” said Hobbs. “I assumed I had coronavirus and it was attacking my heart.”

Hobbs did not have the coronavirus, but he did have a cardiac event that would have likely been a heart attack, if not for the aspirin. He stayed in the hospital for two days. One week after he was sent home, it happened again. He has since recovered and is being treated with a cholesterol pill and blood thinners. After weeks of leave, Hobbs returned to work on Aug. 12.


“I got sick of sitting at home and I’ve felt bad for my fiancee. She’s preparing for our wedding in October. I hate that she’s had to worry about me,” said Hobbs. “It felt great to come back to work and get life back to normal. I’ve been here five years and never missed a day at work. I was disappointed to be away.”

When Hobbs entered Unit 3M in August for the first time since his cardiac event, he had all the inmates gather.

“I told them how much I appreciate them,” said Hobbs. “If not for inmate Smalls, especially, we’d be talking about a different story. It felt great to feel like any one of those guys would have helped me.”


Conversely, it felt great for the inmates to feel like heroes. Smalls, Whitehead and Loveless have each been personally affected by the experience and amazed by the public’s response. Their story has been shared by news outlets across the globe, and they have received thank-you letters from multiple countries. One of their favorite responses came from the Vanderbilt University baseball coach who sent hats and a letter, telling the trio they are the kind of men he teaches his players to be.


“It feels good to save someone’s life,” said Whitehead. “I had a drug addiction, and when I was on drugs, I didn’t care about life. After being here for 21 months, I have more respect for life and even more so now.”

Smalls echoes similar sentiments.

“I’ve never seen anyone nearly die,” said Smalls. “Deputy Hobbs isn’t even old or out of shape. A man could have lost his life just like that, for no reason, at 46. I’ve been out there using marijuana, taking risks, not thinking about my health. I realize I need to take better care of my body. I have a son out there I want to be an example for. I think he’ll be proud of me for this and that feels good.”


Loveless, 52, said his family is proud of him, too. In an excerpt from a thank-you note he wrote to Deputy Shannon Volkodav, the public information officer for the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, he said,”I am proud of myself. First time in a long time and I really like this feeling.”

After years of disappointing and causing his family shame, Loveless wrote, helping save Deputy Hobbs turned his life around, “and I’m going to stay going in that direction,” he said.


Inmates to the rescue, again

On Aug. 16, just four days after Hobbs returned to work, the unthinkable happened again when Deputy Patrick Edmond, 40, had a stroke while on the job.

Edmond became a deputy to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was a sheriff in Haiti.

“I love people and I wanted to use my life as a role model to others,” said Edmond. “When I was younger, my neighborhood looked at officers badly because they had a lack of understanding. If you want to change something, you step in and change it. I stepped in and I try to be a good example.”


Edmond has worked at the Gwinnett County Jail since June 2019.

“He’s a really cool, really firm deputy,” said inmate Rodrequs Wells, 33. “He always says, ‘We’re going to have a good day on purpose.’”

Edmond makes a habit of being intentional and kind.

“I believe you reap what you sow, and this is the very reason why I’m fair every time I enter my unit,” said Edmond. “I’m consistent, compassionate and I show respect to everyone. I give my inmates respect and I get it back from them.”

When he began his shift around 6 p.m. Aug. 16 in Unit B, or Bravo as it’s referred by staff, Edmond recalls going through the motions of his daily routine, writing down his tasks for the shift, then he began cell checks.

“I entered cell 107 to do a check,” said Edmond. “The inmates were outside for rec and to smoke cigarettes when I found some contraband. When the residents of 107 came inside, I asked why they had illegal items. I told them I was going to take 40 minutes of their free time.”

That is what Edmond remembers, but the surveillance video and inmates tell the story a bit differently. The video shows Edmond as he retreats from the cell. He’s holding the contraband, an extra blanket, in his right hand and he’s stumbling, reaching out to catch his balance on a nearby table. His left arm hangs loose and limp on his muscular frame, and the inmates, who have now come inside, immediately know something is wrong.

While Edmond thought he was speaking clear sentences, seven inmates observed as the deputy repeated “40, 40, 40.”

“We kept asking if he was OK. He said he was fine, but he didn’t seem like himself at all,” said Wells. “He was repeating himself and the left side of his face was crooked. We tried to have him sit down in a chair and we used his radio to get help. Another guy ran to get assistance. Everyone played a part to stay calm and get him help. We stayed with him until they came.”


The inmates were sent to their rooms when a sergeant and nurse arrived. Edmond’s blood pressure was through the roof. He was removed on a stretcher and sent to Northside Gwinnett Hospital, where he was administered pain medication and had an MRI and CAT scans. From there, Edmond was life-flighted to Grady Hospital in Atlanta. Grady doctors contacted Edmond’s wife of 16 years, and she gave consent for them to do anything necessary to save his life. He was in surgery within seven minutes of his arrival to remove the clot that had traveled from his groin to his brain, causing the stroke. If not for the quick response of the inmates, the doctor told Edmond he may not have survived.

“I’m young, healthy. I work out once, sometimes twice a day, five days a week. I can’t believe this happened to me,” said Edmond. “It’s painful to watch that video. I consider myself a strong person and to see myself so weak, depending on others to save my life — it’s painful. That could have been my last moment breathing. I’m so thankful it wasn’t.”

Doctors could not identify a reason for Edmond’s stroke, which is good, he says. That means he is unlikely to have another, according to his doctor. He is on cholesterol and blood pressure medications and has tweaked his diet. The stroke left him with no deficit. Health wise, it is as if it never happened. But Edmond will never forget — nor will the inmates who helped him.

“I hadn’t been released to return to work yet, but I chose to go back to see the inmates,” said Edmond. “Those men didn’t have to save my life, they chose to. It’s against policy, but I hugged every one of them. They all applauded and said they prayed for me. I said to them, ‘Whenever you feel sad or depressed about anything, you remember that you sent me back to my family.’”


Capable of greatness

In addition to being the public information officer at the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, Volkodav is a certified John C. Maxwell speaker, trained to speak about leadership and personal growth. She speaks to groups of inmates once a week, and these incidents have been recent discussion topics.

Some of the inmates have asked Volkodav what they should do if ever there’s another medical emergency with a deputy. Her answer is simple: “Exactly what you did.”

“It’s easy to assume there’s an adversarial relationship with officers and criminals, but these incidents prove that’s not always the case,” said Volkodav. “Many law enforcement officers are drawn to this profession because they care about people and their duties. They’re professional, they serve as role models, and they encourage good decisions. Many of our inmates don’t have examples like that at home.”

The Gwinnett County Jail has an average of 2,000 inmates at a time. With that population come many medical emergencies.

“You should see the deputies running to assist inmates, as if they’re running to their own family or friend,” said Volkodav. “It’s amazing to see that reciprocated. This has been an incredible learning experience for these inmates. They see they don’t have to be defined by that thing they did wrong. Anyone is capable of greatness. It’s not the uniform that makes the hero, it’s the person.”