The electronic pleas for assistance constituted business as usual on a recent afternoon in the Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility.
Another fight. Another unruly youth. Another act of violence. Another day at Marion.
The home to 294 of Ohio's oldest and worst juvenile offenders is out of control amid violent assaults, gang activity and a shortage of guards, critics suggest.
The numbers last year -- 316 youth-on-youth assaults and 188 youth-on-staff assaults -- escalated by a third from 2006.
It is a place, state officials agree, that must change to avoid being little more than a teenage way station on the path to more crime and adult time.
About 1,700 Department of Youth Services and State Highway Patrol incident reports from 2007 and hundreds of pages of expert findings form a common bottom line:
"Marion is a dangerous place," one fact-finder wrote.
Fred Cohen, a law professor called upon to examine six state corrections systems, as well as other specialists, examined Ohio's juvenile facilities as part of a pending lawsuit to improve conditions.
Their findings and a Dispatch review of state records demonstrate the depth of Marion's problems. Outnumbered, overworked and undertrained juvenile-correctional officers are afraid of the "boys." Half of those confined are adults doing time for violent crime. Youths can be held in youth-services institutions until age 21.
Assaults on staff members have resulted in a broken nose, a slash across the face, choking, unconsciousness, bites, a blown-out knee and the indignity of being doused with milk cartons filled with urine.
Guards, teachers and other prison workers regularly are assaulted. Last year, they missed the equivalent of seven years of workdays because of injuries and disabilities. Large youth fights have sent staff members to the hospital four, five, six at a time.
Slightly more than half of the frustrated, frightened and fatigued guards quit last year, some walking away from $15.80-an-hour jobs after only a few days.
Youths are afraid of the guards, who are under fire for being too quick to go "hands on" with needless and excessive force when trouble erupts and sometimes lying about or failing to report use of force, the outside reviews found.
Forty-one youths required medical attention, from first aid to emergency-room visits, after being restrained by guards last year: a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder, unconsciousness after being pinned to the floor, head injuries, a broken wrist.
Youths also fear one another: Leaders of geographically based gangs order hits on other inmates. Most big rumbles are gang-related amid what an administrator describes as a "growing number of dangerous, combative youth."
More than a third of the prisoners are Heartless Felons or Head Busters, feuding gangs that control contraband and demand "taxes" on food and hygiene items.
Members of the Felons, the dominant gang, are from Cleveland, Youngstown and Toledo. The Head Busters are from Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus.
Two Marion staff members told investigators that they think other workers assist the 19-year-old leader of the Felons, described by one investigator as a "charming" sociopath. A probe of the allegation is under way.
The team of experts asked to review the Marion prison found inadequate mental-health services and a dysfunctional school. They said it is a place where an 18-year-old rapist in the mental-health unit forced a 12-year-old boy to perform oral sex three times last year.
Offenders that young are not typical at Marion. The 12-year-old was there because it houses the youth-services unit for those with the worst mental illnesses.
The Marion facility's neighbors, two medium-security adult prisons, are more than seven times larger, but it had about 10 times as many assaults last year.
It is a place that will be changed, vowed Thomas Stickrath, director of the Department of Youth Services.
"We're facing a challenging transition," he said. "We've planted a lot of seeds, and it takes a while for them to germinate."
Guards no longer wear uniforms of authority. They sport bright blue dress shirts and khakis. They are being taught how to use words instead of force to rein in unruly youths. There's more security, along with more teachers and mental-health workers. Fewer youths are being locked up in seclusion.
Assaults have been dwindling for months now, Stickrath said. "I'm optimistic. … Culture change takes a while," he said.
Critics consider the Marion lockup a microcosm of what is wrong with the Department of Youth Services.
State officials are trying to strike deals by April 1 to improve conditions in juvenile prisons to settle both a federal class-action lawsuit and U.S. Justice Department findings of unconstitutional treatment of youths.
"It will be a huge challenge to turn Marion around," said Alphonse Gerhardstein, a Cincinnati lawyer handling the settlement of the youth-services lawsuit on behalf of youths and their families. "It's in crisis -- and everyone knows it. … The violence must be addressed."
The independent, court-appointed fact-finder and a team of experts blasted Ohio's juvenile-detention facilities in a report released early this year as part of the lawsuit against the state.
"The needless and excessive use of force is ingrained within ODYS. … Marion is in the top tier" of verbally and physically abusive guards, their report said.
The unionized juvenile-correctional officers, represented by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, think they are being made scapegoats and are beginning to suffer from administrators' "hands-off" policy toward youth.
"We're scared, and with good reason," said local union leader Harold Young, a 29-year guard who has worked at Marion since 2001. He says youths have the upper hand and are provoking staff members who they know have been told "hands off." Guards fear for their jobs if they confront out-of-line offenders, Young said.
"Policies and procedures don't allow you to correct these youth and make it safe. We really don't have anything that says we are in charge," he said.
Marion has 126 guards, and 20 more are being hired, but it's not enough, Young said, with the number often available for duty fewer than 90 amid injuries, sick leave, vacations and a high rate of absenteeism.
Average workweeks include 24 hours of overtime, much of it mandatory. The long hours burn out the guards as quickly as the youths, Young said. "You scream, sometimes, wanting to get out of here."
A shortage of guards endangers both employees and youths, the fact-finding report found. Twenty more will "not solve the staffing problem," Gerhardstein said.
Marion's overall youth-to-guard ratio is slightly above 12-to-1, but it increases depending upon duties such as transporting offenders out of the facility. In housing units, the ratio of youth and guards directly supervising them generally is 24-to-1.
Adding 20 guards would nudge the overall ratio closer to 10-to-1, but documents underlying the lawsuit against the state suggest a desire for an 8-to-1 ratio. "We're vastly outnumbered," Young said. "People are left working alone."
Stickrath said more help is on the way. Mandatory overtime is dropping. And the department does demand accountability of inmates and will deal with those who want to intimidate and harass the staff, he said. Guards will be supported.
But there will be "zero tolerance" toward guards who use excessive force. "Some of the videos I've seen …," Stickrath said. "My philosophy is hands-off. … We don't need to combat with the kids."
In e-mails, department officials express frustration about the inability to end gang activity.
Dion Norman, the superintendent at Marion, said department officials for the first time are "sending a message" to the gangs and gangster wannabes.
On Jan. 24, the flashing of gang signs over breakfast led to a disturbance that nearly careened out of control. More than 100 inmates ran loose in the cafeteria and courtyard, with dozens fighting for several minutes. While ultimately not needed, Marion sent out an emergency call for assistance from state troopers.
The uprising alarmed union leader Young.
"When you are talking numbers, they clearly outnumber us. If they wanted to actively take over the place, they could take over the place," he said.
In the first use of Ohio's gang law in a juvenile facility, state officials are seeking indictments to charge as many as two dozen inmates with participating in a criminal gang in hopes of packing them off to adult prisons.
The most disruptive youths also are getting new training to defuse their violence and allow them to return to the general population.
"A small amount of kids cause most of the problems," Norman said. These are, he said, tough, older, bigger kids from broken homes with little education and little hope. They are tough to turn round, he said.
"All the courts do when they send them to us is take the guns out of their hands," Norman said. "We're winning the battle; we just need more resources."
Opened in 1999, the Marion youth prison was built much like an adult prison. Federal fact-finder Cohen called it "the crown jewel in the previous administration's efforts to apply the adult corrections metaphor to juvenile corrections and DYS."
While two 24-bed units are closed because of a staff shortage, the remainder of the institution is overcrowded at about 120 percent of capacity, with one 24-bed unit recently housing 46 offenders.
The department recently announced that it's moving to release up to 200 of 1,800 statewide offenders near the end of their terms to lessen overcrowding and improve conditions.
How bad is it? Slightly more than half of the frustrated and frightened guards quit last year, and the inmates are afraid of the guards and one another.