Is it possible to quantify the amount of, or in the case of amerika’s prison industrial complex, the lack of positivity? Even in the comparative state, measured against the vast amount of hypocrisy, the lack of positivity equates to nothing less than a vacuous state of existence for the millions of men and women held in this country’s prisons and jails.
One example is when we were having conflict with a sergeant at another prison who thought it fell under his job description to shave all the prisoner’s heads on their way back from chow. While discussing the issue with the colonel, I asked if his hair cut was in compliance with what he was saying to me about what the rule states. His answer was a resounding no that he was not in compliance with their own rules. The statement was made without malice. It was to be taken as a matter of fact and not to be challenged. There is no discussion about issues. If you attempt to resolve a problem you’ll likely be punished rather than encouraged.
Of course there is no room for debate when it comes to the ambiguous nature of the language of the rules but looking at the realities of everyday prison life you can’t help but understand why the prisons and jails are full and expanding.
There is a massive drug problem in amerika’s prisons. How can that be, one might ask. Well there may be some coming in through visitors. Some. It’s a given that the prisoners are not taking furloughs out to drugs ‘r’ us. That leaves the source to be pondered. But not very long I bet. In the visitation park there is a poster with six or eight photos of presumably former corrections officers and their criminal exploits which include introduction of contraband, sexual misconduct, etc. At this prison alone there have been murders of prisoners by officers, gang batteries by officers that were surreptitiously recorded and went viral on the internet, falsification of documents to cover up these actions, and myriad other felonious acts, many that go undetected everyday. But let’s have a look at those messages that are conveyed on a much smaller scale.
For instance, smoking has been taken from prisoners as a general rule. There have been fiscal reasons cited for this prohibition – health care costs associated with smoking and so forth. Also the butts lying around, and other trash associated with smoking. But the rules put in place for officers are somewhat more obscured. It began that officers were not allowed to smoke while on the compound. They had to wait until it was their break time and walk outside the gates to smoke. Then, some prisons designated smoking areas inside the fences but away from prisoners. Now it appears there are no restrictions at all and officers are smoking within arms reach of prisoners while they are talking to them. What kind of health care savings could there be in propagating smoking cessation classes for the thirty thousand or so employees of FDC? But that’s just scratching the surface of hypocrisy.
Prisoners are not permitted to carry any food out of the chow hall. But most meals we are given less than five minutes to eat. I cannot remember the last time I was able to finish a meal. Such as they are. But one thing I do know is there are no provisions giving officers free reign of the kitchen for inmates to cook for them. I don’t know that there are overt promises made but you can bet there is some type of quid pro quo. This is commonplace in every prison I’ve been housed at. There is no doubt that when officers trade with prisoners they are breaking rules and laws but when officers trade chow hall food to prisoners that they have brought from the kitchen for favors or other products, there are messages that prisoners get, that lead them to believe something is only wrong if you don’t get caught. Or worse yet, if someone with some sort of authority lets you get away with something its OK. Did I forget to mention that we are permitted to keep food in our lockers that was purchased from commissary? Senselessness. For instance, we are able to purchase peanut butter from the canteen but we have no way to get bread for a sandwich. In the privately owned and operated prisons you can purchase these items, but not in the state facilities. So you cannot take bread or any other food from the dining hall. If you get caught, technically you can receive a citation of sorts but mainly you are made to throw it away. Imagine, throwing away food just so a person can’t eat it. I’ve asked a couple of officers about this and they are always speechless.
I have to wonder, will we ever get to the point where we will want our citizens to become better human beings after we ‘correct’ them? Will we ever provide an environment where that’s possible? We had better get on it because it’s going to take a very long wide turn to make the changes we need.