I had a conversation with a corrections officer this weekend and, as usual with him, I walked away agreeing with most of the things he was saying. Most of them. To agree with any staff member in a prison is against the unwritten, bullshit riddled convict code. Hell, to even talk to them would be too. But I am a citizen serving time as an errant. A problem to be fixed and then returned to a standardized, functional, pro social life. One who values the idea that my contributions to society support and foster values dedicated to public safety. I’m here because I was convicted for effing that up along the way. But back to my point with my conversation…

This particular CO is the guy 90% of inmates complain about. He requires things of them. Mostly compliance, and if an inmate is really out of line, correction. To me, that’s why he’s here. He has been doing this since 1994 and has grown gifted at challenging people. For those that never had structure in their life, the challenge seems offensive. Given enough challenges, at some point they may rise to the occasion and get right. For me and those like me, its a call to work harder at being more productive. And he’s fair. He’ll eat his own if he sees a problem with staff, too. Even if he’s seen as pain in the ass, he’s consistent and fair. For the guy who grew up doing dope with his mom or robbing houses with his dad (let’s face it, these homes were screwed), he requires something that they’ve never had required of them. Standards.

An idea he had rang like a bell to me. From the way he said it, it was the way things used to be, but he said that if an inmate has no program (job, school, self help), they were not allowed to hangout in the day rooms. They only get that privilege if they are working on bettering themselves. DEAL! I’m in and agree totally. Most of prison bullshit happens when the idle hands have no direction. When people have nothing real to lose, they have no problem giving everything away to bad behaviors. As a dear friend of mine says, “If God would have made me a better engineer, I would be better capable of building bridges to my future. Instead, I got a prison sentence to figure this shit out.” While opportunities for programming is a seperate issue, the idea of structure, discipline, incentive and correction all go hand in hand. And rightly so.

It really only works if there is a consistency in the staffing. If expectations are known and on the table and the inmates can find the discipline in it that they never had from a broken home or a free wheeling life, it works. As for the staff member I referenced, he’s a hardass… but he’s fair and his expectations never waiver. You know what you get with him around and guys perform the required behaviors. If they don’t, he corrects it. Period. And for all his rigidness, he has an ability to connect to many inmates. One might even say he has a sense of humor. But the one thing he has, that a lot more of is needed, is consistency. I’m ok with him being hard but fair. At least I know his expectations.

by Rory Andes

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