The old adage is that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is never truer than in prison. I have encountered very few employees of the MDOC that I could honestly say cared about anything more than their jobs. Not doing their jobs well, just keeping them. Actions speak louder than words and the way some of the COs yell that’s saying something.
An example of a CO that is not treating inmates with respect is when they get on the PA and call for you by saying, “Hay get up here!” They use profanity and humiliation to publicly denigrate inmates. Using strong arm tactics, such as tearing up a person’s property when doing a shake down and taking property such as TVs as contraband in retaliation for a perceived slight.
Food service workers that would rather throw food away then feed a little extra to the inmates that work in the chow hall. Supervisors that refuse to write work reports with a perfect score, on the principle that we’re convicts. Medical staff that put company profits ahead of providing life-saving health care service. Vendors that make huge profits off of those who can least afford it.
From the inmates’ perspective it is really easy to be cynical about attitudes when those who have been entrusted with the care and feeding of inmates treat them worse than dogs at the pound. People who are always looking for an angle are jaded about the motives of others. Respect and the lack there of is a central premise of the prison culture. Inmates can spot a fake a mile away. Sincerity, truth, and information are of great value and in short supply. The few MDOC staff members that have these elusive qualities are respected. For the rest animosity, antagonism, a never-ending game of cat and mouse, with scores to settle and vendettas that result in guys going to the hole and COs getting hurt.
What is needed most by people who have received so little of it in their lives is having someone care about them as a person. To see them as more than a number and a pay check. To see them succeed, to go home and never come back. Once that happens, then maybe inmates will listen a little more carefully to what they are being taught in school and programming. Maybe they’ll be more cooperative with the system instead of being hell bent on destroying it from the inside.
I am not naive to think it will cure all the problems and that the hostility of people being held against their will, will go away. But would it really hurt those who work for the MDOC to start treating inmates as people? To do their jobs conscientiously with the goal of treating inmates as customers or patients instead of merchandise that is simply warehoused and shipped from place to place. We may be damaged goods, but we need help to put us back together, not to be thrown on the junk pile and discarded.
As human beings we are composed of bodies, souls, and spirits that require a lot of nurturing. The resources required to this are not cheap, but the fact is that prison as it currently exists causes more harm than good. It is failing to do the one job it is entrusted to do- that is to protect society by rehabilitating those who have been deemed unfit for a civil society. It is unfortunate that people end up in prison. An ounce of prevention is worth more and certainly costs less than a pound of cure.
But until the legislature and the general public are willing to pay the true cost of meeting the goal of reducing crime by addressing the root causes they are stuck instead paying for the cure. Don’t let it be money just flushed down the toilet, but rather well spent by corrections professionals who act the part and take their jobs seriously and care about making a difference.