Hell is a Prison Guard / Page 1 of 4
HELL IS A PRISON GUARD
Let me begin by saying that MOST prison guards and staff who work in correctional institutions are decent and respectable people. The majority of staff accept that their position is simply a job, a means of employment by which to provide for their family and their household.
They want no part in the propagation of the cruel brutality that Prison tends to distribute generously to its captives. The majority of staff just want to do their 8-hours and go home. And that's the way it should be.
The problem is that the majority do not rule in Prison. This is not a democracy. This is an oligarchy of hellhounds, where the chief king and his colleagues thrive on enforcing the medieval science of punishment and savage discipline.
As maximum-security prisoners, we routinely gauge the good/bad ratio of how any particular day will go simply by asking one question— "Who's working?" When you find out that you have a guard working that shift, who is respectful, fair and will treat you like a human being with a brain and a beating heart, your entire body relaxes. The atmosphere calms and there is more of a predictable rhythm to lean on for the remainder of the day. But when the Super
Cranks are working, the air thickens, bodies clench, time grinds to a tortured crawl and everyone prepares for some variant of bullshit that is bound to hit the floor. The Super Crank is a prison guard who practices a form of executive bullying, where the Inmate is subjected to the volatile whims of the guard's enforcement and interpretation of the rules. The Super Crank treats each captive as if he has just committed his crime seven hours ago. He wants prisoners to suffer. Every day. He wants prison to be a dark, depressing and debilitating place. The
Super Crank will antagonize and deliberately deprive you of even the most basic humane treatment. A roll of tissue. A piece of paper. Mail from your ailing daughter. He will bargain these simple items against you just to see you suffer.
A number of years ago, I was in the hole, under a Temporary Lock-Up status (I wasn't allowed out of the cell for anything). I wasn't in the hole for violating any disciplinary rules, I was there "for investigative purposes". Somehow, my name came up on the top of a list of
Hell is a Prison Guard / Page 2 of 4 guys who were allegedly attempting to orchestrate a riot. So there I was in the hole, confined to a cell 24-hours per day, and I was completely out of tissue. I asked a guard, who passed by the cell, for a roll of tissue. First, he told me, "I'll get it later" A few hours later, I reminded this same guard about the tissue. He then said, "You have to wait until Thursday. when you're supposed
Thursday is to get supplies from the cart." THURSDAY!? it was Tuesday. And for what rational reason was I expected to wait another two days just to get tissue? I mean, not to be crass, but what was I supposed to wipe my ass with? It's not like I was sitting in there being frivolous and making paper mache dolls out of the stuff. I had simply run out of what I had been given. The guard walked by a third time, and I attempted to reason with him, explaining that I had just came to the hole a couple days ago, and this was my first time ever asking for tissue. He ignored me. Completely, totally ignored me. And this was the point where a lot guys in the hole would fly of the handle, act like an animal, bang on the door, nonstop, yelling and being as loud and obnoxious as possible, until the guard relented and brought some tissue or until the guard decided the prisoner was being disruptive and chose to bring in the 'goon squad' to subdue the raging animal with leg and wrist restraints tethered to a slab of concrete.
I chose another route— I simply waited until a different shift of guards came on, hoping that one would understand my plight to be treated like a living, breathing human being. I got lucky.
The very next shift I explained my predicament to a different guard and she brought me a roll of tissue within 10 minutes. Animal rage avoided. Peace and Humanity restored.
The French writer & philosopher, Jean Paul Sarte wrote: "Hell is other people." This is the dynamic that plays out every single day in prison. Hell can be a prison guard. The Super
Crank prison guard can turn a simple item, like a roll of tissue, into something that could ignite a riot. The concept of prison as a building with bars and walls and razor wire and rows of electric fences— this is the rational part of prison. I can manage being confined as a means of social discipline. Most guys can accept that they're locked-up as a consequence of breaking the law. But the concept of Prison that is difficult to reconcile with the primary objectives of rehabilitation is when staff members, the Super Cranks, the petulant prison guards, are permitted to create a burning hell of their own personal choosing. Why is this allowed? Why are the Super Cranks promoted to supervisory positions, where they are likely to create a culture of abuse and mistreatment? Why is the corrupt concept of prison, where prisoners are abused/mistreated and guards act like state-sanctioned gangs, so freely accepted as the
Hell is a Prison Guard / Page 3 of 4 norm? This shouldn't be the socially acceptable. It shouldn't take a federal lawsuit filed by an unlettered prisoner to force and compel prison staff to provide him with the most basic human rights available. But this is the everyday of prison. Within the past five years, I've settled two federal lawsuits against prison staff, where they blatantly violated my basic rights as a human being. In both cases the prison staff refused to follow their own written rules.
Just a few months ago, I had an experience that could've very easily sent me to the hole for something that I was NOT doing wrong. I was in the dayroom playing chess with another guy. We were situated at a metal table, which has four stools/seats— one seat on each side of the table. He was sitting. I was standing. For about 30 minutes, I was standing while playing chess without any incident or concerns being raised. Suddenly, the young prison guard came over to me and told me to "Sit down." I asked him why. He said that I'm supposed to be seated when at the table. I explained that, according to the institution rule handbook, I'm allowed to stand. He then threatened me with a disciplinary action if I didn't sit down immediately. If I would've stood on principle, because I was in the right- the written rules stated that I was allowed to stand at the table -regardless, I would've been thrown in the hole for Disobeying
Orders and Disruptive Conduct. So I sat down. But as I sat and continued to play chess, I asked the guard to point out, in the rule handbook, where it states that I have to be seated because I was unclear on whether the rule had been changed or not. He assured me that it is in the handbook and he would find it for me. So while I'm sitting and playing chess, I can see, out the corner of my eye, the young guard frantically flipping through the pages of the handbook. About 10 minutes pass and I look back towards the guard, he had placed the handbook back in the drawer of the officer's desk. "Did you find it?" I asked him from across the dayroom. He fumbled for the handbook again and approached me. "It says that you're not supposed to be standing." "No," I politely corrected him, "it says that if there are four people at the table, a FIFTH person is not allowed to stand at the table. There's only two people at this table." I then flipped to the section of rules that explained this in the book, pointed to it and asked him to read it. He read it over, closed the book, then said "Well, the lieutenant told me to tell you guys to sit down or he was canceling dayroom." And just that fast, it wasn't about the actual rules anymore, it was about some Super Crank supervisor improperly instructing his rookie officer to enforce a rule that did not exist. This could've easily ignited a volatile situation in the dayroom that afternoon. I've seen countless minor situations just like that quickly spiral
Hell is a Prison Guard / Page 4 of 4 out of control, where a prisoner, rebelling in response to an act of injustice, is pepper-sprayed, or shocked with 50,000 volts from a taser gun, or outright beaten by guards.
People may read this and think that I should've just sat down when I was told to and not made a big deal out of it. But it's bigger than just about being told to sit down at a table. It's about the principle of legitimacy. Rules have to mean something. If we, as prisoners, are expected to respect and follow authority then that authority must be consistent and predictable.
When there is a cluster of people who work in prison, as authority figures, who are allowed to ignore and blatantly disregard their own rules, then that will only create chaos and turmoil. And it does absolutely nothing to serve the primary goal of rehabilitation.
Legitimate rehabilitation requires a consistent and predictable atmosphere. When hiring guards and prison staff, there needs to be more of an emphasis placed on what is the prospective employee's perspective of rehabilitation. If they show characteristics of being antagonistic (a Super Crank), then they shouldn't be hired. And if they are hired, there needs to be genuine checks and balances put in place to prevent them from being promoted into supervisory positions.
Furthermore, the corrupt concept of prison can no longer be accepted as the norm. If
I'm in here to improve my behavior and state-of-mind, then the environment has to support and foster such an outcome. Corrupt and antagonistic staff members do absolutely nothing to foster personal growth. Not only do these type of staff create more tension and unnecessary altercations within the housing units and cell blocks that we live in, but they also create much more liability for the state (in terms of civil litigation). Under a basic cost-benefit analysis, a
Super Crank, antagonistic prison guard does much more harm to the overall prison environment.
I encourage people to get into the corrections industry for the right reasons- to actually help guys in prison legitimately improve their lives. And sometimes all it takes is for a staff member to consistently treat us like living, breathing human beings.
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