Which side are you on?

Posted: February 5, 2009 in prison, general
Tags: , ,

There have been changes up at the prison lately. There’s a new custody officer (CO, and he’s got new rules for both volunteers and inmates. We’re all trying to adjust.  Our procedures for processing into the prison have changed, and we have to end our group earlier because the guys must, MUST, be lined up for movement by 8:45 every night — not a minute after. We used to be able to stand and mingle for a bit after the workshop until the guys were called to go, but no more. The new CO doesn’t not appreciated chit-chat apparently. Just when we had gotten comfortable and familiar with the guards we normally see, now there is this new personality to take into consideration.

The inmates don’t seem particularly fond of this new guy, but then the relationship between inmates and custody officers is tenuous at best. The COs that seem to do the best are those that can some manage to insist on respect and obedience from the guys without being a prick about it. I’m not actually sure how some of them manage to do it, but they do. This new guy hasn’t quite figured it out yet, and it’s possible figuring out how to establish a good interpersonal relationships with the guys isn’t really his goal at all. I understand he has a job to do. A hard job at that. He’s obviously clear about what “side” he’s on and that may make him feel like his job is easier to do. Or, maybe it is just about power. Pretty much everything on the inside is about who has it and whose trying to get more of it.

This tension between COs and inmates can be difficult for volunteers. The guys want to vent to us about their frustrations over how they are being treated, but we have to have a good relationship with the COs in order to continue to come do our work. Piss off one CO and he can make a quick call to the community programs coordinator and that could be it, or program is out. They are overworked and understaffed and don’t have time or patience to deal with difficult volunteers, or volunteers they feel are working against them in terms of their relationships with the inmates. And they can define “difficult” any ol’ way they want. So the guys want us to be their allies and the COs expect us to act as employees of the department. It’s tricky, and it’s sometimes hard to know who is trying to manipulate us more, but in a system built on the concept that certain individuals have absolute power over others in order to protect the safety of all (and I’m not saying it’s a good system, but it’s what we are working in), is it any wonder its not clear which side you should be on?

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