Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Idealism


Many of my fondest memories exist in the years of my late teens through mid twenties. Permeating everything back then was a strong sense of idealism as I played in a few punk rock bands, lived and backpacked around Europe, attended house parties where we would do these communal cook-outs while drinking copious amounts of wine, marches for nuclear disarmament, etc. Those days remind my of two quotes from G.B. Shaw. The first: “It’s all the young can do for the old, to shock them and keep them up to date”, and the second: “Reminiscences make one feel so deliciously aged and sad.”

Losing much of one’s idealism often does come by gaining a more thorough knowledge of things through life experiences. I suppose that’s why so many academics remain well spoken idealists as they have concealed themselves to monastic lives inside the halls of higher learning, rarely venturing beyond the books to which they contribute. I admire this in as much as I can admire someone who believes in religion – it is a perception mixed with beauty and sadness. When I finally opted to forego a return to teaching and remain a Correctional Officer, a good part of the reason why was that I wanted to do things as opposed to teaching others about the great things others have done (again, quoting Shaw: “Those who can do, those who can not teach.”).

I always thought that there was a magic in retaining a sense of idealism until I began working as a Correctional Officer in a federal maximum security prison. In Canada, any sentence of two or more years is served in a federal institution. The mantra of the Service is rehabilitation as it promotes the idea that everyone can be a law abiding citizen. Therefore, Canadian prisons pride themselves on being humane and claim only to take away an Offender’s rights of mobility. After a short time in the Service, you realise that it is like an army whose officers at the top are all people with no correctional experience and develop all the policies, then on the ground level (actually working with inmates) you have Correctional Officers who have next to no say on how things are conducted. We have had national heads of security who have never worked a day inside a prison before being given their mandate! Imagine your local paper running an ad which reads: “WANTED: General to lead combat troops on Afghan mission. University degree required. No exp. Necessary”.

I’m not making this stuff up! As an Officer we only just received the right to wear handcuffs (and we will be getting stab resistant vests in the next couple of years) which were viewed as being “detrimental to fostering a positive trusting relationships with Offenders and considered aggressive”. I work in a max and they are worried about the feelings of offenders? Some ten years ago, federal inmates were also consulted on new uniforms for guards to ensure that they weren’t too overbearing!

You see, in Canada, we want our prisons to reflect the communities that offenders will one day return to. At one time, to become an Officer, you had to pass a fitness requirement (COPAT), but, because too many people failed, it was done away with. What has really got me fired up, and thus go on this idealism rant, is that we now have a fairly large handicapped woman set to go on core training. This woman is very nice, but, due to significant leg problems, she walks like a slinky. I am not intending to be mean here, but, ultimately, the day could very well come where I am fighting for my life – literally – and this woman could be my only immediate back-up! Hundreds of Correctional Officers have been badly injured and killed in this country over the decades, and it is a possible reality that my colleagues and I face every day I step through the doors. When are we going to leave these idealistic ivory towers and get back to what is the reality of the situation? I honestly feel like screaming, as do many of my colleagues, but I realise that we are a meagre microcosm and not at the forefront of the public interest. Even the four Mounties killed in Alberta followed by the Officer killed shortly afterward in Quebec was limited in the amount of public outcry – funeral services on national TV but not a whole lot to change the root of the problem.

In my opinion, I admire the Canadian desire to see the best in people, but am discouraged by the endless limits of that compassion, especially as it appears sympathy for the Offenders supersedes that of the victims and their families. At the end of the day, we live in a democracy, but seem to refuse the obligations of becoming informed before casting votes and remaining silent.

Perhaps I’m still idealistic in that one day the people will wake up…..

14 Comments:

  • At 6:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    as the cockroach coming out of the walls, learned colleague, i agree with most of your sentiments. the public would be shocked, if they really cared. apathetically they watch you and i go by to work and say, i could never do what you do, for any money. the lack of experience from leadership would be okay if the leaders remained in ottawa. i watched them come and go at bowden; you knew a tour was coming by the amount of cleaning the inamtes did, polishing door knobs, floors, other knobs. you tried to book it that day. here at ed max surreal estate we see them less, but the managers at this level became afraid to speak up. remembering jack linklater now for his courage in giving us any weapons, movement control, input into the movement orders. today's warden gets some credit for giving you young people a gym area and not forcing me to use it. i do as well in my old shape as any of the women they have hired, and can be thrown about less easily than a 110 lb. social worker. but i have not had to fight or run for 23 tears because i use what's left of wits, which i learned from women, many of whom do very well, better than young men in dealing with dangerous fourteen-year-olds-in- twenty-four-year-old-weight-trained-bodies. you could learn from some of them, but you are right to be concerned with the number of people hired as minorities, not due to physical or personal skills. it is also hard, based on past experience, to trust managers to hire based on real suitability. turning a blind eye to the deficiencies of the guard next to you could result in a blinded eye. notwithstanding, an ounce of compassion leads to a round of communication, though again, i refer to an old guy who only left when his best friends convinced him to sleep elsewhere. night shift enhances mad rambling diatribes. sorry about that chief. for the public sharing thoughts on the blog here, correctional services is sort of like f-troop or hogan's heroes, but some real people get hurt in it. mostly copatibles who pull leg muscles or strain backs trying to work out. i won't let that happen to me; i am in training for the two or three years of retirement i am forecast to have before dying due to the after-effects of shift work. i only hope they legalize marijuana by then so i can make the time seem longer; the years 1968-1971 seemed like a century. please give to the officers' retirement benefit fund and vote for the party that really thinks green. if in 2009 you see me under the footbridge by the jogging trail, toss in a bottle of retsina, ouzo or tequila and hasten my departure to the nether world of vikings, retired, forced to choose between ellen and oprah, not allowed our proper viking burial in a boat lit up by over-proof rum, because that's not politically correct. dammit to hell, i'm sailing to vinland now. goodbye you health-freak cheapskates; i'm sailing to brazil, it's only a state of mind.

     
  • At 5:54 AM , Blogger firedawg said...

    It is a tough row to hoe being an optimistic idealist and a correctional officer. First just working for the govt. would make it hard enough but also being in a max facility well....... Being exposed to the legal system I have thoughts on the subject but like your bosses I don't know how grounded they are in reality. I do know that you should be allowed PPE for your job regardless of inmates feelings (I am assumimg they are in max for a reason). I do know that I was outraged when I heard of madame justice slamming the response of officers to a riot in the womens facility in Kingston many moons ago. I assume that many inmates are manipulators par excellence so being a trusting person may be a liability. I would think this environment would foster an us vs them, mentality. My oldest is a teacher and while I throw "those that can do.." at him, I also know that of the handful of people in my life that have made lasting impressions, the majority were teachers who cared and inspired.

     
  • At 9:00 AM , Blogger Real-E said...

    The Shaw comment is a harsh one, and I agree with you, firedawg, on how a teacher can really make a difference. If it wasn't for my grade 10 English teacher I might've chosen a vastly divergent path in life. The point of the Shaw statement is intended more to differentiate between those who pass on the greatness of others while never aspiring to do anything themselves outside of a books bindings.

    The Kingston incident is a disgrace from a PR point of view. I am a non-active IERT member and saw the tapes of this incident. The IERT in Kingston did everything to the letter in terms of CSC policy. What the media focused on were large men in black physically handling these "poor women". The facts were the women were max inmates and the rioting had gone beyond the capabilities of the women's IERT, so they called in the men from KP for back-up. Technically, lethal force would have been warranted in this situation.

    The big issue is that society is sheltered (look at the result of the Somalia incident where they disbanned the Airborne Regiment - that was completely the wrong thing to do on behalf of the government!!) and, as is the theme here, idealistic.

     
  • At 2:54 PM , Blogger auntiegrav said...

    I will always toot the local horn myself. I sympathize with you with what little experience I had as a Master at Arms on a Navy vessel. I was at least allowed to carry handcuffs and a baton. No radio. The patrols were easy, since the 'inmates' were somewhat controlled and not known lawbreakers. (Insert "Put a sailor in a round room with a stainless steel ball and he will either break it, fuck it, steal it, or lose it.") Port visits were another story, babysitting comatose Overdosed sailors strapped to tables isn't fun, and scary in a different way. Drunken riots can get ugly or can be subdued by a kind word from a friendly face at times. The maniacs you deal with should have been dealt with before they ever got to a Max, I think. Buy less, buy local, work 'em or eat 'em. Violence is a part of humanity, and when we try to hide it away so we can create little safe burbclaves of delusion, we only make it worse. Justice is blind and enforcement is usually stupid. Somewhere between lies community. If the idealists really want to prepare the inmates for the community life, they should get out of the prison and do it with the kindergarteners, not wait until the inmates have found that entrepreneurship (dope dealing) was a losing proposition for them. The root of the problem is ignorance of it. Hiding the ignored violence rather than finding an outlet for the frustrations of lives where the only fast track is through rebellion, crime and incarceration. It isn't just the idealists in prisons at fault, it is also the teachers long before the prison term who 'let them fall through the cracks' because they bullied and solidarized their status as the gatekeepers of Youth behind the System of Failed Systems known as Brick and Mortar Education.
    Cheesus, I hope that rant made sense....;-)

     
  • At 10:26 AM , Blogger Real-E said...

    I concurr, Auntiegrav. I've said it endless times: how can we spend, on average, $80,000 - 120,000 per inmate to house them in a max, yet can't muster up this kind of money for things such as hot lunch programmes in schools or extra teaching aides? It truly is a backward way to address the problem. Society needs to be proactive in so many regards, but we more or less treat the diseases but not the cause of the diseases. Until it affects someone, they aren't inclined to act. Look at Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) - a nobel organisation, but it consists of people who lost family to impaired drivers - had that not happened, then they probably would have remained plodding about in the burbs. That may sound harsh, and I know there are many well-meaning activists out there. All I am saying is that we tend to be more re-active as opposed to pro-active as a whole.

    I paid for my first undergrad degree by joining the Naval Reserve - interesting, your commentary on that. I was a Stoker and chronic seasick, and that (plus a chance to teach in Czechoslovakia) is why I left....

     
  • At 7:49 AM , Blogger firedawg said...

    Even at 120 grand a year isn't it a bargain to have these people out of society? They could easliy cost society more in the damage they would cause if they were let out. On the flip side, how many could have been deterred by having a judge actually do more then slap them on the wrist until it was too late. I see so many that have multiple breachs and fail to appears that are let back out till trial date. It's a joke. By all means give a kid a break but after 1 or 2 chances let the hammer fall. Judges aren't idiots they should be able to figure out who will be helped with a break and who needs to be taught a lesson. There is no respect for any part of the legal system. Just like driving offenses. I feel they should take the vehicle for 6 months minimum for drunk driving, no licence etc. Too many people are becoming lawless and the sooner we nip it the better. Crime prevention is so very complicated with all the different aspects involved but it has to be done. Just like the fire service it is better to prevent a fire then have to put one out.

     
  • At 9:36 AM , Blogger Real-E said...

    $120,000 is way too much in my mind. The price tag is so high largely from all the frills (satellite TV, paying $65,000 for Native Elders who do nothing - though we've had several fired for packing in drugs, paying the inmates whether they have jobs or not, claims against the crown for their stereos if they get destroyed when we have to do a cell extraction or put out a fire which the inmate himself had set...).

    As for the system itself, there should be two braches of Corrections: the Rehabilitative branch and the warehousing branch. In the former, first and possibly second time Federal Offenders should be housed with intense programming to help them reintegrate back into society. The latter should be for lifer's and those who have sereved one or two federal sentences and, as a result of their proven inability to reintegrate back into society, in effect are now there for life - no frills, bare bones and ruled with an iron fist.

    I support rehabilitation to a point. Again, this is a demonstration of how we seem more concerened with the rights of the Offender than those of their victims and society. Give them a second chance by all means, but if that fails, then that's it - LIFE. Do we, as law abiding citizens, not have the right to live as safely as possible? How can we justify the "dangerous offender" alerts we see on the news when a seriously bad inmate is released to the street, or pedophiles???

    THIS is true fire prevention to use your metaphor, no?

    Ultimately, with the warehousing, to make it work, we would need to have the Death Penalty returned for murder. As it stands now, there are no deterrents. A colleague of mine was being choked out by an inmate years back and the con said to him "I'm going to fucking kill you - what are they gonna do give me a fourth life sentence?!" This is a reality I and my colleagues face daily.

    As Buddhist, I strongly believe in being compassionate. If you look at what I've written here, you might see that compassion is really the motive behind what I have written though, on the surface, it may not seem as such.

     
  • At 2:38 PM , Blogger firedawg said...

    I agree with a dual system. Have one in the Arctic for long term, no frills, certainly no more amenities then someone on minimum wage can afford, and, you have to earn priviledges. Have the other ones set up for rehab. , paying back victims etc. Can't agree with Capital punishment though. Too much crap in the system to ever be sure. I'd rather pay then kill the wrong one. I'm pretty definite on that. I must say when I was meditating I was a much mellower person but I somehow got sidetracked. My take on Buddhism is "everything is" , acceptance of good and bad with the option to work for a perceived good if the timing is right for you. How do you reconcile the death penalty with Buddhism. I would think that although there is an acceptance of evil being done the death penalty wouldn't be something you could support? We have alleged murderers out on bail in our community and no one seems to know, I think that is unjust to us. The whole system could use a real tuneup. I do not envy you at all. I would think that dealing with these inmates all the time would be de-humanizing and certainly has to be hard on idealism, optimism, truth etc. Are you able to separate your work from your real life?

     
  • At 12:00 AM , Blogger Real-E said...

    Buddhism and the death penalty is a matter of finding a balance (remember that Buddhism is the basis of many Martial Arts which focuses on defending oneself with minimal force-but-leading-to death). The death penalty is not a punishment or a control over another, but rather the removal of a hazard (yin and yang) to allow for harmony to prevail. By removing a dangerous person from society protects those people outside of the fence, but what of those working and living inside the prison walls? In Buddhism, humans aren't necessarily above other creatures, so if we can utilise compassion to put down an ailing or dangerous animal, could not the death penalty be a mercy in itself? Imagine living life in prison, aware that you are a monster? What purpose does that suffering accomplish? Much is to to with karma as well.

    Ultimately we must find a balance between the value of life and the value of harmony.

    As for your last question, I try to separate life from work, but, working in the environment that I do, one can't help but change. I am less trusting, not really freaked out by much in terms of gore and hate to have my back to a room. Many occupations are jobs, but one tends to become, in many aspects, a Guard...

     
  • At 8:10 AM , Blogger firedawg said...

    As always you have given me lots to think about. Play safe. Do you have any recommended websites on Buddhism? Thanks Greg

     
  • At 9:45 AM , Blogger Real-E said...

    Hey firedawg, I've not checked out a whole lot of Buddhist stuff on the Web. Two books that I'd recommed are: Thich Nhat Hahn's "The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching" - this is well written, easy to read and not the least bit flaky. The Second book, "Hardcore Zen" is by a guy named Brent Warner who, like myself, is an old punk rocker who presents and alternative but well founded and intelligent take on Buddhism. There's al lot of flakey and fluffy crap out there, but you won't go wrong if you were to pick up these two...

     
  • At 9:45 AM , Blogger auntiegrav said...

    The 'right' to life is one granted by society. Nature only grants the right to try. When one chooses not to be part of society by living outside of acceptable behavior, then they give up their rights granted by society. It is a quid-pro-quo for the future of the species, not some mamby-pamby blind-faith idea that all people should be protected all the time. By the same token, everyone has a responsibility to their community to do whatever it takes to improve their locale so that crime doesn't pay as well as living within society. When we outlaw everything, we only create a market for things at higher prices, and thus, more criminals. (including government which exploits the price-point marketing of 'tickets' in order to raise revenue)
    Work 'em or Eat 'em. Just like horses, dogs, cattle, wildlife. Find a useful purpose or get rid of them.

    A friend once had the idea that prisoners should be used to build new prisons, right next to the one they are in. Then blow them up in the old one. From a sustainability standpoint......hmmmmm.

    Personally, I favor the old 'transportation' method of the Victorians. Only they never get there. Put enough on an old aircraft carrier to fill it up, give them provisions, and if they develop a lawful society which can survive for a couple of years, let them land someplace. If not, sink it.

    The idea that we can't make any mistakes with the death penalty is completely out of proportion. By that reasoning, we would never issue driver licenses to teenagers. Too risky that someone innocent is going to be killed? Come on. Get a grip on the statistical realities of life. As long as we are burning Arab oil, someone is getting killed over it. As long as a process can be exploited, some liberal 'non'-profit organization will make the process even longer. Some death penalties might need to be retroactive to the parents.

     
  • At 1:41 PM , Blogger Real-E said...

    We're on the same page here, Auntigrav! Another thing with "wrongful convictions" is that the indited individual is usually known to authorities and thus becomes a suspect in the first place. The only point I disagree with is that life is granted by society. I don't think life is a right persay, but the product of previous actions/reactions. Beyond that it is a matter of survival. Society is an agreement of legality.

    Again I do not advocate cruelty or revenge, but rather if we can justify killing in regards to defend our state from invasion or shoot coyotes for endangering a famer's livestock, then why can't we apply the same to those who molest children or run in gangs? Are they not a threat? Cetainly capital punishment is not perfect, but we must have a serious look at the present system (and I'm speaking from a Canadian perspective here as some places do have the death penalty).

     
  • At 4:45 PM , Blogger firedawg said...

    I still think we can segregate these people from society. Killing the sick, disadvantaged, etc. doesn't serve either the legal or justice system. Should we ever come up with a way to read minds then perhaps we could differentiate between capital and non-capital murder. The conviction and death sentence of Steven Truscott was a major travesty of Canadian justice, esp. as many in the town knew or suspected who the real killer was. He was quietly transferred out. You are right that others have been petty crooks who have been wrongly convicted, but should we kill someone for being a pain in the ass? I still think our safest bet right now is to construct camps in the Arctic, even if we only put those who "should" be executed there.

     

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