I always cringe when I hear a member of the Michigan Parole Board question an inmate about tickets. A ticket is what happens when a prisoner gets written up for some kind of infraction. The Parole Board doesn't like to hear about tickets. And so, when an inmate appears before a board member for an interview, or during a public hearing, the issue of tickets invariably gets brought up. Board members love to refer to an inmate who has been in for 40 years and hasn't had one ticket. It's interesting to note that the ticket-free inmate, however, is still behind bars.
I cringe because I hear so many stories about ridiculous tickets.
It goes back to the days of my friend Maurice Carter. A friend owed him a debt, while in prison. The friend worked in the kitchen. So, he paid off his debt to Maurice with an onion. That seems harmless enough, but one isn't supposed to be walking around in prison with an onion. Could be dangerous. So Maurice was written up.
One would think that tickets should be for genuine misconduct...but prison guards can put their own spin on it, and use their own definition of misbehavior.
In Ypsilanti, an ornery prison guard who was fed up with the complaints about a shortage of bathrooms during remodeling finally warned the women: "Anyone who complains about having to go to the bathroom during my shift will be written up." Does having to pee sound like misconduct to you?
We just received word from the family member of a prisoner in the frigid UP. Her man got written up for wearing two sets of gloves. The prison-issue gloves are pathetically thin and inadequate. All he wanted to do was keep his hands warm. Nope. An infraction. Against the rules.
Recently one of our female friends who is a hairdresser for other inmates in her facility got written up for cutting hair. That's what she does for a few extra pennies. She had no idea that such activity wasn't allowed at that particular moment in that particular place...never heard of the rule before. Makes no difference. Ticket time.
Prisoners have often told us of getting tickets for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You're just not supposed to be in some areas of the prison, I guess...and if by mistake you happen to show up there, by golly you're misbehavin.'
The Parole Board members and the Attorney General's corrections lawyer are correct in showing concern about tickets. But they would do well to also consider that there may be more than one side to the story.