Maurice Carter was freezing!
I was granted special permission to visit him in his hospital room at the Duane L. Waters medical facility, a part of the Michigan prison system. He was in the final stages of Hepatitis C, and eventually would have his sentence commuted for medical reasons. But right now, he was fully clothed in a hospital bed, locked up in tiny, grey room.
“Can’t you get another blanket, Maurice?”
“Well, I asked for one.”
An unconcerned corrections officer, assigned to guard Maurice so he wouldn’t try to escape, paid no attention. I don’t know if Maurice ever got his blanket. That was back in 2004.
I’d forgotten about that incident until I chatted with a guy who recently had visited a Michigan prison psych unit while on special assignment. He explained that it was exceptionally cold in there. As he left the facility, he tried making conversation with an officer who was bundled up in his own coat. My friend kidded him about staying warm. The guard saw no reason for discussion, and had a curt response. “These guys are prisoners,” he said. “You think we’re going to do anything to make them comfortable?”
Under different circumstances, I could hear Jesus saying, “I was cold in prison and you gave me a blanket,” or, “you turned up the heat.”
This summer, it’ll be a different story. There’ll be reports during the warm weather months of extreme heat in prisons, also resulting in serious discomfort.
The issue isn’t hot or cold temps. It’s defining what we hope to accomplish. Are we here to punish, or are we here to rehabilitate?
I’m reading impressive numbers about a reduction of the recidivism rate here in Michigan, due to some positive program improvements. Director Heidi Washington and her administration are to be commended for this.
But attitude trickle-down is equally important. If Director Washington’s goal is rehabilitation, the wardens whom she appoints will also reflect that attitude. And with common-sense wardens in place, officers under them will soon get a clear picture as to the attitude and atmosphere that are expected. It’s not going to happen overnight. But if we can improve the recidivism rate, we can also improve the departmental attitude. And that could and should improve the comfort rate.
Encouraging, or even simply allowing, discomfort because “these are just prisoners” is not acceptable.
I tell you the truth. Whatever you did for the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.
Cold temperatures, cold attitudes, cold comments…they all hit my hot button.