I was speaking to a group of senior citizens on a college campus, and I was not very complimentary in my comments about some corrections officers. I was telling stories about some officers employed by the Michigan Department of Corrections who seem to feel that their position entitles them to be rude and demeaning to inmates…sometimes even cruel and abusive.
I told of an officer who knew one of the old guys had a huge, terribly sensitive bulge below his belly because of a hernia. As he passed the old boy in chow line he stopped, and asked him if it was true that he had a hernia. Mac agreed that it was, indeed, the truth. “I don’t believe it,” the guard responded. “Drop your pants and show me.” The prisoner had no choice than to be humiliated in front of all the guys in line. The officer allowed that he certainly did have a hernia, then gave the tender bulge a jab with his finger, and walked away laughing.
I shared a few other similar horror stories.
At the conclusion of my presentation, I left time for comments. A very polite, well-dressed, well-spoken woman in the audience raised her hand. In the kindest of words this matronly spokesperson cautioned me about painting with a broad brush when describing corrections officers. “My son is a CO in the Michigan prison system,” she explained. “He has a college degree, he has a conscience, and he took on this job as his mission in life. He's a good officer!”
I’m reminded of that experience that occurred a year go right now, as I’m opening an email message from a prisoner, a friend of ours, who is experiencing serious physical problems that I shall not describe in this column…they are far too complicated, too personal, too private. Anyway, here is his message to Matt and me:
First I want to let you know that 3 of the officers here at Parnall Correctional Facility saved my life on 5-15-16 at 2 AM. I was bleeding really bad and I was semi –unconscious. An officer did her round and saw the excessive blood on my sheets and contacted the other correctional staff. I was then sent to the prison ER. I would like for you to acknowledge them directly so I can present it to them. It was these correctional officers: CO Mr. Wilt, CO Mr. Slicker, and the one who found me was CO Ms. Thouin. No disrespect, but most officers don’t even care to look to see if we are alive. I’m in a single man room so nobody would have known. PLEASE write me back and acknowledge them (all 3). It means a great deal.
So we’re doing that right now, publicly, on behalf of our friend Kevin. And in doing so, we pay tribute to many fine officers in the system who have a conscience, who recognize that inmates are also created in the image of God, and who do their best to treat them in a humane manner. Theirs is not an easy job, and many times not very pleasant, either.
A copy of this blog will not only be sent to Kevin, but also to the Warden at his facility, and to the Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections.
I conclude with this sentence from a historic prayer in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:
Remember those who work in these institutions; keep them humane and compassionate; and save them from becoming brutal or callous.