Monday, July 10, 2017

The writer of Proverbs, with advice for prison visitors and staff

Dan Rooks shares great ideas with Michigan prisoners on the topic of nonviolent communication. Sometimes I think he should hold similar workshops for their families and friends.

Dan is a clinical psychologist, who formerly chaired our Board of Directors.  He and I have made numerous presentations in Michigan prisons. In this program he gives practical suggestions on ways to avoid conflict in communications. The prisoners love it.

I bring up the topic because I just received a nice note from the wife of an inmate.  She travels some distance to see her husband, taking along tiny tykes. It’s challenging.  She and the warden of this facility have established a very civil dialog on visitation issues, especially those that involve families with small children, and this friendly discussion has actually resulted in improvement.

After her last visit, she sent a message to the warden thanking the prison staff for their prompt and courteous manner of handling bathroom breaks for a 4-year-old, thanking the prison for providing additional plastic trays for use with food vending machines, and thanking the facility for providing some new games and toys in the visiting room to help keep the kids occupied.

She wisely copied the Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections with her email message, and she promptly received a personal note of thanks from the Director!

Now let’s be real, here. I can assure you that all of Tiffany’s visits with her husband, accompanied by little munchkins, won’t be perfect. There’s a good chance she’ll be treated kindly and with respect.  BUT, if she is not, there’s a good chance that the Warden will listen when she files a complaint. All of this simply because of her attitude.

We receive a lot of visitation complaints.  I suspect there's blame on both sides. Regardless of who launches the attack, when one side snaps at the other you can bet that the opposing side will snap back. Things don’t improve from that point on, and they don’t get forgotten when it comes to future visits.

I can give you the names of lifers who’ve been in prison for 40 years and have not had one ticket.  I can give you the names of young smart-asses who showed up in prison shooting off their mouths from the very beginning, and who file grievances and complaints on a regular basis, because they’re “not treated fairly.” They can’t seem to get along with peers or staff, and they’re getting tickets one after the other. Any wonder why?

There’s no magic solution to cover all situations, but prisoners, their visitors, and prison staffers would do well to heed these words from Proverbs:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.

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