Marcia’s advice to our kids when they were growing up: It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice!
I was sitting in the lobby of a prison on the other side of the state when an elderly black man walked in…must have been in his 80s, dressed in his Sunday best. He had been driven to the prison all the way from Detroit for his regular visit with his son. But there was a problem. While being checked in at the desk, he discovered that he had left his picture ID back home on the dresser. You can’t get in without legal identification.
It was a sad situation, because staff members knew him…he was a regular visitor. He had credit cards and other things that bore his name. But, no legal ID. And the officer at the desk wouldn’t budge. His heart broken, the old man was sent home. At his age, and in his state of health, who knew if he would even get another chance to see his son?
As mentioned in our last blog, Diane went to the Michigan Prison health clinic in Jackson to visit her son, terminally ill with cancer. You’d have to see it to believe it, but the glassed-in visiting area in this hospital setting, mind you, consists of metal benches---yes benches---without backs. Her son is seriously ill, and soon his back was aching after a short stint on this seat with no backs and no arm-rests. Diane had a simple request. Could the officer please just bring a wheelchair, or a simple chair with arm-rests? Nope. That, she was told, would take an order from a doctor. In less than an hour, the patient had to return to his room. The visit cut short. Who knew if she would even get another chance to see her son?
While these scenes are typical, and maddening, I do not quickly blame the Michigan Department of Corrections’ top officials.
Retired Warden Mary Berghuis says that former MDOC Director Pat Caruso “…always admonished us that we all got paid enough to use good judgment.” I’m convinced that Director Heidi Washington feels the same way.
But that’s not enough. The Department needs to clearly establish a policy of using good judgment, because there’s a percentage of corrections officers who believe that prisoners are there to be punished and are not to be coddled and deserve no special consideration.
There’s statistical proof that visits are beneficial. In that only about 12% of Michigan prisoners even receive visits, that percentage deserves to be protected. Visitation enhances rehabilitation. Visitation lowers the rate of reoffending.
If rehabilitation and lowering the prison popular are among the goals of our state prison system, common sense and compassion must be factored in to the equation.
Sooner, rather than later.
“Compassion is the basis of morality.”
― Arthur Schopenhauer
― Arthur Schopenhauer