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Crime and Punishment

Prison Life in the U.S. and the Responsibility of the State


By Les Blough. Axis of Logic
Axis of Logic
Wednesday, Feb 16, 2011
A guard [1] at the Macon State Prison in Oglethorpe, Georgia wrote the following
in response to our republication of Biggest Prison Protest In History Underway
In Georgia (December, 2010).
"to anyone reading this post the inmatess rights this and that,these peole h
ave murdered, raped,kidnap ped,sotomized so on and so on.this is not a countrycl
ub nor a holiday in shut up you did the crime now do the time.the families that
were victomized would also want things back the way they were before they got ri
pped apart by those convicts.i will tell you this nothing ever happened to them
inmates that wasnt justified.the inmates have attacked the staff,jack on the fem
ale staff all actions were appropiriate for the situation.these so called friend
s and family members are bringing in contraband every weekend keep these cons so
doped up that we can hardley do our job i could go on and on but im a law abidi
ng citizen that wishes to let these animals have this prison crap so have no mer
sy on these animals."
The response to this "guard at macon state" and his subsequent reply are include
d in the author's notes below this article.[2] Included here is an excerpt:
"My guess is that you grew up in a poor, underprivileged family, surrounded
by criminal activity, without the opportunities enjoyed by the wealthier classes
. As a result, you obtained the highest possible paying job available to someone
with your background and education. That's not your fault either. That error is
the responsiiblity of the State of Georgia. The state violates its responsibili
ty every day by hiring people like you and then brainwashing them into thinking
the way you think. This results in the abuse of prisoners, the high recidivism r
ate, a country with the highest prison population in the world and a society tha
t is ever more plunged into violence and criminality. It also results in a socie
ty that is more and more subjected to a Police State where citizens are losing t
heir constitutional rights faster than snow can melt on a sunny day."
"Now please do not make the mistake of thinking that I am speaking down to y
ou. I came from a poor background and I worked in 2 state prisons (Tennessee and
Pennsylvania) as a prison guard, transportation officer and counselor for a tot
al of 8 years. I have been eye-witness to guards humiliating, beating and even m
urdering prisoners simply because they didn't like a particular prisoner or the
prisoner didn't do their bidding - even when the guards' demands were illegal."
(entire response and the guard's reply are provided in the author's notes below)
.
The Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) for which the guard above works is o
ne of the largest prison systems in the United States. Their Macon Prison was bu
ilt in 1993, opened in 1994 and has a prison population (capacity) of 1,506 men.
The Georgia DOC describes the security level at the Macon State Prison as "clos
e," and states that the mission of this prison is to:
"Ensure public safety and effectively house offenders while operating a safe
and secure facility by housing close security offenders."
The prison is comprised of "eight buildings each divided into two separate units
with 48 cells per unit. One building's unit houses 46 isolation beds & two safe
cells and the other unit houses 48 double occupancy cells (2 men to a cell) of
segregation beds. Ten additional beds are at the Fire Station."
Professional Services Available at the Macon State Prison
On their website, the Georgia DOC describes the following services available to
their prisoners:
Academic: GED, ABE, LRR, and ESOL
Counseling: Corrective Thinking, Family Violence, T4C, TOPPSTEP/Pre-Release,
Morale Reconation Therapy, Reasoning & Rehab, Faith & Character Based Program D
orm, Heads Up, P4L, and M4C
Recreation: General Recreation, Arts & Crafts
Religious Activities: Worship Services, Marriage Enrichment, & Purpose Drive
n Life
Vocational/OJT: Computer Operations, Horticulture, Food Service, Barbering,
Laundry, Custodial Maintenance, Career Clerk, and General/Office Clerk Library &
Education
Sounds good, doesn't it?
Well, at least it looks good. U.S. prisons are notoriously understaffed for non-
security services like those boasted by state governments like of Georgia and no
t all prisoners are free to use them as they want. The quality of prison service
s like these depend upon the workload and training of the providers and the hiri
ng standards of prison administrators.
Employment Requirements for Correctional Officers
The guard's comment below (he refers to himself as a "guard"[1]) reflects the hi
ring standards of most U.S. state prisons. The Georgia DOC states that it requir
es guards to take a "Post Entrance Exam" for employment. "Post Entrance" suggest
s there is a screening process before the test is taken. They require a minimum
score of 430 on the SAT for employment as a prison guard.[3] In 2010 applicants
for enrollment at the University of Georgia with scores of 500 in reading and 4
90 in writing were at the bottom 25% of all applicants.[4]
The State's responsibility to protect prisoners
According to the American Bar Association, the state has responsibility for the
personal protection and safety of prisoners in their custody[5]:
"Correctional authorities should protect prisoners from physical injury, cor
poral punishment, sexual assault, extortion, harassment, and personal abuse, amo
ng other harms ... promptly separating prisoners when one may be in danger from
another; preventing staff from tolerating, condoning, or implicitly or explicitl
y encouraging fighting, violence, bullying, or extortion; regularly assessing pr
isonersâ level of fear of violence and responding accordingly to prisonersâ concerns."
Obviously, the state's hiring, training and supervisory practices are essential
to those standards being met. We posit that the Georgia DOC cannot possibly meet
these standards for personal safety, given their standards for hiring and train
ing their "correctional officers." Their failure to meet those standards may be
reflected in the alleged abuse of prisoners by the seven correctional officers i
n December. At that time, the demands of the prisoners, state-wide, and Georgia'
s DOC reaction to them were described by The Nation Magazine:
"In Augusta State Prison, six or seven inmates were brutally ripped from the
ir cells by CERT Team guards and beaten, resulting in broken ribs for several me
n, one man beaten beyond recognition. This brutality continues there. At Telfa
ir, the Tactical Squad trashed all the property in inmate cells. At Macon State
, the Tactical Squad has menaced the men for two days, removing some to the â hole,â and
the warden ordered the heat and hot water turned off."
Prison Subculture
Acts of loyalty, heroism, enmity, love, betrayal, compassion, violence, dominanc
e & submission and many more occur every day in U.S. prisons and no doubt, in mo
st prisons throughout the world. Prison life is a subculture. Everything that ha
ppens in "the free world" - is compressed and intensified - in a facility contai
ning in this case, 1500 men. When I was working in prisons, inmates have teased
me with, "Hey, we have everything you have except for women," and in their own
way, they had their "women" too.
Admin rankings: Inmates are officially ranked by prison administrators, minimum,
medium, maximum security, solitary confinement, safe cells, solitary confinemen
t, population and "the hole."
Inmate rankings: Prisoners also rank themselves. I'm sure the terms have changed
since I worked in prison but the groupings are no doubt the same: those who are
"short" (short sentences or about to be released), lifers, conmen, crazies, hit
men, joint men, junkees, trustees, prison wolves, sex offenders, biker gangs, s
treet gangs, bagmen, muslims, jitterbugs (young black men), dirty white boys, da
ddies and their punks, jockers, bitches, jailhouse lawyers and inmates who are
respected for their education or intelligence.
Commerce: Prisoners have their own inside economies. Most inmates have one kind
of a hustle or another - a way of making "money". In the 70's a pack of cigarett
es was a dollar ... in 2011?? Hustles were often creative and could include serv
ices like sewing, watch repair, medical treatment (e.g. stitching up a wound), l
etter writing, artist drawings, selling sandwiches (esp kitchen workers), making
and selling hootch (homemade liquor), sex and protection rackets, legal service
s, extortion, selling information (office workers sell info from prison files an
d intel men sell information on other inmates), drugs, sex, tattoos, shanks (hom
emade knives) and other weapons, porn, stolen materials like paint, metal, wood,
clothing and on and on.
The Role of Guards in U.S. State Prisons
Associated Press, Jan 22, 2011 - The Georgia DOC suspended seven prison guards a
t the Macon State Prison last December due to allegations that they abused inmat
es during a prison lockdown. They were suspended with pay pending the outcome of
an investigation. The state locked down four Georgia prisons in December for fi
ve days after discovering inmates were launching a protest to seek better work a
nd living conditions. Inmates have alleged that guards used violence to get them
out of their cells and back to work during that time. (Photo Courtesy of Ken_Ma
yer via Flickr.)
More important than the limited relationships inmates have with teachers, counse
lors and clergy are their relationships with guards. Anyone who has spent any ti
me in prison, as an inmate or an employee, is aware that prisoners have far more
time in contact with guards than counselors, teachers, recreational workers, cl
ergy, work bosses or vocational workers. Guards live for at least 8 hours a day
inside the buildings where prisoners go to sleep in their cages at night, wake u
p in the morning and spend much of their day, except when they are given passes
to visit the prison school, law library, counselor, recreational areas, vocation
al training facility or church.
The guards are the ones who really know the prisoners' daily life, their habits,
who are their cell mates, other prisoners with whom they interact, who are thei
r friends and their enemies. They witness their emotional life, their anger, joy
, sadness and grief. They talk to them through the bars of their cells. They sha
ke down their cells to find contraband, see their girlie pictures on their walls
, tear down the curtains they put across their bars for a little privacy, see th
em sit on their toilets, often take what few possessions they may have, hand the
m their opened letters from home during mail call and sometime know about their
crimes inside prison. It's the guards who give them their passes and know who go
es to church, the library, the school, the counselor and the exercise yard.
Most prisoners struggle for identity by having a prisoner "seamstress" put that
little detail in their uniform, perhaps just a seam, or by decorating their cell
with simple things that distinguish them from the others - but only when a guar
d will allow it. It's the guard who notices (or doesn't notice) someone who may
be depressed or suicidal or may notice illnesses or see an injury from a beating
or a stabbing that would otherwise go unreported. Sometimes it's the guard who
forms an intimate relationship with a prisoner either for friendship or for gain
, be it monetary (e.g. selling drugs) or even sexual. I remember one time when a
guard was escorted out through the Control Center at the Tennessee State Prison
, fired in shame before those of us working there, after another guard walked in
to a prison hospital ward and witnessed the guard giving oral sex to a prisoner.
One, Two, Three Plus Four
The judge said â one to threeâ but now
I got a dime, that came by way of a
little blood shed in my cell block
after school. Got no problem witâ
them takinâ whatâ s due for a thing
I did. Been their man since I broke
their law but I will never
be their lass.[5]
So it's the guards who provide the primary contact with prisoners in terms of ti
me spent with them and the nature of the prisoner's relationship with "the free
world." Please consider this when reading the comment made by this poor guard at
the Macon State Prison in Oglethorpe, Georgia. He is not to be despised and he
is not unusual. Men like him are the ones who are hired and given responsibility
for the security and welfare of prisoners in the United States. Prisoners in Te
nnessee used to tell me things like this, "Hey Yank, don't you realize that you'
re doing time here just like me? You gotta come here every day. Yeah, you get to
go home for a few hours, spend some time with the old lady and people out there
, but you gotta be back in here with me tomorrow."
The "guard at macon state" who wrote the reader comment on Axis of Logic yesterd
ay and again today describes his view of inmates which suggests his treatment of
those who are in his custody. Whatever your reaction to his words, don't condem
n him too harshly. He is just "doing time" like a lot of other workers in the ca
pitalist world but he is doing his time in a prison. Like many prison guards, th
is man probably comes from a poor and underprivileged background just like the m
en in his charge. He also represents the education and mentality of those who ar
e given responsibility by the state for the safety and treatment of U.S. prisone
rs.
U.S. prison systems began using the title, "Department of Correction" back in th
e sixties when "rehabilitation" came into vogue. It's a mask they wear and a mis
nomer. A more accurate name would be "Department of Punishment," for men and wom
en locked away under "the penal code." Even then, prisoners in the United States
are always punished with more than the simple loss of their freedom even though
their loss of freedom was the only sentence imposed by the courts. Those who ar
e "corrected" during prison life are an anomaly in these factories of fear, dist
rust, injury, deprivation, violence and tragedy.
NOTES
[1] Please note that the writer identifies himself as a "guard at Macon State."
Since there is no way for us to verify his employment there, we have asked him i
n a followup comment if he is willing to provide us with his actual name and ver
ify his employment at this prison. It is doubtful that he will be willing to do
this. We have also asked him to distinguish between "guard" and the term used by
the Georgia DOC for guards, i.e. "Correctional Officers."
[2] The following paragraphs consist of the exchange between the "guard at macon
state" and myself on February 15 and 16:
guard at macon state
February 15
"to anyone reading this post the inmatess rights this and that,these peole h
ave murdered, raped,kidnap ped,sotomized so on and so on.this is not a countrycl
ub nor a holiday in shut up you did the crime now do the time.the families that
were victomized would also want things back the way they were before they got ri
pped apart by those convicts.i will tell you this nothing ever happened to them
inmates that wasnt justified.the inmates have attacked the staff,jack on the fem
ale staff all actions were appropiriate for the situation.these so called friend
s and family members are bringing in contraband every weekend keep these cons so
doped up that we can hardley do our job i could go on and on but im a law abidi
ng citizen that wishes to let these animals have this prison crap so have no mer
sy on these animals"
Les Blough
Feb 15, 18:08:19
Well, "guard at macon state", some people in your prison committed the crime
s for which they were convicted and some did not commit the crimes for which the
y were convicted. That's been made very clear by the many who were proved innoce
nt by DNA testing and other evidence withheld by state prosecutors, and then rel
eased, after having been locked up for years, some for decades. So first of all,
you are incorrect to say "these peole have murdered, raped,kidnap ped,sotomized
so on." (btw, the words are spelled, "people" and "sodomized"). Your statement
is also false because a great many prisoners are incarcerated in the United Stat
es for non-violent crimes such as possession or use of drugs.
Second, by naming visitors, "so-called friends and family" you are implying
that they are not "friends and family." If this were true, the prison visiting l
ists would be at fault. You are also accusing all those relatives and friends wh
o have a legal right to visit their loved one in prison of bringing drugs and co
ntraband into the prison. It is obviously untrue to say that all these people br
ing illegal items into the prison. But even if that were the case it only tells
us that you are not doing your job in the visiting gallery. Moreover, it is a fa
ct that most contraband is brought into U.S. prisons by guards but I am not sugg
esting that you are one of those corrupted guards.
Third your description Macon State Prison, "this is not a countryclub nor a
holiday" sounds like a broken record ... words that you've heard over and over a
gain and now you are repeating them. Perhaps you've learned these words from you
r father or uncle who worked in prison. I say this because many guards come from
families who work(ed) as guards in prison. When an inmate, whether doing 1-3 fo
r petty larceny, a nickle or dime for more serious crimes or life or 99 for a ca
pital offense, he is, whether you like it or not, a ward of the state. While in
state custody, the state (that means you) is responsible to provide them with a
safe environment, 3 hots and a cot and to educate residents of your prison, assi
sting their return to a productive life in society. (continued in following comm
ent)
Finally, your comment will be revealing to many readers simply by the level
of your education. You really are incapable of writing above a 4th or 5th grade
education. Now that's probably not your fault. My guess is that you grew up in a
poor, underprivileged family, surrounded by criminal activity, without the oppo
rtunities enjoyed by the wealthier classes. As a result, you obtained the highes
t possible paying job available to someone with your background and education. T
hat's not your fault either. That error is the responsiiblity of the State of Ge
orgia. The state violates its responsibility every day by hiring people like you
and then brainwashing them into thinking the way you think. This results in the
abuse of prisoners, the high recidivism rate, a country with the highest prison
population in the world and a society that is ever more plunged into violence a
nd criminality. It also results in a society that is more and more subjected to
a Police State where citizens are losing their constitutional rights faster than
snow can melt on a sunny day.
Now please do not make the mistake of thinking that I am speaking down to yo
u. I came from a poor background and I worked in 2 state prisons (Tennessee and
Pennsylvania) as a prison guard, transportation officer and counselor for a tota
l of 8 years. I have been eye-witness to guards humiliating, beating and even mu
rdering prisoners simply because they didn't like a particular prisoner or the p
risoner didn't do their bidding - even when the guards' demands were illegal. Du
ring those days, I visited Georgia prisons to transfer prisoners between them an
d Nashville. As a matter of fact, I feel badly for anyone in your situation, hav
ing to work in a hell hole like a Georgia state prison or in any U.S. prison. Yo
u say that you are, "a law abiding citizen that wishes to let these animals have
this prison crap so have no mersy on these animals." Who is it that gives them
this "prison crap"? You? This statement is just as sad for you as it is for thos
e inmates who are in your custody. Animals. Do you think it's your right to humi
liate, degrade, curse or beat a dog, a cat, bird or any other animal? Have you n
o "mersy" on animals in your care?
Please try to escape your own mental prison and remember that you have a res
ponsibility to treat those men in your custody as human beings with all the resp
ect and care that all human beings deserve, regardless of what they may or may n
ot have done. Are you aware that sociological studies show that most police offi
cers and prison guards come from the same backgrounds and family histories as th
ose whom they arrest and imprison? Despite your background and education, you ca
n still be a man of honor by finding who you truly are within and by doing your
duty. But it won't be easy, I know from personal experience, when the guards aro
und you demand the code of silence as they beat, rape and murder inmates.
guard at macon state
Feb 16 (unedited)
wow miss blow miss blow im not gonna give these convicts the satisfaction to
talk about them any longer.but since you are such a good judge of character wel
l its my turn and im done.you miss blow are a middle aged fat im sure low self a
steem that got caught up with one of these criminals.i see this really really to
uched you and im so very sorry for that miss blow.miss blow just remember this t
hey got what they deserved period point blank.you continue to be the all mighty
prison activist because thats all you could possibly get.you miss blow were sold
a dream.have a blessed day oh and by the way all forget it many blessings
[3] The Georgia DOC requires guards to take a "Post Entrance Exam" for employmen
t. "Post Entrance" suggests there is a screening process before the test is take
n. They administer either the ASSET or COMPASS exam and require guards to achiev
e minimum scores of 38 on the reading portion and 35 on the writing portion of t
he ASSET exam or scores of 70 and 23 in the COMPASS exam sections of reading and
writing, respectively. Alternatively, an applicant for employment as a guard ca
n submit a minimum overall score of 430 on the SAT exam.
[4] In practical terms it is difficult to know the functional performance of tho
se achieving the minimum ACT and COMPASS scores required by the Georgia DOC. How
ever, their minimum equivalent of SAT/430 does give us an idea of their standard
s for employment as a prison guard. According to College Board, in their senior
year in 2010, "college bound" Georgia high school males achieved a mean (average
) score of 503 in Critical Reading and a mean (average) score of 486 in Writing.
At the University of Georgia an applicant's SAT score of 500 in reading and 490
in writing means he/she was in the bottom 25% of those who applied for enrollme
nt. The State of Georgia requires an overall score of 430 on the SAT for employm
ent as a prison guard.
[5] The American Bar Association Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners:
Standard 23-5.1 Personal security and protection from harm
(a) Correctional authorities should protect prisoners from physical injury, corp
oral punishment, sexual assault, extortion, harassment, and personal abuse, amon
g other harms.
(b) Correctional authorities should exercise reasonable care with respect to pro
perty prisoners lawfully possess or have a right to reclaim. A remedy should be
reasonably available to prisoners if correctional authorities negligently or int
entionally destroy or lose such property.
Standard 23-5.2 Prevention and investigation of violence
(a) Correctional and governmental authorities should take all practicable action
s to reduce violence and the potential for violence in correctional facilities a
nd during transport, including:
(i) using a validated objective classification system and instrument as prov
ided in Standard 23-2.2;
(ii) preventing crowding as provided in Standard 23-3.1(b);
(iii) ensuring adequate and appropriate supervision of prisoners during tran
sport and in all areas of the facility, preferably direct supervision in any con
gregate areas;
(iv) training staff and volunteers appropriately as provided in Standard 23-
10.3;
(v) preventing introduction of drugs and other contraband, and providing sub
stance abuse treatment as provided in Standard 23-8.2(b);
(vi) preventing opportunities for prisoners to exercise coercive authority o
r control over other prisoners, including through access to another prisonerâ s confi
dential information;
(vii) preventing opportunities for gangs to gain any power;
(viii) promptly separating prisoners when one may be in danger from another;
(ix) preventing staff from tolerating, condoning, or implicitly or explicitl
y encouraging fighting, violence, bullying, or extortion;
(x) regularly assessing prisonersâ level of fear of violence and responding acco
rdingly to prisonersâ concerns; and
(xi) preventing idleness by providing constructive activities for all prison
ers as provided in Standards 23-8.2 and 23-8.4.
(b) Correctional officials should promptly and thoroughly investigate and make a
record of all incidents involving violence, and should take appropriate remedia
l action.
[6] One, Two, Three Plus Four - a poem by Les Blough
Related Reading: The Barbarous State of U.S. Prisons
Bio and More Essays and Poetry by Les Blough