Tuesday, February 28, 2006

For His Own Good

Did a shakedown in the psych dorm today. A shakedown is an area search- you search all the inmates as you move them to another place, then search all the bunks, bunk areas and common areas of the dorm looking for contraband- drugs, weapons, stockpiled food, homemade wine (pruno). Mostly we find "nuisance contraband" where inmates have managed to squirrel away extra clothes or sheets or make gambling devices or art projects that require altering or destroying an approved item.

It's always uncomfortable to do the psych ward- moving 65 inmates who are not very stable and have difficulty with any disruption to their schedule is part of it. Part of it is that they may or may not remember what they own, so they may think that things are missing after the search that they never had. Some save everything- one of the bunks I searched today had empty food wrappers jammed into the drawer and under the mattress. Some of the inmates don't understand the (minor) disciplinary procedure that follows.

We have a two-tiered disciplinary system. Minor issues can be handled by the officer if the inmate is willing to waive a formal hearing. Normally that's accepting an hour loss of walk rather than having a formal hearing and risking days in the hole. The inmate signs a citation waiving a formal hearing. The second tier is the hearing, which for major issues can mean months of lock-down, fines, loss of good time (most jurisdictions automatically take days off of sentances if the inmate doesn't get into trouble. A sentence of a year runs about six months with good time and work time). There's also the unofficial third tier of informal discipline: "Don't do this again." or "Don't let me see you again tonight- cell yourself in and I won't have to write." These are voluntary- an inmate can always push it to formal discipline if he wishes- but the best officers use this light touch more than either of the formal systems.

I spent an hour tonight trying not to send a guy to the hole. He has some mental health issues and doesn't speak English very well. There was minor contraband on his bunk during the search and the deputy working psych had decided to cite for an hour. There were several who refused to sign at first, but most of them were talked through the process. Not this guy. He said he would never sign anything, not ever. The last time he signed an official paper it turned out he was agreeing to do five years and he swore he would never sign another thing in jail...

Reason, weighing the penalties, even his friends stepping in to explain it didn't help. It wasn't going to happen.

So why did I care? That would take some meditation to answer. He hadn't done anything that wrong. He was doing well in the psych dorm. I don't personally care for using a big stick if it isn't necessary. Lots of reasons.

An hour. His poor English, my worse Spanish and the help of occassional inmate translators. He kept going back to the paper he had signed at such cost. At times I felt like I was outside, watching my performance. Listening, talking, RTPV (Rate, Tone, Pitch and Volume) of voice all set at soothing levels. Letting him alone to stew for just the right amount of time. Bringing in the rules in Spanish so that he could read for himself. The one perfect Spanish sentence I'd rehearsed in the back of my mind...

It was sincere, but it was also calculated. This wasn't an earnest and heartfelt appeal. It was an applied skill for his own good. There was one frozen moment when I realized I was a tempter, I was acting just like a demon tempting someone into sin. That the skills were there for good or evil, my choice, but they were there.

He signed, with tears streaming down his face. An act, for him, of extreme trust and extreme danger. A test of skill for me.

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