A Little Respect Would Go A Long Way Towards Cordiality

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy www.glogster.com

Today, at 11:00 AM, I approached my unit team area -- F-North in FCI Petersburg -- seeking to submit a form which authorizes the Federal Bureau of Prisons to send money to a friend of mine from my commissary account (BP-199).  Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM is the designated "Open House" time period for my unit team.  This is when inmates housed in the F-North housing unit are allowed to make inquiries with our counselor, case manager, and unit manager.  Today, like many Tuesdays and Thursdays, my unit team decided that it just wasn't a good day to have open house, so they simply didn't bother to have it.  Naturally, no advanced notice was made and no rescheduling will occur.  Same old, same old.

While disappointed about not being able to submit the money request form, I'm used to such inconsistency at FCI Petersburg (more specifically in the F-North housing unit), so I just brushed it off and decided to carry the form around with me until my counselor decided to make an appearance.  My opportunity came at 4:36 p.m., right after my cell door was unlocked following the 4:00 p.m. count.  It's the interaction which subsequently transpired which motivated me to write this personal exposition of my experience.

Upon seeing my chance to speak with my counselor, I approached her and waited in line.  There were other prisoners ahead of me currently speaking to her.  After they were done, I held out the money form (BP-199) and asked her if she was going to be heading back to the unit team area before she left or not.  After all, she had her lunch pack on her shoulder, so I was trying to find out if it was a good time or not to submit the form.  But instead of merely saying that she wasn't headed in that direction and that she was going home for the day, she snapped at me, "I'm leaving."  And with this, she stormed off.  No polite response.  No dignity or respect in her tone or mannerisms.  Just a snarky comment and a dismissal by way of walking away.

I don't expect Federal Bureau of Prisons' prison guards to like me.  I'm in federal prison, after all, and I'm sure they view a portion of their job as requiring them to punish those they must confine.  But I don't understand their hostility and outright disrespectful actions and reactions.  In the literature and policy the Federal Bureau of Prisons claims to want a professional and dignified relationship between captors and captives.  The ideal of respect is touted for all parties.  But it is rarely extended to the captives.

The idea that prison guards -- like the F-North counselor in question -- can have or not have open house, when signs are posted which indicate the proper times, seems to suggest some level of disrespect to those who are required to abide by such times and other published regulations.  After all, if you want to send money to a friend or add someone to your visitation list, or even request a job or cell transfer, you must submit the request during open house hours.  But what if there is no open house?  What if the prison guards at the local institution don't care enough to have it or to keep their word on when they will be available for such matters?  Even worse, what if the prison guards in question don't allow inquiries except during these two hours each week?  What then should a prisoner do if access is not granted or frequently denied via a locked door?

Better yet, what if the local level prison guards treat their charges with disrespect and callousness?  What does this show those who are imprisoned?  To me, it says that they have no respect for me, so I should have no respect for them.  As my cellmate often asserts to me, I must treat everyone with dignity and respect, and allow them to lose those privileges if their conduct so warrants.  I often come from the other end of it where I like to require others to earn such privileges.  In this case, it doesn't really matter what side you come from, in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, if you are incarcerated you will be disrespected by those who attest they are there to assist in the reformation of character and you will be responsible for treating those who spit in your face with dignity and respect.  Frankly, I feel that these abusers -- these offenders who carry the keys -- aren't worthy of either.

While my discussion here does not solve the problem -- it certainly isn't a step in the right direction -- I feel it important to voice such complaints in an appropriate manner and in an appropriate forum, such as the Prison Law Blog.  After all, I certainly can't speak or treat my counselor in the same way that she does to me, because that would result in being subjected to disciplinary action.  But for her to engage in such antics appears to be supported every step of the way.  Perhaps she is teaching me some important moral lesson on how wrongdoers should be treated?  Perhaps she, herself, is merely a wrongdoer, just wearing blue instead of green?  I'll leave that with you to decide.

The point is that some professionalism and cordiality would go a very long way in improving prisoner/prison guard relations.  I know that all prisoners aren't the most respectful.  But disrespect merely breeds disrespect.  When my counselor disrespects me, it angers me and impacts the way I think of her and her colleagues, some of who appear to be decent people, and others who appear to be sadists, too.  Really, a little respect would go a long way toward cordiality.

As always, I welcome your comments, thoughts, opinions, and suggestions.  What are your beliefs?  Should prisoners be afforded a certain level of dignity and respect?  Should prisoners be treated with a certain level of callousness to chastise them for their criminal actions?  Should prisoners be required to treat those who verbally abuse them in a respectful manner?  Post your comments below to continue the discussion.