I remember a several-month stretch when I was assigned to the floor where our ding dongs were housed. Remember, ding dongs is my term of endearment for those who don't have the wherewithal to exist in society in a normal manner. I won't get into semantics over the definition of normal. We all have our moments
, but these guy's elevators really don't go to the top. Some of the problem has been fostered through genetics, but most of them exist the way they do because they sniffed too much paint in their lifetimes. Either way, they broke the law in one form or another and have temporarily become one of our guests.
Remembering that these guys need to be handled a little differently than the general population of inmates is the secret to surviving
the duty assignment on this floor without becoming a casualty yourself. I was always fearful that the illnesses could somehow rub off on me in one way or another. Maybe it did... Great, just add it to my PTSD.
I will give an example of handling just three of the different classes of inmates who have broken the same "house" rule. I'll make it simple. Let's say that the inmate was sitting on one of the tables. It's not allowed for many reasons. Providing fodder to screw with inmates is not one of them, just so you know. Inmate who is a newbie or unsophisticated
: Firm and direct works best. "Off the table, bud." They usually respond quickly. Inmate who has spent a lot of time in prison
: Respect means most. "Let's not sit on the table, sir, it makes me look bad to the man." They usually will answer with something like, "Right right", and then slowly get off the table. Inmate who has mental deficiencies
: Circumlocution (talking in circles) works great. You kinda need to get to know their individual behaviors, but something like this usually is effective. "Hey sport. How we doin? Y'know, sitting on that table means I have to go write a report and that means the nurse won't get to pass out the meds on time
. If you get off, I can go let her know." Now, not only does he get off of the table, the whole pod won't sit on the table for two days for fear that they won't get their meds on time.
With that background in mind, I need to share the following story with you. An inmate who had threatened one of our newer staff members with bodily harm had been pulled out of the pod by numerous responding officers while I was at lunch. I got back to find the inmate being temporarily held in a holding cell directly across from the security station. The only real mistake made by the officer was that he brought the book-learnin' philosophy
taught at the academy directly to the jail and tried to apply it to someone who thinks that "compliance
" is some kind of machine you can buy at Sears. Everyone does not accept authority, especially if it's delivered with robotic indifference. Since I was the senior officer on the floor that day, I was the one who had to handle the rest of the problem before the Sergeant got a full report. I was told that the inmate was extremely agitated.
I headed for the holding cell after providing a half hour cooling off period and keyed open the door. I was unfamiliar with this inmate because he had only arrived the day before. If ever, and I mean, if ever
, a person fit the category of "Bubba
", this was him. This guy was 6' 8" tall and weighed over 300 pounds. Man, was he ugly! I'm 5' 9" at 185 and ugly. Where are those guys with the "No Fear" stickers on their truck windows when I needed them. Apprehensively
, I just stood at the door and was ready to slam it shut if the inmate rushed me. I just began talking to him from the doorway like we had known each other for a long time. These guys are often manipulated into an acceptable behavior silhouette if they think they have had a past experience with you that was positive. Since they are not sure most of the time, they actually give you the benefit of the doubt and aggression levels subside with a little patience.
About 10 minutes into my nonsensical conversation, I felt I could venture a little further into the holding cell. I can only say that experience with these inmates is the only basis for taking a possible chance like this. Some of our staff would have just pissed the inmate off further by acting within the guidelines
of an "officer
" and the inmate would have wound up in the safety cell for 36 hours. The way I see it, that doesn't solve much in the long run. I would always try the reasoned approach with most inmates first. It often worked out successfully, even with our mentally challenged inmates. At the time, I felt that my methodology was right on track with Bubba.
Towards the end of our conversation, I told him that I know he probably missed his family and that he needed to go along with our rules so he wouldn't have to stay in jail longer than he had to. Hurting one of our officers could keep him in jail much longer and I didn't want that because he was probably a pretty good guy - bottom line. He just wasn't showing it. I told him that the officer was just trying to do his job the best way he knew how and was not picking on him. I also said that I expected
him to help our officers do their job and to help protect them, not hurt them. He also had to apologize to the officer the next chance he got.
I told him he probably acted out because he was pretty depressed about being in jail. He spent almost our entire 30-minute encounter together just listening to me, but with that statement he said that he felt lost and alone. I told him that there were people out there who needed
him and loved
him and that he was very important
to have around, so it was time to take better care of himself. I told him he needed to try as hard as he could not to let them down.
At this point, I asked him if he was ready to go back to his pod and if he was going to be okay. He shook his yes and stood up. Now I'm looking straight up at a gargantuan mountain! Tentatively, I backed out of the cell and asked him to follow. We are now in the hallway between the security station and the holding cell. He stopped suddenly and with an unpredictably shaky voice, he said, "Hey
" and I became witness to a facial expression that I was not familiar with... from a paltry distance of 3 feet. All I knew was that he was not smiling
He slowly took one step towards me and all I could think of was, "Oh Shit
!" He hesitated for about 5 long seconds, then slowly bent over and put his head softly on my shoulder and whispered, "Thanks
Just as that occurred, our officially paid jail resident shrink had walked by and witnessed the head-on-the-shoulder routine. He simply said, "How's it goin', Father Bill
?" I have to admit, it was a feel-good day for me as I returned "Bubba" to his cell.