Stories from Cell Block 7: Firm but Fair

Originally appeared in the Cell Block 7 email newsletter

Sitting down once again with one of our wonderful volunteers and retired Corrections Officer Mike Finch, he has more insight on what life was like as a Corrections Officer and the life of a prisoner. Mike is a very respectful person and he was that same way when he was a corrections officer on duty. Here is a story he told me about how he got the reputation that he had, and how he handled issues that arose in his cellblock:

“I really managed to earn the respect of the prisoners. One day during lunch a prisoner came up and was looking to sign up on the phone list, and he asked the officer on duty to lend him a pencil or pen that he could use, and she did, but the prisoner wouldn’t give it back to her. He was just playing with her. He was just being smart about it and wouldn’t give it back to her no matter how many times she asked, so she lost her patience and kicked him in the shins.
I didn’t see this, but I was told about it from some of the prisoners just to see what I would do about it. Was I just going to sweep it under the rug or actually do something about it. So as soon as I heard about it, I asked to see the prisoner who got kicked in the shins. I took him into the office and just asked him what happened. He basically said the same thing just that he had borrowed a pen, didn’t give it back, and she kicked him in the shins. I said that “You were wrong, number one, you should have gotten a disobeying a direct order ticket”, which he didn’t, but she was wrong to kick him in the shins. I asked to see his leg, and sure enough he was skinned up pretty bad.
So I then brought the corrections officer in, and I asked her the same questions and just to tell me what happened. It was the same story, that he borrowed her pen, she told him two or three times to give it back and he wouldn’t, so she just kicked him in the shins. So I asked why she didn’t just write him a ticket like she should have and get him back that way, but apparently they had been playing back and forth that way for a while and it started to get to her. But overall you’re not allowed to put your hands or feet on the prisoners in anyway, so that was wrong of her to do regardless. I had to call upfront to lieutenant and say “Hey I’ve got a situation down here I need to send an officer up to tell you what happened,” and she ended up getting suspended for four or five days.
After that, the prisoners knew not only that I was going to run a tight ship with them, but with my staff as well. I wasn’t going to let them mishandle the prisoners either. So I got the reputation of being firm but fair, and the prisoners knew that if they had a problem then they could come to me and I would take care of it; that I would be firm with it, but fair with it. I also always made sure that if I told a prisoner I would do something, then I did it. That way they knew that I did exactly what my word was. Just by example, I wouldn’t let my staff mistreat the prisoners, but I wouldn’t let the prisoners run rough-shot over me either. It made it all work out pretty smooth.”

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