I have a pretty good reputation in prison. I treat people with respect, I’m not a snitch, and I’ve been around for a few decades. I’m someone people know they can go to when shit starts to get crazy around here. As a result, I get a pass on some things. Specifically, I can talk to the cops without people wondering what I’m up to. I use that pass regularly. I know what a typical prisoner’s point of view is on most things that come up. Sometimes I want a different perspective on politics, the stock market, or the latest piece of news to hit the press.
Tonight I happened to be speaking briefly with an officer about his past work in a mental health facility. He was talking about how easy it is around here in comparison to his old job. “When a patient tries to bite his thumb off whenever he doesn’t get his way, and keeps tearing his scar open with his teeth, it can be pretty draining. At least here, I can see SOME progress.” I chuckled and took it all in as we shared a polite chat about worlds other than the warehouse that I live in.
When we were finished, I started off towards my cell for count time. As I was walking away he called out one last thing: “Have a good night!” I had been in a hurry and hadn’t formally disengaged. I replied in kind but was struck by a realization. “Have a good one” is what I say to them. They don’t say that. Not first. I may have a decent reputation, but I’m still an inmate after all. And common courtesy isn’t exactly par for the course around here. So why did he choose to put that period on our conversation? Why did he feel the need to extend that kindness in my direction…?
Maybe he was happy I didn’t try to bite my thumb off. Or maybe he took me at face value and decided I wasn’t too shabby of a person. Or maybe he thinks part of being a professional is treating people with respect and dignity (and even a little bit of kindness?). Whatever the case may be, I was impressed by his gesture.
The power imbalance between staff and inmates in DOC doesn’t help to cultivate a healthy environment for those who are soon to return to YOUR neighborhood. This man sees a bigger picture. He’s consciously choosing to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. How can I not respect that? The approach he is taking is making his job, the institution, and our communities all safer places. It may seem like a small thing, but from the perspective I just presented, it’s interesting to see how far a little common courtesy can go, ain’t it?