Thursday, October 24, 2013

One of my early experiences working in the Department of Corrections concerned race relations.  One morning I did a hearing on a white prisoner.  I found him guilty of the major misconduct charge.  He told me I was biased in favor of black prisoners.  Or as he so eloquently put it, "I guess you like dark meat."  Gross.
That afternoon, I did a hearing on a black prisoner.  I also found him guilty.  He complained loudly that I was "the queen of the Ku Klux Klan".  I figured nobody was happy, I must be doing something right.
Later on in my career, I became pretty good friends with one of my hearing coordinators, Stan.  He is African American.  He was an Army MP for twenty years before retiring and joining DOC.  I asked him for advice one time about a prisoner who hit another prisoner in the head.  She and her victim were both black.  The prisoner admitted to assault, saying "I cracked her head open all the way down to the white meat!".   I asked if that was a common statement in the African American community.  I also asked him one time if he thought I was racist.  He said no, I was just "pigmentally challenged".  I promptly asked him to be my race relations advisor.
On another occasion, I had a prisoner charged with making comments to a corrections officer, intended to demean, degrade etc.  The prisoner admitted making insulting comments, but stated he was not talking to the officer.  He was talking to another prisoner in the immediate vicinity.  He explained they were "doing the dozens".  I decided to talk to the officer to find out if this claim could possibly be valid.  I called on the phone and explained what the prisoner said.  The officer, who was white, said he did not know what "doing the dozens" was.  So I explained that it is a verbal game common in the African American community.  Guys trade insults, gradually escalating to more and more degrading statements.  The players are supposed to increase the verbal aggression incrementally, going to more and more taboo subjects, like their mothers, gradually.  The goal of the game is to maintain control of one's temper, to be the last one to get angry. The prisoner just sat and stared at me, dumbfounded.  After I hung up, he asked me how I knew that.  I just said, "Oh, I worked in Detroit for a while."  He was completely shocked that I was familiar with this ritual.
I like surprising them like that.