Saturday, December 28, 2013

Getting old

I watched a documentary yesterday about geriatric units in prisons across the country.  The number of elderly and disable prisoners is exploding due longer sentences for crimes in general, and sentencing policies like "three strikes".  Seeing these old guys brought back memories of prisoner D.  He told me he stole cars for a living, and occasionally he got caught.  He was doing is fourth of fifth bit when I met him.  He had never tried to escape and had no history of violent misconduct reports, so he was at secure Level I prison. I always saw him for things like refusing to report to his work detail.  He got tired of them after eight or nine months, so he would quit.  Prisoners are not allowed to voluntarily quit their work details.  So he would get a major misconduct for Disobeying a Direct Order or Out of Place.  Then he came to see me.  He never denied any of the charges.  He pleaded guilty, then took a few minutes to reminisce about stealing cars.
But one day everything changed.  Prisoner D got locked up in one of the temporary holding cells because he completely went off on an officer, yelling and threatening to kill the officer, causing total disruption of the housing unit.  When he came in for the hearing, he denied everything, like he did not know what the officer was talking about.  He got two or three more of these misconduct reports, very similar, each time totally denying the allegations.  He ultimately got sent next door to a higher security level, ended up in the segregation unit facing charges of Threatening Behavior.  It finally dawned on me how completely out of character the behavior was for prisoner D.  I noticed signs of physical decline as well, poor complexion, a wet spot on the front of his jumpsuit.  I wondered if his brain was breaking down along with his body.  So I called the psychiatrist in one of the mental health units, described all the symptoms and the sudden drastic change in prisoner D's behavior.  I wanted to know if he was suffering from dementia or some kind of brain injury.  Dr. K expressed great surprise at my question, appreciation for my "humanity" toward this prisoner.  I was just doing my job.  Hearing officers have to determine if a prisoner was mentally responsible for the behavior at the time of the incident, which I strongly suspected prisoner D was not.  Dr. K. confirmed my suspicions that prisoner D could very well be experiencing some form of dementia.  After that my hearing investigator and I made sure he got a physical and psych evaluation.  He ended up going to a prison in Coldwater, to a geriatric unit.  

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

This evening we went to my daughter (Tonya)and son-in-law's (Carl) house for dinner.  Tonya did a great job, everything tasted wonderful.  My grandson Lance was there with his daughter Aeva, four years old.  She is enrolled in pre-school.  I asked her if she was learning her ABC's.  She said no, then proceeded to recite them for me anyway.  She started in fine, ABCDEFG....concluded WXYZ.  I complimented her, told her she had the beginning and end down just fine, all she had to do now was work on the middle.  Then I went to use the bathroom. Tonya's place is small so I left my cane in the car.  My granddaughter Miriana helped me out walking down the hallway.  Of course Aeva had to help too, she wanted to hold my hand.  So Miriana was letting me hold her shoulder while I held Aeva's hand.  Little ones are so wonderful.  It only takes twice as long to do anything when they are helping you.  I got in to the bathroom, sat down, felt a little off-kilter so I squiggled around trying to get comfortable.  Next thing I know, I hear a cracking noise and the toilet seat slides off the toilet and bangs onto the floor.  Miriana called out, "Nanna, are you OK?"  I said yes.  Then my phone rang.  My sister is calling me from Oregon.  My older brother is there visiting her and her husband.  We planned this family phone call earlier in the week.  But I had to tell her I would call her back.  I finished up my business, managed to get the toilet seat partially re-attached, washed my hands and sat down to a great ham dinner.  I told Tonya and Miriana what happened, and Miriana said "Oh, is that the loud noise I heard?"  I confirmed that it was.
So this Christmas will go down as the year that Nanna broke Tonya's toilet seat.
Merry Christmas ( Happy Holidays to all of you who celebrate other holidays at this time of year ).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Save the babies

My FaceBook friend RG posted Terrible Parents photo collection.  It reminded of an incident from work.  My friend Inspector D told me about a situation she faced one time.  Every day she would go sit in the chow hall at dinner time.  Prisoners would just come up and talk to her about things that were bothering them.  She listened to a lot of petty complaints and so forth, but every now and then a guy brought a really serious situation to her attention.  One day a guy told her he needed to talk to her about his kid.  She could tell he was really upset, so she told him she would call him out the next day so they could talk in private in her office.  The next day the prisoner told her that his son ( I think the boy was about eight years old ) was being abused.  The child told his dad that his mom would go out with her boyfriend and leave him with the boyfriend's brothers.  They would get drunk and use him as a punching bag, some kind of sick game they had going on.  The kid told his mom, but she just brushed him off.  Inspector D pulled the recorded phone conversation and concluded that the child was in serious trouble.  The kicker is that she had lived in the area the prisoner came from for a long time and actually knew the characters involved.  The family had a really bad reputation for drinking, carousing and general mayhem.  So Inspector D got copies of all the phone calls and called Protective Services.  She turned everything over to them and the child was taken away from the mother within a day or two.  I think they were able to place him with the prisoner's family.  He was getting out fairly soon so he could go home and be with his child.  Needless to say, his gratitude was huge.  Inspector D is such an awesome woman.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bell ringing II

So I did another two hour bell-ringing stint today for the Salvation Army.   I guess my energy level dipped, because this old guy wearing a cop with "Army" embroidered on it, started giving me suggestions.  He said I should put the bell on a rubber band, then pull the band taut and let it go.  Then the bell would just keep ringing for a while.  Then he suggested tying it to my walker, which I was sitting in.  He said I could just move around in the chair, get my exercise and ring the bell all at the same time.  He impressed me so much I said, "Wow, you're just full of good ideas, aren't you?"  He responded that some people have said he is full of something.  I laughed and said, "Well, apparently there's still plenty of room for great ideas!"  He laughed.  Then another lady stopped and said my bell didn't sound as loud as some others she has heard.  I explained that I put my finger on the bell to mute the sound.  We are allowed to sit in the entryway, shielded from the worst of the weather.  But as customers enter, the doors open into the store and the cashiers are right there.  The bells drive them crazy after a while so I try to tone it down.  Then said it would be nice if they had a bell that played Christmas songs.  I agreed.  I told her I wish I be like some of the bell ringers I have read about in the paper, who dance and/or sing as they ring.  But if I tried to sing, we'd probably be kicked all the way outside and I didn't want to do that to my fellow bell-ringers.  Either that, or the baggers would start throwing cans of vegetables at me.
I was happy.  People were shoving that money into that bucket.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Taking care

My co-workers in Corrections were incredibly generous people.  They were always ready to step in an help each other out.  One officer had a child who was very sick.  She faced the possibility of a bone marrow transplant.  The family all tested to be donors, but they were all incompatible.  When her dad, who worked at Gus Harrison Facility, asked his co-workers to test, something like 200 people volunteered.  Fortunately, the child got better and did not need the procedure.  Staff was also humane to the prisoners for the most part.  My hearing investigator at Gus Harrison was like that.  She had an old guy come over for an interview.  It was late fall and he had no coat.  He said it was lost or stolen or something.  She took him right over to the quartermaster and got a coat issued.  She muttered to herself that an old man can't go without a coat with winter right around the corner.  I teased her, told her she was getting soft.  She snapped at me, that she was not, she got the old man what he had coming.  ( True but she didn't have to go out of her way. )
My hearing investigator Stan at Huron Valley Facility told me about a young guy there who had to fend off predators and bullies.  He was in the unit for developmentally delayed prisoners.  Stan intervened to reduce access from some of the dangerous prisoners.
I had a guy come in for a hearing for failing to report to work.  He said he couldn't work because his knee was messed up, causing a lot of pain and he couldn't stand on it for very long.  I asked him a few questions about it.  His work record was good, he had always reported before this.  The officer in the room to monitor hearings for the day had supervised work details.  She asked if we could look at his knee.  He pulled up his pant leg.  It was pretty swollen.  I asked if he had sent a health care request and he said yes.  I asked him if the knee was getting worse, he said yes.  I asked him if it was red or warm.  He said yes to both.  At this point, I became very concerned because infection seemed very likely. I asked him if he had reported these symptoms in his health care request.  He said no.  I sent him back to his unit and told him to go to his unit officer to ask for a pass to health care.  Then I called the unit and told the officer he needed to make sure that health care was informed that the prisoner had redness and inflammation in the knee.  The prisoner got sent over right away.  A couple of days later, I exited the gates and saw this prisoner being escorted back from a medical run.  He had an IV hooked up.  I asked him about it and he said he was getting antibiotics.  I guess it was serious.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fear of success.

In honor of the holidays I am trying to think of positive things I did while I was working in corrections.  I think there was one or two times I might have actually had a positive effect on a prisoner.  One young guy used to come in for hearings for Disobeying a Direct Order, or Insolence for going into a tantrum/rant cussing out an officer.  He always managed to do it about a month before he was scheduled to see the parole board.  Of course, he would be denied parole.  He expressed great frustration with himself and couldn't figure out why he kept sabotaging himself.  Once again, I experienced the urge to indulge in a Teachable Moment!  So I said to him, "You know, seeing the board is a stressful thing.  It may be a good stress, but it is still stress.  Maybe you are afraid.  If you actually get parole, you will get out of here and be free again.  But you will also be facing the expectations of society and family.  They will expect you to do things for yourself, to get an education, get a job, take care of yourself.  It's hard to do that stuff.  Maybe you're afraid you can't do it so you are subconsciously screwing up because you are scared."  He looked at me for a minute.  Then he said, "I never thought of that."  After that, he got paroled and I never saw him again.  I like to take credit for that.
I tried saying that a few more times and the guys just looked at me and said, "Lady, you're crazy!"  Oh well.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas lights

Lots of people have been posting pictures of Christmas lights on Face Book.  I've been driving around town looking at them.  But I find that I start looking past the lighting displays, into people's living rooms.  It's a great cover for my voyeurism.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pole dancing

I visited my daughter in law Joy today and the subject of pole dancing came up.  I wish I could pole dance.  Some of those dancers on Jerry Springer amaze me, how strong and athletic they are working the pole.
The first time I visited my my grandbaby in Milwaukee, his other grandmother was at my son's and former daughter in law.  While I browsed a local weekly newspaper, we talked about stuff we could do together.   I saw an ad for pole dancing lessons, so I suggested that we sign up and do it together.  ( This woman is a professor of nursing. )  We both had a good laugh with that one.
Last Christmas I visited my brothers and sister.  We were at a little cafe having brunch.  When I went to pay my bill, I pulled about twenty ones out of my purse.  The cashier/waitress looked them, and asked, "Are you a dancer?"  Then she laughed.  So I showed her my cane, and I said, "Yeah, and I even brought my pole with me!"
I had a hearing on a woman charged with sexual misconduct for allegedly engaging in a provocative pole dance while  working in food services.  The prisoner explained that the crew had been working overtime a lot, while the other side of the prison was being converted from men's to women's.  The supervisor told them they had done a good job, so when they were done,they could have some cake left over from the day.  This woman was happy to get cake.  She could have been my twin, chubby, blond, apparently loves sweets.  She said she skipped up to the serving line and swung around a support beam like it was a pole, but she denied any sexually provocative movement.  I watched video from the surveillance camera covering the area.  I couldn't see her do anything, and nobody seemed to be paying attention to her at all.  She said she was just happy to be getting cake.  I could relate to that so completely.  So I found her not guilty of Sexual Misconduct.  Her only sin was cake gluttony.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Love the babies

When I came out of the store tonight, I heard this sound, like a cross between a thud and clunk, a thunk, I guess you could say.  I looked around, and found the source of this sound.  A little girl, about five or six years old, skipped along beside her daddy toward their car.  She wore pink rubber knee high rain boots that hit the pavement, thunk..thunk..thunk.  Needless to say, it was adorable.
When I worked Wayne County Juvenile Court in Detroit, a scene like this could heal all the despair and stress of the day.  A happy child.  I used to come home from work and hug my boy.  Nothing felt better than feeling his arms around my neck and his warm little cheek pressed against mine.  I used to put up an emotional shield to protect myself from the things I had to deal with at work.  I adopted a very clinical approach to investigating and assembling the evidence of the pain and neglect inflicted on my little clients.  When I came home, I could disassemble the shield and just be a normal parent and woman.  Except it did not always work.  Sometimes after I let my guard down, something would penetrate the storage bin of anger and despair I had locked away in my brain and I would end up sitting on my couch, crying or screaming at the TV.  Stories about the famine in Ethiopia, with footage of the children with their swollen bellies, starving, would reduce me to a crying mess.  I hated getting caught off guard like that, losing control.
I thought I left all that behind when I left the Juvenile Defender Office and went to work for UAW-Legal Services Plan, then on to the Department of Corrections.  But once in a while, something would come up during a hearing that would bring it all back.
I did a hearing one time on a young woman charged with Insolence and Creating a Disturbance. Control center was announcing the ten and five minute warning for count time.  She did not want to end her phone call and go to her cell for count.  The officers were going up and down the halls, telling the women to say goodbye and get ready for count, go to the bathroom, etc., before they had to lock up.  This girl kept talking and would not hang up.  She was starting to mouth off at the officers when they told her to hang up and go to her cell.  She ended up yelling at them, calling them names, and trying to get the other prisoners to join in with her,claiming the officers were singling her out and picking on her.  After the unit was released from count, this girl got back on the phone and called her mother, her children's grandmother, to demand that her mother call the prison to report this mistreatment by the officer.  Grandma was caring for this girl's two children while the girl served her sentence.
At the hearing, she demanded I listen to her phone to Grandma call so I could hear how awful the officers were treating her.  All the phone calls made by the prisoners are recorded.  So I agreed, and the hearing investigator pulled the tape and set it up on the CD player in the officers lounge, which was the quietest place in the unit.   The phone rang, and a little girl, I'm guessing she was around five or six, answered.  When she heard her mother, she squealed, "Hi Mommie!".  You could hear see her smile and the shine in her eye in her voice.  Her mother immediately barked at her, "Go get Grandma!  I don't want to talk to you right now!  Get you grandmother!  I need to talk to her!"  It was like a kick in the gut. I imagined the light in the child's face fading away.  I gasped out, "Oh my God!"  An officer had come in the room and heard that portion of the call and my involuntary response.  She just said "yeah".  Compared to the cases I did in Juvenile Court, it seems like a small thing.  But experiencing it more or less first hand was completely different and so much more disturbing.  How do those police officers, nurses, doctors, social workers teachers who see the abuse and neglect of these children first hand stand it?  I just don't know.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
I feel very unmotivated about everything for the past week or so.  I used to get into these moods about work a couple of times a year.  I just felt overwhelmed with sadness about the state of the world in general  and about the prison system in particular.
So, I have to think positive thoughts.