Monday, July 30, 2007

Drew The Screw?

When I was looking for work after moving back here four years ago, someone at somepoint half-jokingly suggested that the County Prison is always looking for Corrections Officers.

Of course they are. Like most county prisons across this great land of ours, conditions are over-crowded. The job only pays $32,761 a year and only a high school diploma is required, so it's not really attracting much in the way of brighter bulbs and high minded sorts. UnFortunate has a history of working in prison advocacy, especially around issues of HIV/AIDS.

And, I've read "the Study."

Back in the '70s, a psychologist at Yale (I think it was Yale) set out to look at the effects of incarceration. He got a bunch of college students to enroll in the study. They took over an abandoned prison somewhere. The student subjects were divided at random into two groups: prisoners and guards. The "prisoners" would have access to toilets and showers, and they'd be fed three times a day. The "guards" were instructed about what constituted abusive treatment and were informed that this was strictly prohibited. It started out with the "prisoners" and "guards"--who were Yale students, mind you--joking around a little bit. But pretty quickly, the researchers saw things change. The prisoners became depressed, fearful, sullen, and their sense of self worth vanished. And, concordantly, the guards came to hate the prisoners, sure that they were inherently "bad" people, less than human, without scruples, and stupid. The guards also became paranoid, feeling that the prisoners were "up to something" and plotting against them, and that any threat to their authority had to be immediately put down forcefully.

After only a few days, the study was shut down because of the terrible toll being taken on the participants.

The psychologist was in the news not so long ago, being interviewed to help explain what happened at Abu Graihb.

Sooo... like... I'm not sure I'd want that for myself.

On the other hand.

When I lived in Philadelphia in the late '80s, then police commissioner Willie Williams was asked if the diversity recruiting goals that he was promoting included getting gays and lesbians onto the force. "Uhhh... Yeah, I guess so," replied Commissioner Williams. And so recruiters were posted outside of Giovanni's Room, the LGBT bookstore, and for a while it became a "thing" to sign up as a recruit, and write "I'm a homo!" or whatever after the question about whether or not you would increase diversity of the force.

So I did.

I got a notice in the mail that the qualifying exam was being given on a Saturday morning. When that Saturday morning came, I wasn't doing anything, so I showed up to take it. I scored in the 99th percentile.

After that, the Philadelphia Police Department wanted me bad.

And I was giving it a lot of thought. Remember Hill Street Blues? There was a character on the show named Goldblum, and he was all about making a difference, helping people... Y'know, all that liberal Jewish stuff. And I thought, "I could be like Goldblum!"

To be sure, there are a lot of Bad Cops (and Bad C.O.s) out there in the world. But imagine if there were no Good Cops, or Good C.O.s in the world.

I think I could be a Good CO. I could do HIV prevention education! I could do harm reduction work! I could do some pastoral counseling on the fly! I could help people!

And yes, this is all about the fact that it's a County Job and so the hiring process is all about fairness and openness and I'm feeling pretty burned by not getting that Dream Job. I'm pretty sure that if I applied, I'd get it. And man, is that tempting.

Several of the subjects in the Yale study were anti-war activists, committed to non-violence and working to ensure human dignity. And they were as abusive as the rest of the "guards."

5 comments:

bootboy said...

Hey Drew, have you said...is going back to Wooperiour Sudcraft (sp?) and option? Seems like you did well there.

Also, gotta say, the idea of you as a prison guard does conjure up some good imagles.....;)

--'bastian said...

I'd be very skeptical of the CO route. While there can in theory be good ones, why deliberately put yourself there?

DFWRuffplay said...

How flexible is the schedule as a CO? Is this something you could do and schedule in such a way you could still go to school and work on a construction management degree?

(Btw.. if you're going to summer camp this year.. you might have a chat with the security committee head. :-{) )

Anonymous said...

Wow! $33k a year!

I'm making $25k after 25 years with a masters! Might have to switch jobs!

Anonymous said...

It was the Stanford Prison Experiment. I might take a minute to review the thing: http://www.prisonexp.org/ before I went the CO route. The idea of you in uniform is a nice one, but maybe not in that context...