Prison report: The other side of the story

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By Just A Guy

Editor's note: Just A Guy was recently released from a California state prison. He continues to report and comment on corrections and law-enforcement issues. You can read his most recent post here.

I want to be clear about something: I don’t hate corrections officers or staff members that work for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and are trying to make a living. I don’t really hate anyone; it’s a tremendous waste of time and energy and harms me more than the person being hated.

I truly believe that most COs and administrators are just people trying to get by in this world, and my intention has never been to condemn anyone. My intention with this blog has always been to reveal the truth from MY PERSPECTIVE. To talk about things that don’t get talked about, to represent the under-represented. While there are certainly groups that represent inmates, they are the minority and their voices are like someone calling for help from the middle of the ocean at a rescue plane passing overhead.

A favorite adage of mine is, "Those who stand for nothing, fall for anything" - Alexander Hamilton. Not that my priority in life is to stand for inmates, but to stand for reason.

This blog is dedicated to all the COs out there that are doing their jobs, that aren’t corrupt, that aren’t apathetic haters. You have a hard job; I wouldn’t want to do it. You have a necessary job. Unfortunately, it’s never the good ones that stand out, but the bad. Just as you rarely hear two sides of the story with an inmate accused of something in prison, you rarely hear the COs side of the story that when one of them is allegedly bringing in contraband or has “assaulted” an inmate. That’s the way it is. The public doesn’t want to hear everything; people just want to hear the dirt, it’s more entertaining.

The unfortunate side of the whole process for both inmates and guards is the “wall of silence.” Just as an inmate can’t inform on his fellow inmates without severe repercussions, a guard can’t report another guard’s misconduct without being ostracized (or worse) by his fellows. It’s a real catch 22 across the board. I am not justifying when guards cover things up, but saying I understand why they do, just as I understand why inmates don’t inform. The Us vs. Them mentality has been instilled upon both groups. It takes a huge amount of courage to break beyond that mentality, and, quite frankly, from both perspectives (I think), the consequences may not be worth the act. An inmate puts his life on the line by informing and a guard (though it shouldn’t be this way) his/her livelihood. Can you imagine going into work every day and having all your fellow workers looking at you with derision? That would be very uncomfortable, and I imagine that’s why many CDCR employees keep their mouths shut in the face of what they would really like to do or say.

One of my desires, with this blog, is to open up a dialogue between inmates (ex or not), CDCR staff, and the general public that reveals the truth from individual perspectives. I don’t want people to read my blog and immediately go into a defensive posture. I would like for people to read Prison Report and question the state of criminal justice/prison policy in California and the rest of the country. Idealistic, sure. But idealism is what founded this country.

We have all been given an opportunity by the San Francisco Bay Guardian to speak freely and anonymously; shall we not take advantage of it in 2010 to air OUR truth?

Early releases are going to happen. Crime will continue. Parole will be, essentially, eradicated. The foibles of CDCR will continue. The foibles of felons most certainly will too. But changing the way people think about things begins with one voice -- is it yours?