Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Cops--a New Normal

When the Bad Lawyer went to jail, I had to adapt to what my probation officer, Ms. W calls, "the new normal." 

I already talked about this in the context of coffee, commissary and cans..  A couple little jolts this weeks brings this new-dimensional sensation into startling focus.  Maureen Dowd in this morning's New York Times writes about what she calls "gate rape" in the context of TSA pat downs (below, left) at airports.  Dowd cites a video from a Ky. couple's child who's getting a "deep probe" courtesy of the TSA.  I shivered at the description since throughout the whole-incarceration-thing, beginning with booking by the US Marshal Service in the court house I have submitted to countless deep probes. 

It was not at all unexpected that you would be routinely patted down, probed, and even stripped search--randomly, for any reason, for no discernible reason while in federal custody.  As I walked out of the "mainline" (chow hall) following my last meal at Morgantown (MGR), I was patted down--I think it was random the COPs were cracking down on food theft.  I suppose the crackdown wass not illogical in light of budget cutbacks.  One of the most colorful characters at MGR, the Gooch, was a notorious Mainline-food thief.   Gooch specialized in loaves of bread--one afternooon, I passed Gooch hurrying up the foot path to the residential unit.  He looked vaguely like an African-American Michelin Man.  Gooch had adapted his prison-issued jacket to accommodate his Mainline harvest.  It was his hustle, if you wanted to buy bread a loaf was "two cans." When I last saw Gooch he was being shut down by "the man" aka the cops.

The prison cops are called a variety of names not all of them nice as you might imagine.  A prison cop is in BOP speak a corrections officer, or, politely a "CO."  Inmates call them POH-leece, POH-POH, or simply a cop.  I didn't hear anyone refer to these folks, men and, yes, women--as "screws," unless it was intended humorously.  Let's face it, the prison camp at Morgantown isn't a traditional jail (except, for the SHU/HOLE)--facility doors get locked and unlocked, but there are no jail cells.  Inmates can walk away from Morgantown.  Unless the inmate, wants additional time at a much more secure facility--behind the fence, escape is a very bad idea. The corrections officers are there to discourage walking away, detecting escape, and more importantly to provide security and safety to the Morgantown community, the BOP employees, and the inmates, themselves.  Violence, workplace safety, drugs, alcohol, and further criminal activity these issues are the mission of the BOP cops.

At MGR all BOP personnel are trained corrections officers including secretaries and educators, but for the purpose of this post I'm referring to the uniformed COs.  These men (and women) perform the shakedowns of property and persons.  They do the "standing counts" day and night.  As you might expect while not necessarily unfriendly, COs aren't warm and fuzzy folks.  Among inmates the quickest way for the new guy to earn a bad reputation is to be perceived as someone who "talks to the cops."  Prison inmate culture's strongest bias is anti-snitch; and, yet, the population abounds in snitches. So, yeah, these, my former bunkees are flaming hypocrites doing what they think they need to do to get-by...still, no CO is a friend of the inmates.  There are COs who are less of an asshole than others.

When you see a Cop in prison one of two things will happen.  You will be ignored or you will be hassled.  Being hassled includes being "deep probed."   Part of this is what I call the "theater of security."  In doing the deep probe the prison cops are sending a message of deterrence to the inmate who is being frisked and to everyone standing around watching.  Oh, we watched, don't tell me you don't rubberneck car accidents. While I'm sure each CO expects to find contraband the mere act of patting down an inmate intimidates.  Many of the anomalous and seemingly random acts of indignity serve this function. 

Certain inmate cohorts are targeted for more of this than some.  Younger inmates get more of this than older inmates, I suppose on the theory that a solid bust at the outset will positively effect the overall incarceration of that inmate, henceforth.  An example of this was my SHU/HOLE bunkee Jason M, a young Chaldean dude from greater-Detroit.  Jason made it to the SHU on New Year's Day by turning to wave at his kids as he left the visiting room.  "No Way?!"  Way.   Jason ran with a group of young dudes from the Detroit area.  Earlier New Year's day Jason was caught "out of bounds" in a residential unit where he did not belong. The CO who caught him gave Jason a pass on the incident.  While the "waving" at his kids was probably not something that in the course of normal events the sort of violation that would land Jason in the SHU there is a security reason for the prohibition and Jason appeared to be someone beginning to cross lines, regularly.  The MGR cops sent Jason (and almost everyone at Morgantown) a powerful signal.  The message came in the form of 31 days in the HOLE.  As with Jason, inmates in specific offense categories (drug dealers) are more likely to undergo searches.  Inmates perceived to be members of gangs or prison cliques are more likely to fall into this category.  Also some guys have contraband "priors" or have otherwise made it onto a Hot List they get searched  more frequently. 

Several times since leaving Morgantown last Wednesday I have crossed paths with local police officers--maybe I don't look like it to the police, but I'm flinching inside.  This morning the officer is walking into Starbucks, I'm walking-out, I flinch.  He says, "Good morning, sir,"  I'm flinching.  I'm wearing a suit, not federal khakis, but I flinch.  This is my new normal for now. 

It's going to take me a while to get back to a semblance of the old normal if I can.


  1. This is a reminder that reality is temporary.

  2. OK--

    So good to see you, again! I'm glad you were able to break away from the Test Positive Institute and leave a comment.


  3. deeply probing! Very good.