Monday, October 20, 2014

A Barrier to Progress

Following orders. That is what the wardens, captains, unit managers, corporals, and counselors are all doing. They are following the orders given to them by Tennessee Department of Correction Assistant Commissioner Tony Parker. Parker serves directly under Department Commissioner Derek Schofield. Schofield put Parker in charge of implementing oppressive strategies that impact inmates and staff alike. Together, the two men have attempted to completely overhaul the prison system in Tennessee and the ways it has functioned over the years. The problem underlying the Schofield/Parker approach is the unsupported assumption that the old way of doing things is wrong, and their new way is correct. Given this assumption, the duo has implemented counter-intuitive, ineffective policies at institutions across the state, which despite their futility, are becoming the norm. For example, Schofield and Parker have destabilized prisoners by severely restricting their privileges and movement, (movement meaning day-to-day venturing outside of housing units in order to participate in life-giving activities, classes, program, and ministries that orient inmates toward mental and emotional stability, connecting with outside society, and internal positive change). Their passion is to create an atmosphere of punishment of the bodies and souls of inmates.

In order for these oppressive strategies to succeed, Tony Parker has to have subordinates who will play their roles and unquestioningly obey his orders. When he was put in his position, he forced his arcane agenda upon susceptible subordinates and threatened their jobs and careers if they did not tow the line. Many TDOC employees from guards to wardens refused and either quit or retired.

Schofield and Parker created enforcers, which they termed the "Strike Force Unit." The unit was created to keep an eye on inmates and staff alike, and it ensures that Parker is perceived as more than merely the Assistant Commissioner. He wants to be viewed as a totalitarian. He and his minions have wielded influence long enough that they have become the role they play within the prison system. Inmates have always played a role. But under the Schofield/Parker regime, we are viewed by the administration and guards as sub-human, deserving harsh punishment no matter how much time we have done, no matter how long we have gone without a disciplinary write-up, no matter how many positive changes we have made in our lives, no matter how significant the transformation we have experienced.

Although TDOC once encouraged cooperation between prison staff and inmates, Parker now encourages a wide gulf between the two groups. The vast divide allows for much antagonism, unfairness, inequality, and discrimination to take place. Inmates are left feeling victimized by the staff, who personify the oppressive guidelines and procedures, and staff can either abide by the policies or risk their jobs by resisting.

Social psychologist Stanley Milgram developed an electric-shock experiment that mirrors the dynamic between role-playing prison officials and guards and the inmates. As in the experiment, prison staff who go along with Schofield/Parker policies are essentially prodding inmates, even when they have done nothing wrong. They occupy the role of punisher, and they unquestioningly administer the punishment because they have been told to do so, and they have come to believe that this is the right thing to do. They have buckled under the pressure that Parker has put on them, a pressure he no doubt believes is in the best interest of the people of Tennessee.

As a matter of fact, the only result is terrible damage to the psyche of all inmates. While TDOC tells the public that it is contributing to a decrease in recidivism, they are actually impeding inmates' attempts at rehabilitation. Schofield and Parker are interfering with the ability of inmates to heal their souls and minds and move toward wholeness. Parker and his subordinates believe that inmates are unworthy of such healing. Before Schofield and Parker, many inmates like me fought for years to make positive changes, to improve as people, and experience transformation. But these men have created obstacles to such progress, which punishes inmates many times over, leaving them to wonder why even try?

by David

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing this. May light be shown in all dark places and all truth revealed.
    I want to read the book "The New Jim Crow"