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February 3rd, 2009

Abuse of Power

I have a dear friend that lives his life inside the walls of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.  He is serving a life sentence for past transgressions, and I have been witness to his growth in the past 10+ years spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.  He is not the hot-headed, rash, and foolish young man that walked through those gates so long ago.  Today, he is a refined, retrospective, and calm man who centers his life around his spiritual devotions and in helping others.

His job at the prison is that of head baker; a position he loves and has worked hard to not only maintain but to excel in.  He is a model inmate, causing no problems, and who does his work from 1am until, often, 4 or 5pm the following evening without complaint.  He takes great pride in making the best baked goods ever tasted inside prison walls, and - from the compliments he receives - he just may be accomplishing this.

In the many years that I have been his friend and outside-voice, I have seen numerous abuses of power.  It is simply the way of prison life.  Saying it is a different world when you walk into those gates is a bit of an understatement.  It is not anything like the world we exist in out here.  There have been many times I have had to go to bat for him, to stand up for him and decry the unwarranted reproofs he was being subjected to.

Don't get me wrong.  It is impossible to be an angel and survive in such an environment.  Sometimes punishments were warranted, and he "took his licks", as he says, with nary a reproach.  It was the times that they were not that I am writing about.

Burl Cain runs a tight ship and, as far as prisons goes, Angola is a model that others often attempt to emulate.  Yet even with the most stringent of rules and policies, bad apples fall from the woodwork, worming their way through infrastructure and causing discord wherever they go.  To be a prison guard is a unqiue choice for occupation, let's be honest.  One could never call it "easy", and I can't imagine how difficult it must be to walk that fine line between being fair and tough; between doing your job and not losing your soul.  Inmates are not angelic creatures, and a great many of them are born con-artists.  How friendly and fair can you be without getting walked all over?  I would imagine it's a constant mental struggle.

That said, there are individuals that - I believe - go into the field of warders with less conscientious sets of mind.  Some enjoy the power; the authority over "lesser" persons that they can wield how they see fit while affecting actual lives with the bark of every order .  Others, natural bullies, relish the ability to constantly taunt people who cannot fight back.  There are more, but you get the point.

These types of people sicken me.  It takes a very lowly-type of person to kick others when they are down  and to hurt other human beings simply because you know they are powerless to defend themselves.  Can there be any good in such blackened hearts?

Do not forget; inmates are in prison as punishment.  In fact, that is their punishment.  It is not the guards' job to punish them further.  They are there to maintain order and peace; no more.  Regardless, there are those who set themselves into that very different world with its very savage rules and set about playing games as if it were all a giant chess board, and with the inmates as no more than pawns rather than the thinking, feeling human beings that they are.

It is because of one such individual - not the first I have encountered, by any means, but the latest - that I sit down to write this.  He is known as Major Groom and is a major over Camp C at Angola.  He has, for weeks now, tormented my friend and others.  For reasons known only to him, he feels it his duty - or perhaps it is simply his pleasure - to play dangerous games with the lives of his charges.  As my friend goes about his work, concentrating only on the job at hand, Major Groom is there with is sly comments and veiled threats.

It's nothing new nor is his type and so we chose to ignore it.  That is until yesterday when Major Groom preceded to leak a bold-faced lie to another inmate and label my friend a "rat".  I need not explain to you the implications of such a label in a prison environment.  Major Groom informed this other inmate that my friend - known inside as Pencil - had told him that a rack of eggs left on a counter were his.  This is a problem, as an entire rack of eggs left out for an inmate to use as his personal issue is forbidden and if an inmate where to do such a thing he would be written up for stealing.  This other inmate knew the eggs were not his and that he had not put them there, and - most importantly - that my friend would never, not even under the threat of torture, rat on anyone for anything.

This could have been serious.  Had this other inmate not personally known Pencil, had he not known Pencil is no rat and would never have done such a thing, that inmate could have taken umbrage with being called out like this (and possibly written-up over it).  As it stands, Major Groom called another kitchen staff member who informed him that she had put the eggs there; it was not the conspiracy he was trying to make it out to be.  What if this other inmate had attacked Pencil for ratting on him?  It is not out of the realm of possibility; in fact, in that world, it is the norm.

What could Major Groom gain by concocting such a lie?  To turn the inmates against one another?  Does he not realize the danger he possibly puts his other co-workers in by such irresponsible actions?  What if a fight had broken out over this?  In his attempt to ruin Pencil's reputation - or whatever else he was attempting to do - he could have cause a great deal of trouble.  And this isn't his first rodeo.

Other inmates have similar complaints against Major Groom; and apparently - though I cannot prove it - at least one of them has already written an ARP complaint on him for the same thing.  What does it mean when such rogues are allowed to continue such reckless games, and are accorded such a high rank to do so in?  If wardens are aware of his behavior, why has something not been done?

These are the questions I am posing to Angola tomorrow morning as I call and wait for answers.  I will put in a call to the warden of Camp C, and I am ready to take this to Burl Cain himself if need be.  There is little that riles me quite as much as abuse of power, and playing games with innocent peoples' lives.  These men are simply trying to do their time and make the best of it.  It would be more than unfair - and even unjust - to see them brought down - moved to a cellblock or lose their jobs - over lies and trouble stirred up by someone such as Major Groom.  I, for one, will not sit idly by and watch it happen yet again.

Please check back.  I will update this entry with the response I get from the warden.

One Response to “Abuse of Power”

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