Screwing Down the Chair

10 Jul, 2015

The last time I went to visit a guy in Detention (the “Hole”), the chair I sat in had been freshly screwed into the floor.

I used to enjoy moving my chair off to one side of the upright barrier so that I could sit face to face with the guy, nothing being in the way. Now I was bolted into one position, on the other side of the barrier.

Maybe someone thought it had to be done for the safety of visiting staff – a chair can be a used as a weapon. Maybe they didn’t appreciate people like me who kept moving their chair out of position, and decided to put an end to that possibility. Maybe someone had some extra screws and time on their hands and it seemed like a good project. Anyway, I had to laugh and shake my head in recognition of this screwy metaphor.

It is becoming increasingly difficult in Correctional Services for both inmates and personnel to find any wiggle room and sense of maneuverability, or agency in their lives.

Like a chair screwed to the ground, inmates often experience frustration in a rigid system which does not make it easy to better oneself, move through the system and exit better equipped for living in the modern world.

And employees – like parole officers, psychologists, program officers and chaplains – frequently feel like their impact is diminished by a system that is often impersonal, inflexible and unaccountable. What surprises me most about working inside the federal penitentiary system is that there are many people of good will working there – but whose efforts and good inclinations are frustrated by a system which is inefficient, ineffectual, and blasé about results.

Both inmate and employee can be heard expressing the same sentiment, “What can I do? This is just the way things are.” People feel like the chairs have been screwed to the ground, and there’s not much hope for movement.

It takes time for the screws to loosen in a system that is headed toward lockdown.

Tim Smart – Chaplain

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