I live in Waupun, Wisconsin, a city of about 10,000 people. About 3,000 of those residents are prison inmates. There are three correctional facilities here. There are four more within commuting distance. The headquarters of the Wisconsin DOC is in Madison, but it's beating heart is in Waupun. I would guess that at least 3/4 of the free citizens of Waupun depend on a DOC employee or retiree for their economic survival.
Other little towns dried up and blew away when the mine or mill closed down. Waupun is still here. It sounds rather harsh, but prison has meant prosperity for this town.
I was a Correctional Officer for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections for 30 years. I've been retired for about a year. In that year, Scott Walker and his weasel minions have blown up the state, including it's prison system. I was eligible to retire and though I would have hung on for a few more years, the Republican's union-busting agenda convinced me that retirement was a better option. It was hard to work there and it was hard to leave behind my fellow officers. I was happy to retire but I miss my boyos, Carlos, Haze, Deano, Colleen and all the rest of my brothers and sisters in blue. The personal and political aspects of this mess are so tightly intertwined that I cannot write about them separately.
Most of the guys on the other side of the bars won't miss me. One guy in a blue shirt is pretty much the same as the next. I tried to treat them all with respect and decency. "Firm but fair" is how I was trained and that was how I did my job. Their health and safety was my responsibility and I always took that seriously. Whether you're staff or inmate, nobody wants to go out the front gate in a bag.
There are lots of cons who have substance abuse and mental-health issues that make it impossible for them to stay out of trouble. Let's call them group A. Fixing their problems was usually above my pay-grade but I did what little I could, when I could.
There are a lot of cons who are pure assholes and for your safety, my safety and the safety those near and dear to us, I hope they never get out. Let's call them group B.
There are lots of cons who wouldn't be cons if our drug laws weren't insane. Let's call them group C. (Prohibition didn't work in 1919 and it isn't working in 2012. I was wild and free in the 1970's; I inhaled, a lot. But for fate, I could have been on the other side of those bars.)
You could make a Venn diagram to show groups A, B and C and how they overlap. At different points in a man's incarceration, he might be counted in all three groups. People change, and change back and change again and again...and time flies away. We all grow older and not always wiser.
A significant minority of Waupun citizens have sons, fathers, brothers or husbands who are incarcerated here. Looking through the bars, I saw a man whose kids went to school with my kids. I gave his mom a ride to the food pantry. I had a part time job picking apples alongside his wife. I sat next to his family in church and fixed their stove when their idiot landlord couldn't be bothered to do it. I don't think I ever willfully violated the DOC employee fraternization policies. I don't particularly care about that. I never dealt with an inmate's family member in a way that Mrs. ruleoflaw wasn't OK with and she trumps the DOC.
That's how we live in Waupun. There are bonds and barriers here. Some are made of concrete and steel. They won't hold anybody in or keep anybody out without human beings to watch over them. Some of the bonds and barriers are made of human emotion. They can be surprisingly strong, almost impenetrable.
Nearly all the CO's and Social Workers and Chaplains, the Maintenance Workers and Cooks, The Nurses and Therapists and Psychologists used to be represented by a union.
All those workers are certainly concerned with making fair wages with vacations, sick leave and health insurance. The union helped them get a fair shake.
Wages and benefits are important to anyone who works for a living. But in Corrections, economics mean nothing if the job isn't safe. How much is my life worth? A "Cadillac" health insurance plan won't protect you from a shiv in the neck.
At every Correctional Institution in Wisconsin, labor and management used to meet regularly to discuss safety and health issues that affected both staff and inmates. It was in the contract, part of the deal and it was way more important than a personal holiday or a percentage raise. Every month, management got an earful of what was going on out in the cellblocks, the recreation yard and the chow hall.
Now there is no contract, no deal and management has forgotten how important that feedback was. People are getting hurt, on both sides of the bars. My brothers and sisters are fighting to get their rights back but they need your help.
One of the blueshirts who always had my back made this video. Please watch it and know that they are fighting for your safety and the safety of your loved ones on both sides of the bars. In addition to a lot of my old pals, you will see State Senate Candidiate Lori Compas who is running against Scott Fitzgerald. She appears at 5:30 in the video with our friend Peg Lautenschlager and my very own State Senator Jessica King.
Lori Compas needs your help to defeat Scott Fitzgerald.
Click here to volunteer or donate to her campaign.
Update: April 2nd, 6:49 am/ Thank you to the folks at Community Spotlight for picking this diary up!