Oppressive Prison System Creates Explosive Prisoners

Commentary by James W. Pryor

     I’ve been a prisoner off and on in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (O.D.R.C.) since 1979, all resulting from parole violations, no new crime committed. However, I am just now becoming fully aware of the severe oppression existing within it’s system. There are many areas in which this oppression is expressed, or carried out by the O.D.R.C.

     First, we can look at the inadequate medical care that is provided for prisoners. An example would be the unqualified medical personnel who treat the prisoners. We as prisoners have no other choice but to be at the mercy of these individuals and the treatment they offer. It has been statistically proven that prisoners utilize prison medical facilities more frequently than individuals on the outside utilize public medical facilities. The quality of the care prisoners receive indicates that it is grossly inadequate, and yet the legislature wants to charge the prisoner for this same type of medical treatment. The type of medical treatment received coupled with the deplorable conditions that the prisoners are forced to live in are the major cause factors for the poor health of the prisoner. Yet, it is played up politically as a ploy to obtain further funding by the O.D.R.C. when these expenditures could be eliminated by offering adequate medical care in the first instance.

     Secondly, another area in which the prisoner is oppressed and forced to be passive is through the adult parole authority and the fear of retaliation. The fear of retaliation keeps the majority of today’s prisoners from filing complaints, grievances, or civil complaints concerning the mistreatment they receive. I’ve seen prisoners attacked and sexually assaulted by their fellow prisoners and even maltreated by the correctional staff. Yet, the prisoner will say nothing because of the fear of retaliation. This form of abuse creates today’s passive and submissive prisoner on the outward appearance, but is actually a volatile situation waiting to explode. We must consider the hope the prisoner has placed in expecting to see an un-callus parole board, possibly receiving a parole, and returning home to his family and friends. A parole would take him away from the deplorable conditions and situations he is forced to face on a daily basis.

     One example of this form of passive oppression comes in the false hopes created by the possible legislative enactment of Senate Bill 182 which augments no real changes or creates no form of commitment by the adult parole authority. The crucial moment in the prisoner’s life is his hearing before the adult parole authority which will determine whether or not to set his sentence and whether or not to grant a parole date. The adult parole authority is under no legal obligation to set the time and in practice it does not do so until it is ready to grant parole.

     By keeping the prisoners in perpetual suspense, never knowing from year to year what portion of his sentence he will serve, the adult parole authority maintains maximum control over the prisoner for the entire period of his incarceration. Do you think at an executive branch of the Government (the same government who incarcerated you in the first place) is going to change policies, guidelines, or anything else that would relinquish the maximum control they have now by keeping you in constant suspense?

     Lastly, another way the O.D.R.C. keeps adequate control over the prisoner is through mismanagement. This is evidenced by their failure to follow their own policies and procedures. They maintain no set of policies or procedures which they adhere to. What may apply to one prisoner does not apply to the next. This also helps them create a balance of strife and tension between the prisoners, just as they do with a limited number of phones, televisions, recreation equipment, or any other product used to keep the prisoner passive. This allows them to control you when they threaten to take away these little luxuries, just as it does when you fight among yourselves over them. This keeps you too busy to challenge the inadequacies of the administration.

     One answer I believe, is to change where necessary the ways in which these institutions are organized and managed.

     Poor prison conditions are produced by poor prison management. Cruel and unusual conditions are the product of failed management. And the reverse is also true: prisons where prisoners can "do time" without fearing for their lives or being pressured by their peers for sex, money or drugs; without fear of retaliation by the A.P.A. and where there exist standard policies that are adhered to; without fear of being abused physically or emotionally by their officers and abandoned to their educational (or her basic life skills) deficiencies, these are the products of sound prison management.

     An example is the severe lack of educational programs and security that exists within the Ohio prison system. The administration and correctional staff are improperly trained and cushioned in their jobs. No group of prisoners is unmanageable and no combination of political, social, budgetary, architectural, or other factors makes good management impossible. Difficult, yes; fatiguing, always; thankless, mostly; impossible, never. Even overcrowded maximum security facilities can be improved simply by changing the ways in which they are organized and managed.

     However, the O.D.R.C.’s A.P.A., psychologists, case managers, and unit managers seem to be unmotivated individuals who massage their consciences or "weak egos" by patronizing what they would call us prisoners, such as disadvantaged people or human waste as they portray in their actions. And whom they solicit for their own personal gain. The mind-boggling arrogance of these individuals is utterly beyond my belief, but it truly exists within the State of Ohio and it’s prison "industrial system."

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio