Letters From Prison 2006 #11- Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Steve Clemens. FPC Duluth. June 4, 2006

The Who used to sing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” back in the early 70s. In the lyrics, the “new boss was the same as the old boss.” In slave days, sometimes a slave was sold to another plantation for a variety of reasons: the boss (master) was sleeping with his wife and wanted the man out of the picture; maybe the boss had debts and sold the slave for needed cash; often slaves were sold to discourage ‘organizing’ on behalf of the indentured, which could lead to the most feared consequence—a slave revolt. As of the passage of the 13th Amendment, the only legal slavery in the U.S. today is the prison system.

In Food Service at FPC Duluth, the Correctional Officers (COs) have switched roles for the next month or two. Mr. Randall is now “policing” the bakery, veggie prep and cooking areas. Mr. Haslett has responsibility for the dining room, pots and pans and the dish pit. At Count Time he outlines his rules: if your area is cleaned up to his satisfaction, and if you signed out on the sheet before the 7:30 a.m. Count, you are free to go until your next assignment after the count has cleared.

This is different from Mr. Randall’s (old boss) style. Under the Randall regime, after your area was cleaned up, you were to remain in the dining area until lunch, biding your time reading a book, writing a letter, listening to your radio, or napping (if you could on the hard, fixed-to-the-table chairs). The building doors were locked and you couldn’t leave. Despite all the signs forbidding “personal objects” in the mess hall, Randall allowed food service inmates to have books, radios, even newspapers in the mess hall between meal shifts. Other COs, who are often in the building at meal times to “police” the lines, will take books or radios from inmates if they are caught having them in the dining area.

One never knows which rules will be enforced by which staff member at any given time. It is one not-so-subtle way to remind the inmate that you are not in control of your situation. So, under the new regime, yesterday several of us spent an extra hours scrubbing down the walls, washing off the rolling shelves, “detailing” the stainless steel counters and garbage trough to make our area “spotless” for Haslett’s inspection. He came in as we were part way through and pointed to the wall by the silverware area, which is virtually inaccessible because of the location of the chute that feeds the garbage pulverizer. He told us to scrub down that wall. We did the best we could and then remained in the dining area until lunch was ready.

Today, day 2 of the new boss, we cleaned our area before count, signed the sign-out sheet and waited for count to clear. I grabbed my coat and book (I’m now reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven after finishing The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong yesterday) and headed for the door with the other inmates who were leaving. As I approached Mr. Haslett, he asked, “Where are you going?” I replied “210,” my dorm assignment. “Where is your work area?” was the next inquiry. “The dish pit.” “Well, go back there and make sure it is spotless.”—So, back to work. Steve #1, our crew leader (at one time 3 of the 6 of us assigned to a.m. Dish room were named Steve!) told us to just clean up a little and we’ll likely be able to leave in 15-30 minutes. Sure enough, that is what it took and we walked out the back door unimpeded.

The inconsistencies of styles of enforcement are unfathomable. Although he doesn’t take food for his own use (or to sell) out of the building, Steve #1 was caught red-handed by the lieutenant on Memorial Day, placing a plastic milk box with a bag of green peppers, tomatoes, and onions in the ceiling panel above the dish pit, for another kitchen inmate. Caught in the act by the lieutenant! We knew he was “going down.” Maybe he’ll be sent to the hole. Certainly he’d be given hours of extra duty. The Lieutenant who Steve tells me is a pretty ‘fair guy’ told him “I’ll call you later to see me” since the lunch rush time was just beginning. Steve is a hard and conscientious worker and any CO assigned to the kitchen is well aware of that. So far, with two full days passing since then, there has been no “punishment”—just watching the succulent veggies get dumped into the garbage chute, to be gobbled up by the pulverizer.

Case-in-point #2: the CO most despised by every inmate I’ve talked to is “Robocop.” Mr. Waleschki (or however the name is spelled—everyone calls him Robocop not to his face) clearly hates his job and just as clearly despises the convicts he is hired to “police.” Rumor has it that he “got beat up” at Sandstone (the closest FCI (higher security level) to our camp) and he is also a union representative here. As much as I support organized labor, it sometimes has the unfortunate ability to attract power-hungry jerks who use their power to prevent their own firing. When Robocop does mail call, he yells into the loudspeaker “mail call is right now and if you want it come right now!” and he starts mispronouncing half the names on the letters, magazines or newspapers as he reads them off.

He once pages my co-defendant and friend John several times for his mail pickup and since I knew he was in the music room practicing for an upcoming concert the “Big Charles’” group, I asked if I could get his mail. Robo barked at me, “Tell LaForge to get his ass over here when he is paged. I’ll throw his ass in the hole next time if he doesn’t pick up his mail when I page him!” I explained that he could not hear a page when in the soundproof practice room of the music center — and although we never know if mail call will be before or after supper at our dorm (it comes between 3 and 7:20 pm so far), my intervention on John’s behalf obviously fell on deaf ears. Robocop screams at us to “shut up” is there is any talking during count, one time insisting on doing a “recount” just because he thought the noise level was unacceptable to him.

So, when word came down that Robo caught Justin smoking in the dorm, I knew there would be hell to pay. Justin, a 20-something kid just joined our dish pit crew last week and only has two weeks to go before he is released from here to go home with an ankle bracelet (home monitoring instead of the usual halfway house first). When I asked him the next day if he got ‘busted’ by Robocop he said, “Yeah.” Robo told him he was going to search his locker so he’d better “come clean” and Justin handed him the 151 cigarettes (!) he had in it.

Besides the market value (at five .39 cent stamps per cig if sold individually), the new May 1 policy calls for immediate shipment to a higher security prison plus the loss of good time, visits, calls and commissary for one year if caught with 21 cigarettes or more. So Justin was “up the creek without a paddle.” But—so far—he’s been told he has to do 50 hours of “extra duty” in the next 2 weeks before he leaves. Are they not shipping him because of the paperwork involved, with only 2 weeks left? What “message does it send” when the “new policy” is not enforced? Will it be enforced next time? By another cop?

The “new boss” and the “old boss” are both in control—you aren’t. But there is no consistency, either.

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