Archive for May, 2009

Trial Service Year – P002

May 25th, 2009 No comments

One Person’s Creepy is Another Person’s Cool

When I showed up for the interview, I wasn’t really expecting a tour of the facilities. I wasn’t really sure why the management at Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP) wanted to provide a tour before they actually hired any of us, but something my wife said did come to mind:

An Older OSP

An Older Version of OSP (Click for more history)

When I applied to be a Corrections Officer (CO), one of the first interviews I accepted was at OSP. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I would turn down any interview offers from OSP – the place gave me the creeps!

Creeps? It didn’t take me very long to realize what it was she was talking about. The original buildings of OSP were opened for inspection in October of 1872, and though the prison has been through many upgrades and improvements, the age and general disrepair of many parts of the prison show up early in the tour. Though I understood why it gave my wife the creeps, for me, applying some six years after she applied for the job, the prison’s age and the fact that it is Oregon’s only maximum security prison made it appealing for both employment and direct research. Additionally, I had already made a few friends that worked at OSP. More important, one of my uncles had also worked and retired from the prison. Some of his comments made the prospect of employment at Oregon’s oldest prison even more appealing.

The older a prison is, the more likely it is for the operations to stray from established policy and protocol. The reasons for this are probably obvious in some areas and not so obvious in other areas. One of the more obvious reasons is that architecture dictates many elements of security. The more modern a prison is, the more likely it is that the prison’s operational practices actually reflect both the state and departmental policies. One of the less obvious areas to those unfamiliar with trying to change ingrained operational procedures is the difficulty in obtaining complete stakeholder support for changes in policy and operational procedure. If that doesn’t seem clear, then just think of it this way:

You are a new hire attending New Employee Orientation (NEO), and you are trained to do a specific task in a very specific manner. You finish training and the first time you attempt to perform that specific task a senior employee makes it clear you are performing that task the wrong way. You politely explain what you learned in NEO, and the senior employee makes it clear that the NEO training isn’t worth paying attention to because “we’ve always done it THIS way.”

Having a military background – well, it sort of prepares you for this kind of thinking. It also prepares you for the fact that despite this practice, you will also run across very effective and organized leaders and supervisors that find yet another way of getting the job done.

For my wife, it was the age, mustiness, smell, peeling paint, asbestos, etc., that made OSP creepy. For me, those same things made my imagination wander – wondering what the place was like when it was closer to “new.”

Perhaps the “three hour tour” was simply a way to let one know the working and environmental conditions. My wife ultimately chose to accept a CO position at the brand new women’s facility. I turned down a few other offers in order to get hired at OSP. Another important reason for taking the position at OSP is simply that it is almost the same age as New York’s Sing Sing, and that makes for a better comparison to Ted Conover’s experiences in New Jack: Guarding Sing Sing. At any rate, the next installment of my trial service year is probably obvious… NEO training.

Once Upon a Christian

May 22nd, 2009 No comments

I’m sure most of my readers (all eleven of you so far) are familiar with the Wounded Warrior Project. I’ve two daughters who are veterans, and one is still on active duty. I watched a segment on the Fox channel; I think it was their morning program that featured a singer I enjoyed once upon a time. I was once a member of the Christian community, and her music and bearing had a tremendous impact. It seems lately, I have felt a tug to visit that community again, but what is more important here, is that Amy Grant is helping to create and provide support for a new organization that aims at these same vets.

Challenge America 2009, hosted by Amy Grant and Vince Gill, is an evening of entertainment, welcoming home our country’s wounded military and launching the nationwide Challenge America initiative. The initiative’s mission is to support the development of recreational and occupational programs in willing communities to link new and existing services to better serve returning injured military and their families.

Just one of those sparkly things I happened to come across this week and it seemed worth sharing. Once upon a Christian, I would have said something about taking up the challenge. Now that I seem less than Christian to myself, I still think it’s a worthy thing to support a faith-based group involved in a worthwhile initiative. Please, go take a look – there’s music involved!


Categories: Religion, Virtues Tags:

Inmates, Soda Pop, and Self-Important Reporters

May 20th, 2009 No comments

Not long ago, I read an article by Carla Axtman entitled This ain’t Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense.” It refers to a Jeff Mapes article that addresses a new group called Common Sense Oregon that claims to, among other things, sniff out government waste. If you followed the links, it’s all about soda pop! Though I took issue with Carla’s title (mostly for fun), she took the time to include links to important considerations in corrections funding. Jeff gets a little paranoid about who’s funding/behind Common Sense Oregon. It seems both the left and the right are suspicious of big money, but use it prodigiously! For example, on the right, if George Soros funded it – well, it’s evil left. On the other (left) hand, if Loren Parks funded it – well, it’s the evil right.

Regardless, Jeff and Carla’s articles are reasonably balanced (though left leaning) and informative. If you read Common Sense Oregon’s blurb on the $3/4 of a million spent on soda for inmates, you’ll find it lacks the very common sense they claim to promote by using more snarky than reasoned information. Rather than respond to Max Williams’ response, Common Sense Oregon snarks:

Department of Corrections Chief Max Williams claims that food like soda pop is an important tool for managing prisoners. Perhaps if the prisoners weren’t hopped up on sugar from the free soda pop they are getting, there wouldn’t be a management problem.

Common Sense Oregon doesn’t bother with a reasoned response to Max Williams – they seem to use Saul Alinsky’s notion of using ridicule to win. I don’t know how other people weigh arguments, but I tend to dismiss people who use ridicule, arguing to the person, or red herrings to win debates. With that in mind, I’ll mention the last article about the soda pop and prison that was as bad as or worse than Common Sense Oregon.

Too many people with limited life experience make public charges. The Group “Common Sense For Oregon”, which frankly I had never heard of, has managed to get news attention over its non-revelation that Oregon is spending, according to them, $773,000 for free soda pop for prisoners.

The first point to make in regard to this, is that we have 1 out of 31 Americans incarcerated today and it is a national shame. So why are they there? One reason is the simple fact that new laws are continually enacted and implemented, further outlawing more and more activity. (Tim King)

“The first point to make in regard to this,” is that Tim King misuses statistics provided by a PEW Center report – and seems to do it deliberately. There are not 1 in 31 people incarcerated in the United States. There are 1 in 31 people under “correctional control,” meaning “prison, jail, probation, or parole.” The word Incarcerated actually does mean “to put in prison,” or “subject to confinement.” For those actually incarcerated see the PEW Center’s report 1 in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008.
At best, this is disingenuous.

If you read to the end of Tim King’s article, you’ll find it is filled with arguments to the person, ridicule, and red herrings. Moreover, you’ll find at the very end a paragraph describing his 20 odd years of experience – which is probably why he opens his article with “Too many people with limited life experience make public charges.” I’m not certain if this refers only to the amount (time lived) or variety of life experience, but I’m pretty certain a young person with limited experience is still capable of making a prudent and accurate public charge. Moreover, that an old man with a variety of experience is capable of making an imprudent and specious public charge – or even self-righteous accusations about another person or organization’s motives. My daughter tries to avoid mean spiritedness, seems Tim and Common Sense Oregon could both do the same.

Though I agree with Tim King’s assertion that the inmates should have the soda, it is not for the non-reasons he provides: it is because I agree with Max Williams – who probably actually does have more life experience with inmates and corrections operations than does good old Timmy. 😉


Trial Service Year – P001

May 19th, 2009 No comments

I’m late after only two weeks! I told myself I’d make a post each Monday, and here it is Tuesday – worse still, my daughter sent me an email telling me to get off my apathy and get to work. Though I saw plenty of sparkles this past week, I didn’t make the time to comment. So, I’m now making the time to comment on one of the primary purposes of this blog, i.e., corrections as a function of our criminal justice system.

Previously, I mentioned that Ted Conover’s New Jack: Guarding Sing Sing played an important role in my desire to publish this blog. New Jack, in short, is the story of Ted Convover’s trial service year as a corrections officer in the New York Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). I wanted to serve at least a year in a maximum security prison and compare the experience. I plied my trade during my trial service year in the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC). Part of this blog will be a comparison of my trial service year to Conover’s trial service year. There are some disturbing similarities and differences. More common however, is the day to day grind like any other job.

Once the initial trial service year has been compared, I plan to move on to a more robust discussion of the prison experience here in Oregon. Conover mentions, and most experienced corrections officers and management personnel make it plain, that becoming a seasoned officer requires 2-5 years of service on the job. This may seem a peculiar research method, but I liked the idea and admired Conover’s courage to step into a job he may have been ill suited to perform.

Generally, I’ll follow Conover’s lead in being marginally chronological in the telling of the tale; however, I’ll also take some excursions away from the time line to develop other ideas and experiences. Conover opens his book with what might be taken as a typical arrival at work – and a stark description of all the fear and angst he claims officers feel when they arrive. He also includes a clear and compelling description and short history of Sing Sing, New York’s third prison. I’ll also hunt down some history for my prison experience, but I’ll also try to limit any bibliographical material to that which I’ve actually read and used in my writing.

I’ll see you at the front gate by next week.

Paine on Society and Government

May 12th, 2009 No comments

As I mentioned in my previous post, the aim of these posts will hopefully be predominantly corrections; however, I reserve the right to chase any sparkly thing! Sometimes, I believe the sparkles and corrections may converge. Sometimes, a patriot’s writing provides a number of avenues to explore. For example, one of Thomas Paine’s most famous pieces is his political pamphlet Common Sense. It relates Paine’s distaste for the necessary “evil” of government. I wish more people would take the time to read the whole pamphlet! It turns our current notion of “left” and “right” on its ear. More important, is the responsibility it ascribes to society and government.


Political Continuum - sent to Beck by Insider BrokenParadox

In Glenn Beck’s opinion, our Founding Fathers had a much less intrusive government in mind. Though I enjoyed this photo at Beck’s site, I really enjoyed his commentary on the “continuum of left and right” in our current political discussions, i.e., the claim that the GOP has moved too far to the “right.” It’s a fun episode to watch. Regardless of one’s opinion of Beck (most progressives think he’s a nut job), giving each side an honest hearing seems – well, somehow, very American. Beck thinks that the founders wanted to provide a government just small enough to avoid anarchy and allow maximum liberty – a thought that Thomas Paine also seems to share:

SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer! (Paine, in Common Sense)

Society encourages our virtues, government punishes our wickedness. Not much further in to Paine’s wonderful little tract, he makes it clear that security is bound up in the government’s responsibilities. He was a real word mechanic that Paine:

For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others (of course, the emphasis is mine).

Hmmm, he sounds kind of conservative. Regardless, the point I want to walk away with is that society and government are not the same, and that while we argue about what punishment is really all about (“corrections” in modern parlance), we very often fail to discuss society’s responsibility to inculcate the virtues – the four cardinal virtues, the three “theological” virtues, and of course, our civic virtue!

In future posts, whether discussing our security or the government’s punishment of wrongdoers, conceptions of these virtues will be central to many of the conclusions drawn. Consequently, at least some discussion will be aimed at an understanding of these virtues. The government’s job of security and its collateral responsibility of punishment must rely on society’s demand for virtuous conduct by our representatives. Whether right or left, Democrat or Republican, Libertarian or Progressive, one can hope that at least some of these old virtues are still shared.

A final note: Please feel free to comment and engage in a dialogue – and as long as it remains civil (now there’s a word we should explore!) the comments will be only lightly moderated. I look forward to the conversation!

Why a New Skalduggery?

May 11th, 2009 No comments

Why this new iteration of the Skalduggery blog? Why, after ignoring the original at Blogger for so long, would I decide to try again? Kind of a complicated question, but the short answer is because I want to try again. It is a little more complicated than that, but essentially, it is simply something I want to accomplish. A short history, though not entirely explanatory, does at least provide a little background and a very little explanation.

I’ll start at about the time I dropped out of high school: I spent some time as a life guard, a surfer, a ditch digger, a sailor for some twenty years (and thanks to the Navy, a perpetual college student), a security specialist, a night audit clerk, a porn-shop retail clerk, a Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA), I framed houses, worked as a programmer, a draftsman, and now… a Corrections Officer. Why work corrections? Two reasons:

First, I went back to college for a master in the administration of justice and security systems. Though I wasn’t sure I could afford the pay cut, a layoff helped me make the decision to afford the pay cut. Yup, I got caught in that great old housing bubble. Fortunately, I already had a job lined up when I was laid off… Corrections Officer.

Second, a book entitled Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover latched hold of my imagination. While working on my masters one of my professors recommended the book as a worthwhile read, and as a result, I chose corrections over other areas in our criminal justice system.

That’s the short version, and as I complete my posts, the rest will become clear. You see, there are sections of Conover’s book that I believe are dead on, and other areas that I believe could use a little more… clarity? So then, parts of Skalduggery will be aimed at my current job, its relation to some of Conover’s descriptions, current news in criminal justice, and of course, some perspectives other than Conover’s or my own.

As always, I reserve the right to muse on whatever sparkly thing catches my interest, but since it’s my site rather than Blogger’s, I’ll have at least a little more control… once I catch up to technology and figure out how to manage this hosted site – I’m not too proud, so I may be hiring some inexpensive help!

See you soon.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Men Without Chests, Cowardice, and Virtues

May 4th, 2009 2 comments

I think, in order to open this blog with my “Hello World” post, I’ll re-post one of the more popular posts from the old Skalduggery. There is a reason for this other than laziness – it establishes, in a small way, some of the values I cherish.

Christopher Hitchens, in the first article of a series of three, rages against and castigates the very likes of God and religion. These articles are excerpts from his new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I can’t help it, I like the guy. He’s an obnoxious iconoclast – but he THINKS. Can’t say that I agree with him on any of a number of things, but there are several elements of this first installment that I do agree with. However, like one of the respondents, not only is there plenty to disagree with, there is much about religion that has produced some of the best in humanity. “When atheism becomes as intolerant as fanatical religion,” perhaps it’s time to take a step back and watch what spews out of one’s mouth. I believe the respondent had the right of it:

…just because religion is conducive to intolerance and bloodlust, Hitchens the belligerent warmonger proves that atheism is no guarantee of benevolence. Certainly Stalin and Mao found other ideologies to justify their appetite for destruction.

Trotskyite that he is, I’m certain Hitchens will excuse atheism and blame the evil Stalin and his perversion of an ideology… mmm, what’s that? Hitchens Is Not Great: How People Poison Ideologies.


Why the commentary on Mr. Hitchens? Because he attempts to marginalize another, much more humble person I admire. C.S. Lewis wrote The Abolition of Man to address a subject that my friend over at The Coffeespy  and a friend at work have knocked around. To use Lewis’s phrase, we in the West are raising “Men Without Chests.” This discussion might seem a little convoluted, but please, bear with me here – it will come right in the end.

Lewis performs a critical analysis of a school text book as launching off point for a defense of objective values, what he in shorthand, calls the Tao. Throughout the book he uses principles from the Tao, but as he makes clear, this is a word he is using to represent more than the Chinese concept:

The Chinese also speak of a great thing (the greatest thing) called the Tao. It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and super cosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar.17 ‘In ritual’, say the Analects, ‘it is harmony with Nature that is prized.’18 The ancient Jews likewise praise the Law as being ‘true’.19

This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as ‘the Tao’ (Columbia’s put the book online).

Where Lewis uses a text book on literature to demonstrate that modern man is losing the understanding that there is a real objective value system, I would quote a single passage from the actual Tao. However, before I do, one of his examples is straightforward; the notion that a particular vista is sublime. The literature textbook tries to inculcate in the student that this simply means one has sublime feelings about the scene in question. Lewis, rightly, identifies that as an absurdity. If a person were describing his feelings, then certainly the sentence might start “That makes me feel…”

“That vista makes me feel sublime.” First, sublime means “so awe-inspiringly beautiful as to seem almost heavenly” (Encarta). It’s an adjective not a feeling. Lewis rightly points out that the emotions one experiences are virtually opposite of the descriptor itself. If one says an ocean view is sublime, it is not because one feels awe-inspiringly beautiful – the emotional correlative is veneration or humility. The scene inspires AWE. More than that, one is saying that the scene is worthy of veneration. Through a long, but entertaining and educational argument, Lewis connects this codswollop to the death of courage as virtue, in fact, to the death of the civic and cardinal virtues.

Now then, the easy way is the way, in the Tao:

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.

When goodness is lost, there is morality.

When morality is lost, there is ritual.

Ritual is the husk of true faith,

The beginning of chaos (Tao te Ching, #38).

Our culture progresses into idiocy for lack of that central organ in man, the chest, which is atrophied by the very cowards who cut their own hearts out. Lewis reminds us that “the head rules the belly through the chest.” The head representing our reason, the belly our appetites, and the chest – “The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal” (Lewis, 1943).

I love poetry, especially poetry that inspires awe, celebrates courage, fidelity, loyalty, and so many other virtues associated with the chivalric code. Most recognize Tennyson’s noble 600 in the Charge of the Light Brigade, and sometimes people recognize at least a part of Ulysses. Each celebrates various virtues. Lewis finds the fact that these authors of the literature textbook are called intellectuals intolerable:

The operation of The Green Book [the literature textbook] and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius [the authors] could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful (Lewis, 1943).

I’ve spent too much time harping on a pet peeve. I’ve been reading books on the CIA, John and Robert Kennedy of late, and I think they were perhaps the last of the liberal Democrats I admired. RFK seemed to recognize the decay CS Lewis identified and set on our dinner tables. RFK’s “philosophy, which he urged on others and truly tried to live by himself, was: we may be doomed, but each man must define himself anew each day by his own actions” (Thomas, 2000, p. 22). I think we’d find far fewer traitors in our midst should we define ourselves anew each day by our actions. I’m a retired sailor, so I’ll sign off with a final note from Ulysses:

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

                Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Categories: Culture, Manhood, Philosophy, Religion, Virtues Tags:
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