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Stan Moody Prison Myth#2 You Have to Be a Team Player

Stan Moody Prison Myth#2 You Have to Be a Team Player

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Published by Stan Moody
Amidst injustices in the Maine State Prison, a new warden has a lot on her plate.
Amidst injustices in the Maine State Prison, a new warden has a lot on her plate.

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Published by: Stan Moody on Dec 31, 2009
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07/12/2013

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Prison Myth No. 2: “You Have to Be a TeamPlayer!”
December 25, 2009As I write this article, it is 9:45 am, Christmas Day. I have been a teamplayer in the give and take of gifts and good wishes. The game is over; teammembers are dispersing; it is time for reflection until the next group meetingin a couple of hours.Who were the great team players in human history? Certainly notGandhi, the author of non-violent protest; not Jesus of Nazareth, who refuseda coronation by His followers; not Galileo, who was tried and convicted of heresy against his church for daring to suggest that the sun did not revolvearound the earth. Nor was Martin Luther a team player. He was tried,convicted and condemned to death (never carried out) for valuing truth overtradition. His name-sake, King, Jr., was assassinated for daring to challengelong-held traditions of bigotry and hate covered with a veneer of religiousconviction. There don’t seem to be many, if any, team players who have beenassociated with change, success or victory. The exception is basketball,where kudos are given to the player who passes off rather than takes thelow-percentage shot outside the circle – provided the team wins, of course.Basketball, however, is a very public game, which distinguishes it fromprison.Maine State Prison is anything but a public game. The taxpayer hasevery interest in applauding team players at MSP – staff and prisoners alike.Who wants to be reminded of our failures? Nestled in the midst of 1,100acres of farmland outside the beaten path of US Rte. 1, MSP is a monumentto law and order, housing within its razor wire barriers 1,000 men serving outtheir sentences for anti-social behavior – failing to be team players.Within its walls, however, is a bee hive of activity – moving paper fromone department to another and logging nearly every 15-minute segment of 1
 
the day. It is the quintessential example of a team committed to a processof tamping down anything that fails to fit comfortably within the boundariesset by 200 years of human warehousing unless mandated by a court order.Needless to say, low-percentage shots outside the circle aresystematically blocked at MSP.Initial interviews of the new warden, Patricia Barnhart, from Michigan,have highlighted team building as the strength she brings to the job. In thepast, team building from the Commissioner on down has placed a premiumon the three-monkey defense – “see no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil.” Wecan only hope that Warden Barnhart, while working on staff morale, will notherself become a typical Corrections Department team player at a time whencracks are beginning to appear in the three-monkey defense.A long history of team players has held MSP culture to a 19
th
Centuryprison model within a 21
st
Century shell. I am reminded of the past history of religious convents, benign on the outside but seething with conflict anddenial within. Bring to the attention of a Deputy Warden violations of security and medical care, and you are likely to receive in return a policymanual or an unpleasant private meeting with the Warden. The death of prisoner Sheldon Weinstein was a watershed moment forteam players at the Department. Having died unattended in solitaryconfinement 4 days after an assault, there was no way for team players tocircle the wagons. The best they could do would be to gently move asideWarden Jeff Merrill, who now serves as a traveling consultant to theDepartment on such matters as energy and prison industries, and disciplineless than a handful of security people at the bottom of the food chain. The recent death of prisoner Victor Valdez, while preceded bydiscomforting circumstances, was not unattended and therefore falls underefficient team player dispatch.As I reflect on these events, even the Attorney General’s Officestruggles with the team player syndrome, knowing that the minute they getan indictment against the inmates who assaulted Prisoner Weinstein that2
 
fails to implicate staff as accessory before or after the fact, they open a canof worms. That, along with what will prove to be a very public lawsuit byWeinstein’s widow, should blow the team cover sky high. Stay tuned!So, what is a team player in a prison? Is it someone who ignores whatis wrong in the interest of promoting what they perceive as the greatergood? Do Chaplains ignore violations of human rights because of the greatergood of contributing to the spiritual welfare of prisoners? Does theEducation Department turn a blind eye to physical abuse by security so longas they are teaching illiterate inmates how to read? Is it about puttingwindow dressing on training programs mandated by the federal governmentwithout accountability from those being trained?So long as team players commit to circling the wagons at every crisisand keeping the media at arm’s length, MSP will retain its history of 19
th
 Century culture in a 21
st
Century box, regardless of how many tongue-in-cheek memos are sent from the Commissioner’s Office encouragingreporting of violations. The Department of Corrections has many capable, devoted andcommitted employees. They have, however, been muzzled, creating theappearance of teamwork without the innovating tactics of a winning team. Team membership trumps a strategy of success. There is, trapped under thesurface, a chafing at the restraint on creativity and reform. It pervadesthroughout the system and will prevent the Department from forging successout of society’s failures in its keeping.Being a team player does indeed require ignoring nonessentials infavor of the greater good. Human rights and dignity, however, are not, as welearned at the Nuremburg Trials, nonessentials. Neither is “greater good”about keeping a lid of secrecy on operations. Being a team player requiresanother ingredient – courage. Courage to offer innovative ideas; courage tospeak out against abuse; courage to strive for a system that will not wiltunder public scrutiny; courage to turn sound bites into viable programs;3

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