Stan Moody

POB 240 Manchester, ME 04351 207/626-0594

Maine Corrections to Suicide Mom: ´You Need Grief Counselingµ
Author: Stan Moody July 30, 2011 The Maine prison system shares with other states a certain impotency when it comes to the human side of its mission. ³Department of Corrections´ is a product of the spin cycle. The reality is that there is little going on in the way of correcting. Inasmuch as human dignity cannot be mandated in a policy directive from the front office, touching a life becomes a rare employment violation for those staff members willing to risk their careers by overreaching their job descriptions. Most employees of the Maine Department of Corrections (DOC) live out the 3-monkey defense ± ³see no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil´. Two employee ethics have emerged: ³Never do anything without administrative approval´ and ³circle the wagons when criticized´. The Shroud of Secrecy: This has given life to what I have dubbed the ³shroud of secrecy´, a curtain drawn over ideas coming in and information getting out. It is not unlike that of the former Soviet Union that collapsed from the weight of its own ignorance in the emerging but inaccessible information age. In a recent press interview (, I was quoted as saying that relatives of the convicted are seen by society as co-conspirators in the crime committed by their loved ones, needing healing that is virtually unavailable from the DOC. Thus, the landscape is littered with victims of officious immobility and institutional paranoia. A Grieving Mom: In its efforts to reach out to families of prisoners and probationers, the Meeting House Church, of which I am pastor, held a Father¶s Day service and barbeque. Few attended, but in the audience that day ± June 19, 2011 ± was a mother whose story ought to tear at the heart of the most heartless blogger. She slipped out the door, escaping the press. I first came into contact with Linda Penney, the mother of the late 45-year old probationer Scott Penney, after a local journalist, unable to pull together an objective story without piercing the DOC shroud of secrecy, referred her to me. Linda Penney is a grieving Mom who lost her son to suicide on January 3 of this year. Linda seeks closure in a tragedy that implicates an officious DOC. She does not seek damages; she seeks a moment of compassion for the benefit of others who may callously have been treated as she feels her son was treated. Those few within the

DOC who dared address that process of healing for Linda were reportedly shut down by a lawsuit-paranoid AG¶s Office and a new DOC Commissioner who was on a steep learning curve not of his own making. To be fair, there were two DOC employees who put themselves at risk to reach out, but even the best of employees will circle the wagon and fall into line when their jobs are at stake. Meanwhile, attempts to open a dialogue between Linda and Probation has been stonewalled with silence, or, as suggested in a telephone conversation on July 27, nearly seven months after Scott¶s death, ³You need grief counseling´. The Suicide Note: Here is the suicide note that Scott left for his Mom and that she had to fight to obtain: Mom and Dad« I am terribly sorry for doing this, but I try, and all it gets me is nothing. I will never have my life back, and I can¶t deal with all this around me and what has happened. I have only been staying around because I do love you no matter what. Someday you will understand that this was and is for a better purpose ± at some time; hopefully sooner. Please understand that my life has no meaning anymore and never can. I don¶t like burdening all of you. Please accept that it has nothing to do with you, for I love (my family). You need to focus your lives on each other ± all of you. Please make amends and peace with each other, and all of you pull together and enjoy life. Make something of it, for you truly never will know when it will be gone, and it hurts to lose it, believe me. Please don¶t mourn me, pity me or blame yourselves for this. I know it is selfish, and I don¶t blame you for saying it, but I ask you to understand it¶s for me. Sorry; so sorry, but there is no other way. Please make peace and enjoy each other and life. Spend time; do things; go places; enjoy ± please, for me. Love, Scott Scott was a registered sex offender, having been sentenced to 9 years with all but 2 suspended. He had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 20, a disease well beyond the capacity of the medical system at Maine State Prison but not an exceptional diagnosis among prisoners. In 2006, he slit his wrists. He was released in 2008 from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. At the time of his death, he had a full-time job with Pat Jackson Septic Tank Service in Belgrade, ME at $10 per hour, was current with his $75 per week child support and had his own apartment. He was found in that apartment at 20 State St., Augusta, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound via a rusty shotgun, the origin of which remains undetermined. Conditions of Probation: Scott¶s ³Conditions of Probation´ imposed by Kennebec County Superior Court on October 17, 2003, required that he have no ³unsupervised contact with female children under the

age of 18. In November, 2010, his probation officer (PO) assigned to closely monitor registered offenders, released him for transfer to less-restrictive supervision on the grounds that Scott was doing well. That was a tipping point for Scott Penney. His new PO reportedly broadened the scope of his court-ordered ³Conditions of Probation´ from female children under the age of 18 to male children under the age of 18. The cascade effect of this decision during the holiday season was that Scott was forbidden to attend the funeral of his favored aunt in the event that children were present and to visit his parents¶ home, as they were raising their minor grandson. The PO also insisted that he submit to a polygraph at his own expense, even though he had satisfactorily completed the sex offender treatment program and had properly registered on the State¶s registry. One could easily conjecture that brooding alone in his apartment exacerbated his mental condition. Courageous Attempt to Reach Out Fails: A meeting with the PO and supervisor, on January 10, an unusually compassionate gesture by the probation office, included Albert and Linda Penney and Scott¶s employer, Pauline Dube. The meeting began at 9:05 with introductions and then with a confrontation regarding the failure of the PO to carefully read the conditions of probation. The PO reportedly jumped up, saying, ³I don¶t have to take this´. The PO was technically right. Twice, the PO was asked by the supervisor not to leave the room but stormed out of the office at 9:16. Can Anyone Say, ³We Could Have Done Better?´: There is much to be learned from this situation, not the least of which is the need for intervention of a pastoral nature. To address the needs of a grief-stricken Mom a week after losing her son to suicide goes way beyond the pay scale or training of a law enforcement officer with an unmanageable case load. The accusatory reaction of the Mom is perfectly understandable, as is the defensive reaction of the PO. When a person comes under the care of the corrections system, entire families also come under the care of the corrections system, and there is little or no capacity to deal with such tragedies as experienced by the Penney¶s. Under the direction of the newly-confirmed DOC Commissioner, Joseph Ponte, and at a prodding by Linda Penney, an attempt was made to reach out but was complicated by lawsuit paranoia prevalent within the administration. In her correspondence with since-retired Associate Commissioner, Harold ³Bud´ Doughty, Linda Penney requested a meeting. These daily visits (to our home) from Scott were a source of stability for him. It gave him something to look forward to at the end of his day. It gave him the opportunity to rebuild and make stronger his relationship with us, his parents. This stability was taken away from Scott when (his PO) became his probation officer«We believe that if (his PO) had taken the time to get to know Scott and read the conditions of Scott¶s probation properly, this terrible thing might never have happened. Scott is no longer able to speak for himself, but we can still advocate for him by making sure that this doesn¶t happen again in the future to someone else¶s child, brother, father. We are simply asking to be heard ± to give Scott a voice, and we look forward to hearing from you.


In a letter written in mid-March, 2 ½ months after the death, the Associate Commissioner extended condolences and a meeting date with the new Commissioner. The conditions of that meeting, however, were that the specific issues involved in Scott¶s case not be discussed and that the PO not be present, the second condition being perfectly reasonable and the first rendering the meeting largely irrelevant. Unacceptable to the Penney¶s, Associate Commissioner Doughty cancelled the meeting. Yes; the PO was indeed ill-equipped to deal with the first meeting. Yes; the Commissioner¶s Office did make a gesture beyond the scope of its mission. Yet, the failure artfully to interact with the public, coupled with a tendency to dehumanize offenders as ³other´, keeps the criminal justice system on the defensive and detached from the very public it is commissioned to serve. ³That Was Not the Cause of the Suicide´: In my discussions with other colleagues of the PO in question, most of whom are very high on my respect list but each of whom has an unmanageable case load of up to 135 probationers, the immediate reaction was, ³That was not the cause of the suicide´. No one is looking for a ³cause.´ What was sought, perhaps ineptly under the circumstances, was closure that would acknowledge the agony inherent in such a tragedy. Complications of mental illness and social immaturity become factors beyond the capacity of the average PO. Probationers, despite the nature of their crimes, are desperately in need of integration into the community. Circling the wagons offers nothing to the future of an imploding corrections culture and to a public kept at arms length. PO¶s are overworked, underpaid, inconsistent in performance and underappreciated by the criminal justice system. They face an increasingly hostile public. Some probationers are predictable; others are salvageable. Scott Penney, from all I have learned, was salvageable but was shuffled into the realm of the predictable for his inability to advocate for himself. His was a resounding success story. The Penney¶s, in their correspondence with the DOC, had not suggested that the PO caused Scott¶s suicide. They were well aware of his mental incapacities. What they had suggested was that the PO¶s pressure, without taking the time to review the facts and get to know Scott, may have been the trigger that pushed him over the edge. In the PO¶s defense, we will never know for certain. ³What is the Process for Hiring Probation Officers?´: Acting on my suggestion that Linda Penney seek legal counsel to attempt to move this case to administrative review, her attorney, Ron Bourget of Augusta, sent a letter on May 4, 2011, to the Assistant Regional Correctional Administrator of the DOC seeking an administrative hearing. That letter, as of this date, has not been answered. I was prompted to ask, ³What is the process for hiring and monitoring probation officers?´ According to Maine Revised Statutes, Title 34-A, probation officers serve upon appointment by the Commissioner. Duties are prescribed by the Commissioner and are likely spelled out in more detail by internal policy. Beyond that, there do not appear to be statutory qualifications or licensure requirements for serving as a PO. Some were former human services case workers; others came from law enforcement. Under what circumstances they obtained their positions is not clear. What is clear, however, is that they are too overwhelmed with cases to offer much in the way of individual case management and are the least respected of the corrections bureaucracy.


While those in the Kennebec County office in Augusta have enjoyed a sterling record of offering services to probationers, it is all too easy for some PO¶s to act as bounty hunters for the penal system. PO¶s being appointments by a politically-appointed Commissioner, there appears to be little in the way of administrative policy for violations of duty. The closest statutory standard of performance is found in Maine Revised Statutes, 34-A P5404(3)(c), where PO¶s are to «´keep informed of the conduct and conditions of each person placed under the officer¶s supervision and use suitable methods to encourage the person to improve that person¶s conduct and conditions«´ By misreading Scott¶s condition of probation, the PO in question appears to have been in possible default of ³keeping informed of the conditions´ of his probation, a thin thread but one that should encourage some corrective action. Meanwhile, a grieving Mom is reeling from her son¶s death and bureaucratic fumbling. Who Was Scott Penney?: The short answer is that few have the courage to go on the record. Off the record, however, Linda Penney was comforted by Scott¶s cell mates from the prison, his fellow sex offender group counseling members and several DOC staff members and related service providers, none of whom would talk to this writer. What came through to Linda was that Scott was a success story ground up by a system that expects and thereby can easily encourage failure. Pauline Dube, owner and CEO of Pat Jackson Service rises to the defense of Scott, one of the best employees the business has ever had. ³When the new PO began with Scott, he began going downhill. He began hanging his head and not taking care of himself. Prior to that, we were his safe haven from the world.´ In a memo for her meeting with the Penney¶s and the PO, Pauline had this to say: Scott was a dedicated and loyal employee who did everything by the book. He read every handbook and reference guide about every piece of equipment he used. He was a super star, and everyone liked him. He went way beyond his duties to make things better. If he needed to come into the office even to punch out, he would call me, and my daughter would go into the back room to avoid contact. He talked to me about his new probation officer ± making his life hell. He was so scared of (his PO) because (his PO) kept telling him that they were going to put him back into prison. He feared jail and said that he would die before going back. Scott went to all his meetings and appointments, When he had to meet with his PO¶s, he would let me know and apologize for the inconvenience. So he would start early or work real late to make sure we would have room in the plant. Once a year, the Sheriff would call and ask, ³Is Scott still working there?´ The PO never called me to check up on Scott. Who is at Fault?: The wagon circlers are right when they say that the PO did not cause Scott¶s suicide. The cause was mental illness triggered by events. Nevertheless, the system has become so defensive and self-protective that it has lost sight of the humanity of the public it serves. It functions too


often from the gut-level perspective of stereotypes, sex offenders being classed as the most incorrigible but actually having a recidivism rate 1/10 that of other offenders. That returns us to the ill-defined status of probation officers. It is well known that PO¶s run the gamut from the compassionate to bounty hunters. I have witnessed PO¶s going to great length to be both cop and confessor to their clients. I personally have experienced being called by a PO to intervene in a client¶s case to keep him from going back to prison at a cost of $50,000 a year. On the other hand, there are the bad PO¶s such as the one in Kennebec County who sits outside bars in the middle of the night to catch his clients violating the no-alcohol mandate. Clearly, there is any number of better ways of dealing with that problem than jail or prison at a much lower cost to the taxpayer. What Do We Do About It?: The answer lies in what does not work. It does not work to transfer a client to a PO without a written case management report and an orientation with both the old and new PO¶s and the client. It does not work to run to the AG¶s Office for advice whenever a member of the public seeks answers. It does not work to fail to hold PO¶s to a tight standard of performance. It does not work to overload Probation with so many cases that they lose sight of the humanity of their clients. It does not work for DOC administration to stonewall against dealing with the hurt that misfeasance deals to families or to suggest grief counseling to deflect the problem. What would be wrong with offering that service to family members reeling from tragedy? Needed are standards for becoming a PO, a hearing process for grievances and consistent standards for performance. To classify PO¶s as law enforcement and equip them with weapons is giving them the message that Corrections is the problem of others. In fact, Corrections is a scarce commodity in the corrections culture.


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