To my readers: I welcome all feedback because good writing does not happen in a vacuum; communication is an important part of the creative process.
Some points of clarification by paragraph, and concerns that were brought to my attention . . .
Paragraph 2: “ . . . death row staff wore somber black ribbons in Callahan’s honor.” Some staff wore these ribbons and some staff had “hard accusatory looks” twisting their faces. The description was not a stereotype of every staff member, rather, a conveyance of the general mood of many people working on death row. Some staff conducted business as usual, unaffected by incidents outside of Central Prison. My descriptions may seem to sensationalize but, several significant and traumatic events occurred throughout NC’s penal system and toning down the language to make it more mundane would have been disingenuous.
Paragraph 3: “ . . . the state’s wrath would impact every prison; a murdered guard was a license for punitive reprisals throughout the penal system.” This is neither an exaggeration nor an attempt to garner sympathy for prisoners. It’s a statement of fact and a major point in this article; in bureaucratic systems policy violations elicit over reactive responses. This applies to prisons and virtually every other government entity. Punitive reprisals in prison take the form of “tightening up”, a strict adherence to the rules and elimination of minor liberties. This often leads to a deterioration in communication between staff and prisoners, greater distrust, and animosity.
Paragraph 6: “Brutal cell extractions, beatings out of camera view, and prisoners pushed down flights of steps . . .” These incidents, according to friends who have spent time on Unit One, continued even after cameras were installed. The officers responsible are a small group and not representative of all officers who work at CP. Sometimes these assaults are unprovoked, at other times they may be reprisals against prisoners who spit, “gas” (a mixture of urine and feces sprayed from a bottle), or otherwise try to injure staff. On its face, retaliation seems justified if someone spits at or on you, but the majority of prisoners who do such a thing in solitary confinement are mentally ill and beyond reason. As natural an inclination as a violent response maybe for staff they should be above doing so. I’m aware it’s easier said than done, but this is exactly what de-escalation training teaches and why it is necessary on Unit One and Unit Six. You don’t beat or otherwise abuse restrained prisoners – justified or not. This is the burden and responsibility of authority.
Paragraph 13: “ . . . our interaction and communication with unit staff increased and improved.” Interaction with correctional officers on death row is different from any other unit. In the general sense the day to day routine seldom changes, leaving “relationships” to vary with each person. The end of Dr. Kuhns’ programs reduced the frequency with which many of us are around staff or have cause to talk with them. Juehrs discouraged both movement on the unit and communication with staff, preferring them to further isolate us.
Paragraph 16: “ . . . a faction of staff at CP resented the programs and attention on death row. They despised the idea that any inmate should be treated as an equal . . “ To be clear, most staff really liked the therapeutic programs on death row. It made their jobs easier and broke up the monotony of each week. It’s unfortunate some made their displeasure and dislike of the programs known by actively undermining them. The idea that any death row prisoners were treated as anything other than convicted murderers really bothered some staff. I recognize that no prisoner will be considered the “equal” of prison staff in terms of status, but this does not preclude humanity and that was exactly the lesson Dr. Kuhns tried to each everyone.
Paragraph 19: “Juehrs initiated an internal investigation of Dr. Kuhns . . “ The complete findings of the investigation were never made known to any of us. Our questions to the FCC (Facility Control Committee) on Unit One, a board that determines a prisoner’s security status, were ignored. At no time did any prison official attempt to inform me why I was being held in solitary confinement only that I was “under 45 day investigation”. My brief conversation with Juehrs after my release from Unit One was the only time I was provided information by staff about the investigation. Coupled with what I could glean from volunteers who had been kicked out of the prison, it wasn’t too difficult to figure out what happened. If there is any failing in the facts presented in this article, it is due to the lack of transparency and evidence from the investigatory process
Paragraph 21: “Lt. Soucier, who conducted the investigation, received a promotion to the hospital unit manager and created such a hostile work environment for Dr. Kuhns that he ultimately left CP . . .” From the moment Dr. Kuhns worked at CP to the day he departed it was a hostile environment. Any time you attempt to alter the status quo of a world where power is measured in your impact on policy, there’s going to be resistance. Lassiter gave Kuhns the chance to implement his programs and Joyner allowed them to flourish. When these administrators moved on the status quo – punishment not rehabilitation – reasserted itself. That Kuhns was forced to work under Soucier added insult to injury and likely awakened him to the fact he was fighting a losing battle by himself. Maybe there will be a day when more administrators are interested in progressing North Carolina’s prison system with rehabilitative programs like Dr. Kuhns implemented, but that day has yet to arrive.
True reform in the penal system requires communicating and understanding the needs of both prison staff and the incarcerated population. What is not helpful, and makes true change a pipe dream, are entrenched attitudes about one group or another. With this in mind I will always strive to understand my environment and the varying perspectives of people in it, encouraging dialogue about those differences in any way I can.