Last year, I was the subject of an assault (but not battery) by an inmate. The incident could have been avoided if my co-worker had more common sense about working in a prison. But she didn’t, and she made a choice that essentially set me up and put me in a situation where I was assaulted. I’m going to save the details of that story for another time, but I mention it because yesterday that same co-worker made another mistake that led to a number of consequences, all of which could have been avoided if she’d just had more common sense.
The file drawers of our office desks have locks to them. This particular individual left the key to the lock of her file drawer in the lock. Then she left her desk and went somewhere else, and by the time she remembered that she’d left the key in the lock and went to get it, the key was gone. Now, one of the cardinal rules of being an employee in a prison is that you never, ever just leave your key laying around where any inmate passing by could quickly reach over and pocket it. I’m sure that even if you don’t work in a prison and you never had the training, you still know it’s a bad idea.
Anyway, so this woman goes around the office, looking everywhere and asking me if I’ve seen the key, because my office is positioned across from her office space and her desk. Of course I hadn’t seen her key, but I did know that about a dozen inmates came in and out of that office space that morning, including my patients and the inmate workers (clerks and porters) who worked in our building.
She said, “Well, I do have another key that will open that lock. Do you think I still have to report the key is missing?”
“Of course you have to report the key is missing!” I said. “That’s policy. And you do know that once you report a missing key, custody could recall the yard and track down all the inmates who’ve been in here, and then they’re going to do a strip search, and if they don’t find that key, they could go into those guys’ cells and tear up their houses looking for it.”
So she went and reported the missing key to the sergeant, and an investigation was initiated. When I got back to work this morning, I saw one of the inmate clerks who has worked with me for a couple of years now. He is an older man in his sixties, serving a life sentence and slowly dying of liver disease.
“Do you know if they found the key?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Last night, they rounded us up and we had to do a strip search. Butt naked.” He shook his head. “I wouldn’t have taken that key. What would I have done with it?”
I believed him. In fact, I wondered if my co-worker may have misplaced her key somewhere else, whether she’d lost it or dropped it or put it in a forgotten place, because that was just the kind of person she was, and it seemed more likely that that little key had fallen into an obscure location rather than into an inmate’s pocket. I tried not to think about this inmate and the others having to strip down naked for the correctional officers, the indignity of always being seen as guilty even when innocent, the way this sort of thing was all a part of being incarcerated.
I shook my head, too. I didn’t have an answer.
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