Our Dear Friend Mike Lambrix left us on October 5, 2017
He went from the Darkness to the Light..

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Carrot and the Stick

 Written June 15.
Basic psychology...you have a carrot and you have a stick. At some point way back when Neanderthals ruled the world, they figured out that when you put the two things together you can tame even the wildest of animals. A good example are the lions, tigers and bears at a circus, and how they bow down to their trainer under both the threat of the stick and the treat that follows when they submit.But as only a good trainer knows, try to beat an animal down without throwing a treat their way, and it's just a matter of time before that animal will reach the point were it turns on you.

The problem on Florida's death row today is someone ate the freaking carrot and all that's left now is the stick used to constantly beat us down. And there's no doubt in my mind that it's going to get a hell of a lot worse before there's any hope of it getting better as I've seen these same cycles come and go through the many years and they always end the same way, and it never ends well. It just goes to show that there's a lot of truth in that saying that those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

You see, when it comes down to it people are not so different from lions and tigers. Some would even argue that humanity is by far the most vicious animal on earth and there's a lot of evidence to support that argument.

There's a balance to everything and in this context that's why the carrot is so important. With few exceptions, prisoners will generally jump through whatever hoops they're told to - as long as there's at least the illusion of a reward that follows. It has been long recognized by prison administrators that giving prisoners basic privileges (social visits, allowing electronic play toys like radio and TV etc) really are not about pampering convicted felons as some would want others to believe, but it's about promoting a safe and, dare I say "peaceful" prison environment as experience has shown that if you don't treat prisoners as human beings they will become animals, and when pushed too far, any animal will reach the point when they will bite back.

Many in prison today believe that that's exactly what these now in power of the prison system actually want. Why, you ask? Because by actually promoting disruptions and inciting violence, the puppet masters can then argue for the need of substantial budget increases. As it stands, the Florida Prison system has been choked almost to death by the republicans that control the state legislature. These politicians want to lock up everyone but they don't want to provide the necessary funding to pay for it.

As a result, prison employees haven't received any pay raises for about the last decade. Politicians have stripped them of many of the benefits that once made working for the state attractive (and it's not only prison employees, state employees are also being screwed, for example read: "We need to fix the crisis in FHP's ranks" - The Lakeland Ledger, June 3, 2017.
Yes, I really do have a point. But as anyone who regularly reads my rhetorical ramblings already knows, I suffer from a chronic, and apparently incurable form of diarrhea of the mouth...which is also why in this age of the Internet and the inconvenient truth that we, as a society, have devolved to the point most people now have the attention span of gnat :-( and so only my most committed friends have the patience to read what I write.

What is my point? I have a bookshelf firmly attached to the wall of my solitary prison cell. It was designed to put books on and for decades that's just what i did - I put my books on that bookshelf. But then the animal trainers abruptly decided that all our property in our cell must be stored in a steel footlocker we are provided, and absolutely nothing can be out of that locker unless in actual use at that moment. Anything that doesn't fir in your locker is immediately declared "contraband". And if you fail to follow this rule then the first few violations result in what they call a "72 hour property restriction" in which they will take all your property out of your cell and for at least 3 days you will be stuck in an empty, stripped down cage (and in the hot, humid summer months without the small plastic fan we are allowed to have). If you still refuse to follow the "rules", then they will write up a formal "disciplinary report ("D.R.") and you will lose all your property and privileges (canteen, visits etc) for at least 30 days.

But coming up with this policy was only the beginning. Then it was decided that from early morning until the evening our bunks had to be made up in a military fashion and anytime an "official visitor" came on the floor we had to be in our full dress "class A" uniform and stand at attention against the wall - and, of course, in strict silence until they completed their so called "inspection", and non-compliance resulted in the above disciplinary sanctions.

With few exceptions, most death row prisoners complied, including myself, as you have to pick your battles in prison and nobody wins a pissing contest with the puppet masters.

However, now this has taken another big step - now these so called "inspections" are happening 2-3 times a week, and often there is never any actual inspection, but rather this has apparently become a perverse form of entertainment just to watch us jump through hoops. They'll wake up everybody relatively early in the morning and tell us to be prepared for "inspection", and we must wait and wait, only to be told hours later that it's all clear.

Some might say: "So what?", as on the free world side of these bars it's hard to see how these things cause significant disruption and create an escalation of unnecessary animosity between the prisoners and staff. The simple truth is that nobody likes to get beat down with that metaphorical "stick" without reason and constantly putting us through this just because they can has nothing to do with any legitimate form of institutional "security and order", but at least from our perspective, it's about abusing and provoking us for no reason but to incite disruptions to justify their need to convince the state legislature that they must have more money for staff to manage the prison system.

And it all comes down to the stick and the carrot. Since this escalation of essentially beating us down just because they can is one-sided, with no promise of a carrot to follow,the death row environment is becoming increasingly disruptive - the balance no longer maintained - and many of the guys are now talking about standing together in a hunger strike to protest this escalation of abuse of power.

What few also realize is that the death row unit is generally the most disciplined housing and not because they're beating us over the head with a stick, rather it's because most of us have been here for many years and all we want is to be left alone. Most guards actually want to work death row as we don't cause problems. Allowing us to maintain our sense of dignity and self respect gives us that sense of humanity that is vital in this inferno we must exist in. (Please read - "Death Row, the Ninth Ring") 

And when people are reduced to nothing but animals, beaten and broken and forced into a corner, then they will begin to respond as animals, and that is not an environment we want to live in. And while many will take great pleasure in seeing condemned prisoners suffer, I like to think most people will find it morally intolerable.

At the end of the day one fundamental truth remains - treat people with dignity and respect and you retain the humanity within all of us. But allowing those entrusted to control the environment to systematically abuse that power not only compromises the humanity within the prisoners but within all of society as if history has taught us nothing else, it is that ultimately any society is judged by the way it treats the very least amongst it's ranks.

To illustrate where this escalation of abuse of power always inevitably leads to, I would strongly encourage everyone to read what the Federal Court wrote in Valdes v Crosby 450 F.3d. 1231 (11th cir. 2006), detailing how a familiar escalation of abuse of power led to the violent assaults of at least 167 prisoners by staff, climaxing with staff physically beating a death row prisoner to death. Again, those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. And by the way, the prison official responsible for that escalation (James Crosby) was subsequently sentenced to 8 years in Federal prison on corruption charges. Is that really who today's prison administrators want to see as an example to follow?


Worn Out Shooter said...

I used to believe that we gave inmates far too many luxuries and that society was too soft on crime despite our rather high rate of incarceration. However, I spent a few years working in corrections and my tune changed entirely.

You are exactly correct that you must use both the carrot and the stick in order to keep prisons running smoothly and to remain as safe as possible for staff and inmate alike. However, the carrot has to be used far more often than the stick for it to be truly effective. That is particularly true away from death row and when dealing with folks with a release date. Incentive based corrections helps bring about some actual rehabilitation. Punishment alone does nothing to show people the benefit of adherence to the norms of society.

I am still a firm believer that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for some crimes (and left to my own it would be used for several crimes other than murder). However, the way we go about carrying out the penalty is unacceptable. Taking decades to carry out the sentence means that the people we execute aren't the same people that committed the crimes. And the level of punishment between the sentence being imposed and carried out is far greater than the punishment itself. It is time for meaningful programming to be a part of death row. Segregation of the condemned needs to end. Open day rooms for a few hours a day and rec outside of dog run like enclosures are the exact carrots that we need to use. Not only would it offer true incentive for better behavior, but it would put an end to the horrific punishment endured while waiting for the punishment to be carried out.

deathrow info said...

Also again you use "we as a society" in this blog....by definition of law you have given up the right to be part of our society,so you need to stop referring to your self included in our society.