As a prison consultant my job is to help clean my clients up physically and mentally prior to surrendering. Often drinking and drugging to numb the anticipated pain of being incarcerated leaves many people who are self-surrendering looking horrendous when they arrive at prison gates.
When this common or high profile inmate walks into prison, an immediate perception of them may be construed as so objectionable that it can, from time to time, be hard to view them as human beings. They can be dirty, intoxicated, untidy, slothful, self-centered, irate, belligerent, and disrespectful. They sometimes lie and often complain worse than a 7 year old.
Correction officers, military and law enforcement personnel often clarify the nature of values. There are really just two kinds:
1.) Comparative values: Those values that can be different for me than they are for you, based upon our culture, environment, upbringing, personal preference, etc.; and
2.) The Life Value: Not relative, but worldwide
The reason we can abhor the words and actions of some young people, yet still love them, flows from our ability to separate in our minds the comparative value of their behaviors (which can be good, bad, or indifferent) and the total value of their lives and our love for them (which is not relative).
When my children were teens they would behave objectionably or even criminally, I know I didn’t have to respect their behavior, but I still loved them (respect his life). That is the way we roll. And that goes for all youth, they can drive you through the roof and make you question why you didn’t leave them on someone’s porch and tip toe away.
You may be saying, “It’s not a good comparison, I can easily value my loved ones, and valuing strangers isn’t my problem.”
What Mr. Prison Consultant? Loving a Criminal?
Fair enough. Dealing with criminals is not the same as dealing with teenagers (although sometimes as parents it can be hard to separate the two). It may seem ridiculous to say that they “love” a criminal, even if they detest his or her behavior.
Yet, this little piece of philosophical clarification might be just what they need to act ethically and professionally under stress. They need to deal with the behavior, but without dehumanizing the inmate. Any person who has served a significant amount of time in prison will have seen this several times per day. In penitentiaries correction officers rarely deliberately disrespect an inmate. The chances of retaliation far outweigh those at low security prisons and prison camps.
As a prison consultant, I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of a correction officer. Sometimes it is very difficult to witness the illegal and immoral actions of a criminal and separate in their minds the absolute value of life from the relative value of his or her behavior, but it is the right thing to do.
Let’s be perfectly honest, what happens if prison officials or police officers don’t value the lives of everyone? What is the greater “crime?” Carrying a shank to protect his or herself, selling drugs, or snatching a purse? Or robbing someone of their humanity because you disagree with their behavior?
One is illegal, but the other is unethical.
Moreover, the ability to make this separation may be one of the keys to avoiding stress, burnout and PTSD. As a prison consultant, I strongly believe that demonizing or dehumanizing others because of their relative values — be they ethnic, cultural, behavioral or criminal — exacerbates PTSD.
When we denigrate the value of one life, we denigrate the value of all life — including our own. The Life Value applies to all humans, even those we don’t like.
Yes, even criminals.