I See You…

by Rory Andes

I was recently told by a staff member of himself, “It doesn’t take anything to be a decent person.” These are words to live by.

In all of the hardships of prison in general, and during Covid specifically, there are the occasional staff members within the prison who really take efforts to make their humanity known and to those I say, “I see you.” When that humanity is exposed in the way of care, concern and compassion, it’s as refreshing as a tall glass of water among the sands of a desert. It’s welcome. It’s humanizing. Most importantly to me, I thank you and I’m gracious for it.

There is an erroneous inmate prison culture, sometimes called the “Convict Code”, that prevents some inmates from growing from those types of compassionate staff. Staff are often bound by their own social codes that enforces an erroneous prison culture that denies inmates any humanity, also. So the good ones, the compassionate professionals, have to live in the shadows, away from the judgements and scrutiny of their peers and colleagues, just like inmates.

Incarcerated people who’ve taken their rehabilitation seriously know that competent, professional employees of a prison have complex jobs. Their two watchwords are “safety and security” and rightly so. Errantes come to prison for a vast many reasons and some are extremely dangerous. That’s the genius in compassionate staff, though. They recognize the human condition, know the mood, can check the temperature, and understand how to stop a problem long before it starts. That’s how discipline and good order is maintained… it’s enforced by those that can be fair and impartial, like a good parent. When correction and compassion get doled out in equal measure, it’s like nurturing an incredible ecosystem. Gifted prison staff members are really talented at cultivating human potential by tapping into an inmate’s moral compass.

You want a safer community? Let a genuine, concerned prison staff member become involved in an inmate’s life. That’s absolute gold towards rehabilitation. Showing the inmate what humanity looks like could be the example that may have always been missing. Unfortunately, those members aren’t the standard, they are the exception. Sometimes, they are as rare as precious gems. And they are precious, indeed.

I have prison staff members who nudge me, encourage me, and motivate me. They see “me” and the work I put into redefining my life for the better. And they do it at the peril of judgement by their own as I do by mine. I’m ok with it because coming to prison changed my life for the better. I realize the beauty in my life I was missing, and it wasn’t “freedom” or the world outside… it was what was inside of myself, the things I couldn’t see in my life before prison.

“And one of the reasons I see it now is because I had a gifted prison staff member remind me that I’m still a person.”

Through his or her actions, I can be a citizen of a viable community, either here or next door to you. I can’t say that for all staff members, but when it’s been true for me, it’s been a blessing and food for my soul.

If you work in a prison and intently care about what you do and the lives you can change, you may even be reading these words. If you are, I thank you. Those like me thank you. The community we live in thank you and when those like me live among you, you will thank each other. It’s those compassionate and caring individuals who give their heart and soul to the betterment of a community that are the rare gems. And if you feel that you have to live in the shadows, I understand… but I see you. On this side of the fence, we all do.

by Rory Andes

I can count the number of prison officials that took time to “see me” on one hand. You’ll never know how much that means…

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Rory Andes 367649
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