The Secretary

Posted: July 23, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , ,

Carol looked up when the inmate entered the office. I was there getting my class list for the day from another secretary. Carol had what people of my ancient generation call ‘a motherly figure.’ She had a round, soft face that also was motherly.

“How can I help you, Sam?” she asked of the tough looking inmate, tattooed from head to the tip of his hands.

“I didn’t get the right pay last month,” he said. “This place screwed me again.”

The secretary who was dealing with my class list, shook her head, like this was an outrageous comment from an inmate.

But not Carol. “Let me look it up, Sam,” she said.

“Tsk, tsk,” my secretary said. She always put the word ‘Inmate’ before anyone’s last name. Like if Sam’s last name was Schmansky, she would have said, “I’ll check it, Inmate Schmansky.” No, more than likely, she would have said, “We don’t make mistakes here. File a complaint if you want.”

Carol looked up from her report, “No, Sam, it looks right.”

“What the hell. I got screwed.”

Carol stood up, walked over to Sam and showed him the report.

“Well, I guess so,” he said. “Thanks, Carol.” And he left.

The woman was amazing. She knew inmates’ names. She knew where everything was in that office. If the director of education came into the office and asked for a report from five years previous, Carol would zip open a file drawer and hand it to him.

As I observed her, I thought to myself, if I ever open a business and need a super efficient secretary who knows how to work with people, I’d hire her away from the prison system.

That was then, before what I call the ‘Harper’ people moved into the prison administration, just a few years after Mr. Harper became prime minister.

I was there again one day when the new director of education came into the office. “Where’s the report I wanted on my desk, Ms…?” She used Carol’s last name.

Carol handed her the report. She almost snatched it from her. “Next time on my desk. And I understand you don’t use the word, ‘Inmate’ when you are addressing these…people.”

Carol said nothing. I saw she was upset, almost on the verge of tears.

“Well, is that right?’

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“From now on it’s ‘Inmate.’ Is that clear?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“And what are you doing here, Mr.?” she turned her guns at me. “Are you a program instructor?”

“No. I’m a volunteer who teaches creative writing once a week. I’m turning in my attendance list for today.”

“A volunteer, huh?” It was almost a snarl. I could just hear the unspoken words, “If you volunteer to help these scumbags, you must be one yourself.”

The director got back on her high horse and rode over to her own office. I heard from others that she hammered Carol daily, why I don’t know.

Two months later, I heard that Carol had taken a leave of absence, and a month after that she resigned.

Why are good, caring people being driven from the prison system? Carol’s case is not isolated. In one prison I know of three others with similar stories.

  1. It’s very sad, Ed, I guess all you can do is write about it. At least, that way others know what’s going on. BTW, if you want to tweet about WILLIWAW, the shortened link is:
    I tried it out and it works!

  2. Joanne says:

    I agree with Danielle…how sad! It’s bad when the clerks leave but it is even worse when the good professionals with the power to make decisions that might make a difference decide to leave for the same reasons. Unfortunately, I have seen both.

  3. Vanessa Collins says:

    Maybe the so-called professional couldn’t abide the humanity of the clerk. I have seen this before. And it doesn’t matter which position either person holds in the situation. Its a question of morality, in my book. Carol left a position that mattered to her and the guys lost someone who cared. Thanks for telling this story, Ed.

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