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MPR’s Connie Goldman interviews Stillwater prison guards Greg Carlson and Mack Warren on rule revisions and inconsistent enforcement causing problems for inmates.

This is part one of a two-part interview.

Click link for part 2:


1974 The Minnesota Education Association School Bell Award, Series of Education Programs on Non-Commercial Radio category


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CONNIE GOLDMAN: Two inmates told me about your rule book and how, in the last year, there have been four complete revisions of the rules, and that they don't know what they can do, they don't know what they can't do, they don't know what they'll be severely punished for, and they don't know which guard will overlook what. Is there any truth in that complaint?

SPEAKER 1: I don't know how many revisions that they've had on the rule book, but there is a somewhat lack of consistency in following the rule book. Their consistency within the institution is sort of lax. And that's probably what the inmate feels that the rule book-- when the rule book is put out.

SPEAKER 2: It's even hard for guards to keep up with the changes of the rule books.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Could you fault the administration for this kind of inconsistency? Do you think that not knowing what the rules are, the guards not being sure what they can allow and what they must report and what they must punish, and the inmates not certain where they stand is the cause of some of the problems?

SPEAKER 2: No, I can't put the blame on just the administration because it goes all the way down. Because even if you have a rule, if one guard will allow something, the next one shouldn't allow it either. But they don't. Everybody wants to be a good guy. And that way, that makes it tougher for the other guys to do their job.

SPEAKER 1: The inmate feels that, when an officer says no, he's the bad guy. They can't accept the word no. An officer-- an inmate will approach an officer, and he'll ask an officer for some type of favor or some type of something within the institution rules, and the officer will day, well, no I don't think that I can do it. Well, why? And right then, that's when the inmate loses that respect for that officer because he says no.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Aren't some of the nos arbitrary?

SPEAKER 1: Yes, I think so. Yes, I do. I do.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: What do you think about the conversations of custody versus training and treatment? Is there really big philosophical differences?

SPEAKER 2: Yeah, I think there is because they're coming from different points of view. And it's hard to get them together. We had an associate warden, Jerry Anderson, who was, I think, trying to get it together. And they kind of eased him out the door, so to speak, I think. And it's hard. It's really hard to say. Because I look at it from a custody point of view, and it's hard to look at a training and treatment unless I, some time, maybe get on that side and get together. That's the whole trouble is they don't get together. There's a real lack of communication there, of what the objectives really are.

SPEAKER 1: It goes right back to training of these officers. Yeah, we got the old line staff that are set in their ways. And the two have to meet. We're constantly hiring the two of them. I think that the people have to change with the times. And to do that, they have to be oriented as far as changing, as far as the training aspect of the institution.

SPEAKER 2: Like maybe up till two years ago, when a new man came in, there was maybe one or two new men that came in. And it was really hard for them to do make any changes at all because they were broken in by the old line staff. And they were told, well, this is what you have to do, and you will do this or you'll be out. We've had such an influx now of new people who are kind of taking over, so to speak.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Do you think that the real philosophy of the administration, of Warden McManus and his staff, is towards opening up for more social workers, more psychiatrists, more inmate counselors, more guards that are trained in the academy?

SPEAKER 1: Definitely.

SPEAKER 2: Definitely, yes. I think the new guards have a different way of going about being tough. I don't like the word tough. But for lack of a better word, I'll have to use it. There's a way you can go about it where an inmate can relate to it. If you say, explain to them why things are being done, most guys will accept it.

SPEAKER 1: I don't care if you have the most belligerent inmate in the world. There's a way to talk to him, and you can get that inmate to do anything you want him to do because he gets the feeling that you're respecting him as a man. And he's going to do it because he's going to respect you as a man. And I feel that if you treat the inmates like men, they're going to-- hey, they're going to treat you like men.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Then in a way, you're implying that things are going to tighten up, but with plan and with purpose and-- but they are going to tighten up.

SPEAKER 1: Yes, they are. They are. They are going to tighten up. And it's going to be a planned thing. They're going to let the inmates know that this is what we want, this is how it's going to be, we're going to change it this way. And--

SPEAKER 2: There's 95% of the inmates want things tightened up. It's not just staff that want things tightened up.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Is it possible to tighten up, so to speak, and still offer prisoners the kind of psychiatric help, the kind of counseling help, the kind of training help that they claim they need and want so badly?

SPEAKER 1: I think so. I really do. Because we get different units within the institution that those inmates can identify with. We have drug counseling. We have alcohols. We have the different units that it can be tightened up and those inmates can fit into the units.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Do you think the legislative committee and hearing the warden and his administration and hearing the guards come into their committee meeting and several cons that are speaking to discuss the problems, that Stillwater will be able to give the legislative committee enough information so that they can act appropriately?

SPEAKER 1: No, I don't think so. I think that those-- that committee should get-- to get their attache cases and their notebooks and their pencils and come down there and work about a week in that institution, eight hours, and see what goes on on a daily basis. They're not going to really just get it over a table, over a conference table. You've got to get in there and see what's going on. They're just getting a few views. They can go in there, and they can work, and they can see a situation occur and how it occurs. And then they can take it from there.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: The special legislative committee organized to discuss safety and security for guards and inmates will meet again next Monday at 4:00 PM to hear prison guards, inmates, and spokesmen for the prison administration give their view of the problems and suggestions for remedies. I'm Connie Goldman.


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