White Complicity

I sometimes forget about this blog. I don’t remember when I realized that my blog had remained silent for the past several weeks, even though I had been active on other platforms. Because it does need be said,

Black Lives Matter

I wrote this up about a week ago. I initially shared this on my personal Facebook, but I believe it needs to be housed here as well. I do not want to take away from a movement, but I also want to face my mistakes rather than hiding from them. I want to encourage white people to look inwards, recognize our racism and complicity in a system, and work on dismantling that system. So I share something I don’t talk about very frequently because it does shame me, and it’s not something I can undo.

When I was married, I was married to a correctional officer. That’s fancy for prison guard. I was also a prison guard for about three months (two months training, one month actually at a facility), and I quit.Everybody in that town was either working for the prison system (google is telling me seven in town which is fewer than I remember) or you were a student (prison town masquerading as a college town) or you worked minimum wage retail. The prison paid well. I could have made more working at the prison as a guard on just the weekends than I could working full time at Walmart.

I quit the prison for a number of reasons. I won’t get into all the specific things that caused me to realize I couldn’t be a part of this (before I could articulate it like I can now) but this was the main one: an inmate asked for a form they were out of, and the senior guards on duty refused to refill the plastic box so he could fill out his form. I was shocked, but for the wrong reasons. My reasoning was that it was our job to make sure those forms were available to them, and the other guards weren’t doing their jobs. I said, i’ll do it just tell me where they’re kept. It was a wild goose chase to find that form. I don’t remember if I did find it or not, but I remember it was hard, and the other officers didn’t want to help. That’s the memory that sticks most in my mind, but there were others.

I was not involved in an explicitly violent incident, so I’m not sure how I would have reacted. I know only how I hope I would have reacted but I really don’t know. I use the term “explicit” because I believe the incarceration system to be inherently violent, both implicitly and explicitly.

I may not have been involved in explicit violence, but my ex husband was. I would hear him and his friends joke and boast about being physically violent toward inmates more and more frequently the longer they were guards.

If I was the person I am now, I would never have applied to the prison no matter how miserable I was at Walmart. If I was the person that I am now, I would never have married him. It’s not because I know I’m a lesbian now or whatever. I regret to share I did not divorce him on principle alone–but even then, I’m not the person I am now. When by choice you tie yourself to that profession (whether it’s you or your partner), you say it’s okay to put food on the table by exploiting and harming other people, by literally taking other people’s freedom away. I didn’t see that though. To me, it was just a job when I applied, a path towards a better future for us. But I wasn’t the person I am now, and I did do those things.

Do you think my ex husband is still a correctional officer?

He is not. He is a police officer last I heard. How do I know? It’s not because I facebook stalked him. It’s not because former mutual friends told me.

Someone in charge of hiring at a precinct he applied to called my mom because he wanted to talk to me, and I had fallen off the edge of the map. She gave him my number

I told him I couldn’t imagine my ex putting me down as a reference because I had nothing good to say about him.

He wanted to talk to me because I had once been married to him, and he wanted to know if my husband should be a police officer or words to that effect.

I told him that he should not be a cop. I told him that he was racist. I told him he would joke about being violent towards inmates. I told him that he had taken all our money and spent it on drugs. I told him other (more personal) wrongs towards me that he had done because I really, really did not want to see my ex hired as a cop–-not because I wanted his life to be miserable. I knew he would be bad for whatever community he “served” in because I had seen him change from working in the prison.

The chief or whoever it was thanked me for my time, and I wondered what had happened but never followed up.

So I did lie a few paragraphs back. I didn’t find out that he was a cop–only that he was looking to become one.

I found out for sure when he facebook messaged me a couple years later, and told me he had found jesus all over again, and that he was sorry for how he treated me. I clicked into his facebook. Saw he was a cop. Saw it was covered with all the propaganda (mostly revolving around bl*e l*ves m*tter).

I had failed. I don’t know if he was employed at the precinct who called me up or if it was another one. Does it matter? If it was the same one, the guy I talked to didn’t care he might be hiring a racist police officer. If it was another one, they didn’t flag his application and toss it based on what I had said and the notes the guy probably didn’t take.

They don’t care. They do not care.

Editing this, I decided to google my husband’s name. Let me just say that he is currently serving time in jail for police brutality against a Black man, who survived and had the falsified charges against him cleared.

I won’t say more because this isn’t about him–this is about me and how I became complicit by choice in a system of oppression because it was “just a job.”

Correctional Officers are just as bad as police. There is no difference. I don’t remember why the training took two months. We didn’t learn anything besides the rulebook. We didn’t learn de-escalation techniques or take implicit bias classes. The only take away I really remember was the teacher telling the class this on the first day: inmates wear white because they’re not worth the dye, and the guard uniforms were descended from confederate soldier uniforms.

Think about this in the context of the 13th Amendment.

You think I would have walked out. Just right then. Walk out. But to my eternal regret and shame, I did not. And it’s not because I didn’t recognize it as a red flag, because I did (which really just makes it worse). I had quit my job at Walmart by then. My husband and I had plans for our future. I had to make this work. I was so blinded by my own individual needs, I did not know how to see myself as being complicit in a system of violence and abuse until much, much later.

When I went through the training, part of becoming a correctional officer entailed walking through gas. They set it off in an open field. They waited for the hottest moment of the day, over a hundred degrees, humidity so thick. Made us do the fitness portion first so we were all sweaty. Then they fired off the gas and had us hold hands and walk. I told myself I was prepared and I wouldn’t run, but I did.

I remember gasping for breath and the adrenaline and the burn and the way I couldn’t stop crying even though I knew there was nothing to fear. I remember the uncomfortable ride home with the windows open because if the a/c was on, gas particles would get caught and you’d just gas yourself again next time you turned the car on.I later found out that it wasn’t the same quality of gas released on inmates within walls with no fresh air, where you can’t take a shower afterwards, where you have limited garments, and nowhere to run.

What they release on inmates is worse. Or so I was told; and to be frank I have no reason not to believe it. I chose that profession for the brief three months I was a part of it. I even had the choice to walk through the gas or not (I wouldn’t have passed, but the choice was there). You could even choose where you were in the lineup–farther from the canister or closer to the canister. At the end of the day, you got to go home–I got to go home.

Inmates don’t get to choose. They don’t get to go home. And I don’t want to hear about how they could have chosen not to commit a crime–a lot of innocent are condemned as guilty. Symptoms of poverty and addiction and so many others are criminalized. Our society has failed so many communities–isn’t that the greater crime?

The reason they made us walk through gas wasn’t a misguided attempt to foster empathy or some bullshit like that so we would think twice before using it. It was so we would be used to it and keep our heads when it came time to break up a prison riot (not really logical but that’s what they told us).

In conclusion: they don’t care. Police officers, correctional officers, they don’t care about their communities. They don’t care about public safety. They don’t care about the law (and what does law & order mean when the laws are unjust). They are a system meant to uphold themselves and only themselves. This experience helped shape why I believe there should be

– no cops

– no guards

– no prisons

– no jails

There a lot more reasons elaborated by those more eloquent, educated, and affected than me. Please put Are Prisons Obsolete by Angela Davis on your To Read list, I know I have it on mine–I’ve primarily seen paragraphs of it posted.

Some links here too:

https://truthout.org/articles/a-jailbreak-of-the-imagination-seeing-prisons-for-what-they-are-and-demanding-transformation/

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/01/how-mass-incarceration-pushes-black-children-further-behind-in-school/513161/

https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/what-is-prison-abolition/

For those in Utah, HJR008 is a bill to update Utah’s constitution to remove the “except as punishment for a crime” clause so that it reads only as “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within this State.” https://le.utah.gov/~2019/bills/static/HJR008.html If it passes, which I hope it does, without concrete action towards the abolition of the police and the abolition of prisons it will not be enough.

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