Friday, April 19, 2013

My Latest Encounter With a Psychopath

not my actual bra, but not far off (it may in fact be bigger than most of my bras)

Because I'm attempting to get a jump on all my coursework so that I'm not running around like a chicken with its head cut off late in the quarter as many of my classmates will be, I had my second interview in one week (fourth interview overall) with my diagnosed psychopathic inmate. There's always an unbreakable (to the degree that anything is unbreakable) glass partition between us, and there's a guard on each side of the glass lurking not far away, surpervising usually three inmates and their visitors, all of whom for various reasons require closer supervision than do the average prisoners who conduct their visits through glass. In addition to the guards' supervision, our conversations are audiotaped and viedotaped. We converse through a telephone.

Today's visit started out much as did all the others. We always start out with the usual social niceties (psychopaths are better than most at that) but quickly got down to the heart of the matter.  It has been made clear to all of us in the course both by our professsor and by prison officials  that we are not the prisoners' counselors. We are in no way qualified to counsel prisoners or anyone else. We are there to collect information that is to be used in our personal research for the course.
For the most part, we are given a script from which we work. We are authorized to deviate very  slightly because sometimes a prisoner's response  leads to a logical follow-up question, but curing what ails them, or making them feel  better about their prognoses or about life in general, are not the reasons we are speaking with them.  The guards supervising on both sides of the glass are also aware of our parameters and have been instructed to cut any interview short if it appears to be veering blatantly off-course, or if they see us [the university students] doing anything as stupid as giving out  personal information that could endanger us. We're just dumb university students. It's their job to protect us from our own stupidity. If that sounded snarky, such was not my intent. The correctional officers are looking out for our best interests and are doing their jobs.

I was pretty much following the script. The guy was describing his high school experiences when he started talking about a girl he dated in high school. As he became more and more specific about this girl, the guard on the other side stepped closer to him. Then the inmate asked me my bra size. He was immediately handcuffed, and the interview was over. He laughed hysterically as he was led away in cuffs.The officer on my side escorted me to an officer just outside the door of the visitors' room with the glass partitions. This guard immediately asked me if I was OK (he didn't yet know what had been said, but knew the inmate had spoken inappropriately to me). I had to wait in an office while administrators listened to the audiotapes and viewed the videotapes.  I'm not certain exactly what they were listening for; I can only surmise they wanted to know if I had in any way contributed to the direction the interview had taken, or if the inmate had said something even worse than what he had been heard asking me. It was confirmed that neither was the case.

I was directed to an outside office (proson personnel can't, for a myriad of reasons, take us into the secure areas, where most of the high ranking administrators' offices are housed) where I met with an assistant to the warden. She apologized to me for what had happened. No apology was really needed on that account; if a person has reached the age of eighteen without enduring anything more traumatic than being asked one's bra size  (in my case, it's not particularly impressive, incidentally), that person has lived a highly insulated life. My life certainly has not been lived with that level of protectiveness, it almost goes without saying, or I probably wouldn't be finishing my second year on a university campus as someone who is barely eighteen.

Then the warden's assistant went on to deliver the blow, which was that I would not be allowed to have further contact with that particular inmate.  She apologized, saying that it was through no fault of mine and that she understood the inconvenience to me (major understatement), as I had already invested considerable time in this project,  but that it was a privilege for a prisoner to participate in such a program, and that the inmate in question had abused his privilege to the degree that he could no longer be trusted to be involved with interview-based research involving university students. She offered to have another inmate available for me by Monday. She gave me her card and told me to call her on Monday, and she also told me she would personally contact my professor to explain the situation and the time I had already devoted to the project in the event that a time extension for completion of the assignment was required.

There was nothing more she could do. The prison has its protocols it must follow. I thanked her for her time and consideration. I was escorted all the way to my car by a correctional officer, which I thought was perhaps a bit of overkill. After all, an inmate in one of the more secure penitentiaries in the nation had asked for my bra size. He was on  one side of the barbed wire, and I was on the other. It wasn't as though my life had been threatnened or I was otherwise in any danger. Still, it was a thoughtful gesture.

Right now I wish to take the time to say that I formerly lived in a community in which a not insignificant number of (mostly California State-employed) correctional officers and their families live. For whatever reason, recent legislatures and governors in California have given generous deals to the state's prison employees, and their salaries, benefits, overtime compensation, and retirement plans are reflective of this treatment.  While I concede that many prison jobs are quite dangerous and/or unpleasant, when  roughly twenty qualified applicants vy for every available position,  it's indicative that the pay and benefits could probably be lowered to some degree without losing an unmanageable number of qualified employees and/or future applicants.  This is critical in a state with a budget deficit the size of California's.  

It is unfair to paint all workers of a particular line of employmnet and their families with the same brush, but, speaking broadly, while I didn't know most of the officers themselves well, I knew their children quite well. In one of the most educated communities in the nation, many of these offspring stood out like gangrenous thumbs.  (My primary attacker in the restroom assault incident was the offspring of a state prison correctional office, as one of his two accomplices.)  In general, the overall attitude of many (but not all; I must be fair)  of these students seemed to be that their fathers (if the families were intact, most of the mothers were stay-at-home moms) were doing quite well financially without ever having taken education seriously. There seemed little reason for the offspring to invest any major time or effort toward the endeavor of academic success, either. I must add that the number three graduate in the academic standing of my graduating class was the daughter of a state prison correction officer. She was a most diligent student and a genuinely good and decent person.  Not everyone fits the same mold.

My experience with the correctional officers and other prison employees with whom I had contact today (though, as federal employees, they could be cut from a different cloth, but I'll hope that such is not the case) gave me a more positive feeling toward prison employees and correctional officers in particular than I've ever felt since being aware of them. I felt that they all did their jobs proficiently and professionally, and were a credit to their profession, and additionally, went out of their way to be kinder  to me than their job required that they be.

It was a thoroughly dejected state of mind that dominated my thoughts as I drove through the prison gates and along the highway leading to home.  I don't have the technology to talk on my car phone through speakers because my parents consider it unsafe for an inexperienced driver.  I exited at an off-ramp so that I  could call my professor. In a major stroke of luck, I actually reached him rather than his voice mail. The prison official had already spoken with him. He asked me to come to his office as soon as I made it back to campus.

I thought it would be wise to carry evidence of the work I had already completed on my Psychopath Study, so I quickly stopped by my house to grab the file before going to the university to meet with my professor.  ( The idea of carrying a file jammed with transcriptions of  prior interviews with an inmate to a prison and leaving it in my car in the prison parking lot is something that, to my paranoid mind, is inviting trouble.)

I parked in the parking structure closest to the professor's office because he had told me to hurry, as he had things to do and didn't wish to waste an entire Friday afternoon waiting around for me.  (This professor is a most genteel sort of man.)  I pretty much  ran (I wish I'd had my skateboard in the car with me) to the professor's office, taking the stairs to the fourth floor so as to avoid wasting time waiting for the 1970's-designed elevators. A paraplegic could pull himself up the stairs at about the same pace that the elevators in this particular building move.

Allow me to state that I was not expecting sympathy in any form. I showed up at the professor's office because he told me to do so. Still,  it caught me by surprise when the first words out of his mouth were, "Boo hoo! An inmate asked you your bra size. Now I suppose you expect to be exempted from the assignment and expect a week off from classes for mental health reasons."

I had no answer, so I gave no answer. I just stared at him. "What do you want from me?" he finally asked.

"You told me to come here, " I reminded him.

"Oh, yeah. I guess I did." He stared blankly. My guess is that the professor is roughly in his early sixties. All sorts of stange and mind-altering drugs were avsilable during his college years. My suspicion is that he partook freely of those substances back in the day.

"So what have you done so far on this project?" he asked.

I took out the typed transcriptions of the first four interviews and handed them to him. All were quite lenghty because the inmate was cooperative and loquacious in those interviews, and the guards allowed me a little more time than was supposed to be allotted. The professor read through the transcripts  closely.

"I have twenty-five minutes of interview material from today's interview, too," I told him.

"You have more than enough to complete the project just with what you've already done. Go with it. You don't need to start over," he concluded.

"Thank you," I said to him, leaving hurriedly so as not to waste any more of his Friday afternoon.

"I'm sorry if I seemed a bit abrupt," the professor said as I walked out of the office.

"No problem," I answered. "It's all good."

So miracles do happen, whether they're more heavily influenced by God himself, by persuasive prison officials and crusty and spacy but not inhumane professors, or by mere chance. I'm not looking this particular gift horse in the mouth. Instead, I'll simply type  the final project tonight as I begin The Big Push.

I'll pop in sporadically over the next seven to ten days when I need a mental health break as I'm grinding my way through every reading assignment, project, essay, research paper, or even short-term assignment if it's already been given.

I'll appreciate it if you think of me as you're enjoying your leisure time, but my time will come soon enough.

Happy Friday!



  1. Wow... that was an interesting post, Alexis. I'm glad you have enough material to do your project, but sorry the inmate wigged out on you. I've had some similar weird run-ins with professors and very quickly learned that they're as imperfect as anyone. I'm glad you were able to think on your feet and weren't intimidated by your prof. I would have been taken aback by his "boo too" comment, though. It was inappropriate.

  2. Er... boo hoo. I think spellcheck pulled one over on me!