In the 1995 movie Heat, Lt. Vincent Hanna, played by Al Pacino, confronts bank robber Neil McCuley played by Robert De Niro. Hanna says to McCauley“Seven years in Folsom. In the hole for three. McNeil before that. McNeil as tough as they say?”
I found myself feeling a twinge of pride at the mention of the place where I learned and gained so much.
If it was as tough as they say, it wasn’t because of harsh treatment from the correctional officers. They went about their thankless tasks with professionalism and dignity. Between the occasional moments of alarm and confrontations with disruptive inmates were months of peaceful interactions between staff and prisoners.
These officers never became demoralized. Part of the reason for this was because of the bonds of camaraderie we formed through our shared and lack-of-acclaim jobs. Maybe it’s because many officers were retired from the military were more mature in years and experience, or I’m just biased, but the correctional officer force at McNeil Island was among the best, if not the best, I saw throughout my career. I’m proud to have been a part of not only the McNeil Island staff but also the Bureau of Prisons staff.
The McNeil Island prison is now long gone. In 1981, the BOP turned over operations to Washington State and McNeil Island became a state prison. In 2011 it closed for good marking the end of an era.
I mention this because of all the justice components targeted by reformers, the prison system is the most maligned. Prisons are portrayed in a negative light in most, if not all, accounts available to the public. Prison guards are always portrayed as not much better, if not altogether worse, than the inmates.
There are many of us who know better but our voices are never heard.
-From THE QUIET REVOLUTION, Shattering the myths about the American Criminal Justice System-