Since I have been writing about Alex’s treatment at the Okeechobee County Jail, readers have brought it to my attention that there have been two suicides there in the last couple years—a 16-year-old boy in 2009 and a 35-year-old woman in 2010.
In 2009 one of the sheriff’s detectives, Sergeant Tommie Joe (T.J.) Brock, was fired for coercing sex from a 39-year-old female inmate. He pleaded nolo contendere and seems to have gotten off with 5 years’ probation and the loss of his pension—relatively speaking, a bone-crushing slap on the hand, but better than a 30-year prison term during which this jailhouse Casanova might have become a rape victim himself or worse.
The signs are there. This is clearly not a facility where you would want to partake of Okeechobee County Sheriff Paul C. May’s hospitality. As our experience with Alex’s commissary account and the jail phone system suggest, you would be nickel-dimed for the privilege (and the cost could conceivably be much greater).
Six years ago I visited this facility and met with the captain of the jail, who has always treated me with respect and friendliness. I am surprised and disappointed to have learned of these incidents which one can only conclude are the symptoms of a sick institution.
I have been thinking about this all day and can understand how this can be. I think a big part of the problem is that jailers see themselves as agents of retribution and punishment. It seems to fit with my first-hand impressions of the facility.
What if there were a paradigm shift in such facilities? What if the staff were to see their roles as hospitaliers?
(Don’t laugh or scoff. Please hear me out.)
I am not speaking of hospitality in the way we typically think of the term.
(Though it is a comical image to think of big-bellied Bubba cops placing mints on the inmates’ pillows at night.)
No, I am speaking of spiritual hospitality—an attitude in which we recognize and serve the Godness, the divinity, the divine spark in others (no matter how bright or dimly it burns). This idea is integral to the teachings of every major world religion, and yet it is only rarely practiced anywhere.
But wouldn’t it be an amazing, transformative, redemptive, healing thing if spiritual hospitality were practiced in our jails and prisons?
Groove of the Day