Jacob J. Gamet

Grievance Logic 101 By Jacob J. Gamet

The Bat Signal pierces the darkened sky… a “New” threat of personal footwear prohibition hangs in the “Balance.”

Occasionally, I’m summoned to help defend particular prisoner causes. Mind you: prisoners take matters very serious which their free world counterparts might otherwise deem unimportant, trivial even, simply because they each possess discordant degrees of liberty, namely (as is here) the liberty to wear the shoes of one’s choice during cherished visits with loved ones.

As it so happens, numerous prisoners have approached me seeking my help with fashioning compelling arguments to challenge WSRU’s latest half-baked prison rule. It seems that administration has cooked up “another” rule that equates to punishing en masse based on the few isolated violations of the few. 

This is an opportune moment to give the free world an inside peek at Grievance Logic 101. Of course, prison circumstances differ significantly from non-carceral institutional entities. But still, some aspects will universally overlap.

So, WSRU has posted its mandatory 30-day advance notice to its general prisoner population that (as remaining days elapse) we will no longer be allowed to wear our personal shoes to visit loved ones in the Visiting Room (VR). Only WSRU’s standard-issued all white “New Balance” shoes will be allowed.

I understand the basis for the rule is to prevent prisoners from engaging in unauthorized shoe-swapping (footwear upgrades) with visitors. And I presume WSRU will (as always) advance its default “in the interests of facility order and security” claim to justify its latest reason to strip one more personal item from us during regular visits.

STEP 1: Contextualize by using other state prison comparables.

Comparable 1…

Footwear prohibition was also attempted at Larch Corrections Center but the ill-advised rule was overturned because it failed to take several key factors into consideration. 

Comparable 2…

A reasonable (and less extreme) footwear alternative is employed by Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC). Instead of banning personal footwear in the VR, SCCC VR staff write down the brand of a prisoner’s personal shoes before he enters his visit. Upon exiting, the prisoner’s shoes are checked to see if the brand matches. If not, the shoes are confiscated, the prisoner is provided a pair of shower slippers to wear back to his living unit, and he is subsequently infracted.

STEP 2: Point out “reasonable” counter issues that staff overlooked.

Counter Issue 1…

WSRU staff overlooked the fact that prisoners use their sole state-issued pair of shoes to engage in rigorous recreational activities (basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, handball, exercising, weightlifting, and running in wet and muddy yard conditions). Said activities cause extreme wear and tear on shoes and many indigent prisoners are dissauded from said activities because they cannot afford a pair of personal shoes and wish to arrive in presentable fashion for loved ones during regular visits.

So indigent prisoners have two choices: (1) refrain from said recreational activities or (2) attend visits with loved ones wearing sullied, worn, and torn state-issued shoes. On the other hand, prisoners who can afford personal shoes are forced into the less-presentable shoe option for their visits–state-issued shoes rather than personal shoes.

Counter Issue 2…

Prisoners are required to wear their state-issued shoes for numerous “dirty” prison jobs, whereby state-issued shoes incur further wear and tear. Must they shower, iron their clothes, and yet be forced to wear sullied shoes?

Counter Issue 3…

Personal eyewear and marriage and religious jewelry can also be swapped but aren’t prohibited. Instead, they are checked prior to and after visits.

Counter Issue 4…

If the threat of contraband introduction is also advanced as a basis for the rule, the same can happen with state-issued shoes and clothing. So maintaining institutional security is a tenuous basis for the rule.

STEP 3: Use the prison policy card to highlight inconsistencies.

DOC and WSRU policy goals encourage prisoners to make themselves presentable (which includes footwear) for important prison events (BPC meetings with state officials, annual education summits, TedX, entertainment-based religious events, etc.), regular prison programs (AA, NA, UBB, EDCC, etc.) and, most importantly, for visits with their loved ones. 

But how can prisoners look and feel presentable in photos of themselves wearing graduation gown and hat or in VR photos with loved ones if their shoes are anything but presentable? Why provide prisoners irons to make their clothing presentable but neglect the presentableness of their shoes?

Self-perception and how others perceive you is vital to success. WSRU’s new rule falls embarrassingly short of DOC and WSRU’s policy goals of building stronger relationships between prisoners and their loved ones for the purpose of increasing their chances of making successful transitions back into their communities. For example, boosting prisoner confidence for important prison social events is every bit as important as prisoners having presentable job interview clothes that boost their confidence and thereby increase their chances of securing gainful employment.

STEP 4: Summarize and set up for your “Suggested Remedy”.

WSRU’s new rule is just another uninformed attempt to use the blunt instrument of heavy-handed mass punishment to rectify isolated violations. Just months ago, WSRU staff signed off on reducing offender laundry delivery times to two days per week. That hasty decision was appropriately and promptly overturned. Likewise, the means of its latest rule neither justifies its end to personal shoes nor outweighs DOC and WSRU’s policy goals.

STEP 5: State a concise “Suggested Remedy” of what you want.

I suggest that I be allowed to wear my personal shoes to regular visits with loved ones.

Jacob Gamet
DOC #883302

Categories: Jacob J. Gamet

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