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MPR’s Connie Goldman interviews Stillwater prison guards Greg Carlson and Mack Warren on what they see as inaccurate public perceptions of prisons and what part the public can play in prison changes.

This is part two of a two-part interview.

Click link for part 1:


1974 The Minnesota Education Association School Bell Award, Series of Education Programs on Non-Commercial Radio category


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CONNIE GOLDMAN: Do you think the public has any real understanding of what that situation is in the prison, from the point of view of a guard, or the prisoner, or even what the administration has to cope with?

SPEAKER 1: Definitely not if they did, they wouldn't be so quick to criticize the officers when he's doing his job. I don't feel that they have no understanding of an institution, of what an officer, or maybe an inmate has to go through when he's in the institution. It's like a fad. It's going to blow over pretty soon. All of a sudden, now everybody's interested in corrections. Next week, it'll probably be something else. But the public don't know what's going on in institutions.

SPEAKER 2: The only feedback that the public gets on the institution is what they read in the papers. And you can't really blame the public because that's what they hear. And they have the TV image of James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart type prisoners, which isn't, it's just not that way.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Are you implying that you think the public really will lose interest in some of the needs and changes that are necessary at the prison? And that possibly, the legislative committee that's trying to resolve some of the tension and fear is really not going to take a continuing interest?

SPEAKER 1: I don't know what the legislature is going to do. But as far as the public, in general, definitely, my feeling is the fact that it is just a fad thing.

SPEAKER 2: I just hope it isn't a fad. It is right now because you can see the pattern.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: What changes would you, as a guard, like to see?

SPEAKER 2: I think what they're going to have to do is segregate a few that are causing the trouble. It's maybe 40 or 50 people that are causing all the trouble. It's not the whole 700, by any means.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Any other suggestions?

SPEAKER 2: More public awareness, just like things we're doing right now, making people aware that inmates are human and so are guards. And it's a bad situation, maybe it can be changed.

SPEAKER 1: I don't think the legislature or the public are going to be a part of that change. I mean, I don't think they're going to be a big part of the change. The people that are working there are going to be part of that, they're going to be the big part of the change. We're going to be the change. Those people, those outside people are not going to change the institution.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Do you really think that there's an atmosphere for change? Do you think the public really wants a lot of openness and change? And is that the direction of the change?

SPEAKER 1: I think that change now, the change right now, it has to be a slow one. We can't do it right now or we'll have total chaos probably. But I think the change that maybe the present administration is about, they have to do it in a slow manner.

SPEAKER 2: The warden's more or less in the middle between the institution and the administration from the Corrections. And he might be in there trying to get something, but everybody blames him for all the problems. But he's just a middle man, as far as I can see.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Well, if the warden is a middle man and everybody blames him for the problems, or criticizes the inmates for being too aggressive, or criticizes the guards for being too punitive, where would you say the responsibility should go? The responsibility for accepting the situation as it is and for planning for change.

SPEAKER 1: If the public was so concerned about the institution, that they can do something, they got millions of agencies in the Twin City area. If they were so concerned about the institution and about change, they should come in and offer some type of assistance, some type of constructive assistance for the institution. They talk about what they're going to do, the public, I'm speaking of. They talk about what they're going to do, and they don't do it. I haven't seen.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Is it a matter of that they don't do it, or there isn't any machinery available so they can do anything? Does the administration really want help from the public in changing the prison system?

SPEAKER 1: I think the public plays a big part, as far as what is going to happen to an inmate or not. The public puts the inmate in the institution. Now, if the administration, or not the officer, the public does it. They put them here. The public should be concerned about what this inmate does with his day-to-day activities in the institution and how to change it, if he is out of order. The public should be bothly concerned about the inmate and the guard in the institution.

SPEAKER 2: All the inmates are going to be back out in the streets someday. So they're going to have to deal with it then. They might as well deal with it now and maybe make some positive changes. Like halfway houses, which are pretty effective, I think. But if the public won't accept them, you can't use them.

SPEAKER 1: Those people, these people, the public, if they're so concerned about the institution, OK, if they're concerned about what the officer does to this inmate, but when this inmate wants to finally come out in the community, why don't they say, you're welcome in our community. Come in our community and we will help you lead a productive life. But they don't, they're afraid. We don't want him in this community. He's a detriment to the community.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: You mean the public expects more from guards and prison administrations than they do from themselves?

SPEAKER 1: Definitely, yes.

SPEAKER 2: They expect us to initiate the change. But we can't do it because how can you judge a man's behavior in an institution and relate that to how he's going to behave on the streets? Because an institution is a world in itself. It's completely different than living on the streets. This is a kind of information that the public has to get, it's from the inside and straightforward, and not the trumped up TV version of all they hear about is the violent things that happen in prison. But there's a lot of good things that happen.

There's a lot of good groups in that institution. There's a lot of people that are trying to improve themselves. But you never hear about that, never. Because that doesn't make good print. It's just when people reach the point of suicide, or somebody gets cut, and things like that, that's the kind of thing, or escapes, that's a big one right there, they really glorify that. They need to hear some of the good things too. And there are a lot of good things that happen there.

SPEAKER 1: I think that goes right back to the fad. I just love the word fad because it is. It goes right back to college campuses. They only heard, they only listened to the news when college, I mean, the students were getting shot down. But they didn't listen to how a student is doing in a classroom or what he's going to do when he gets out of there. It just goes back to the institution.

All they hear is when the officer is hitting the inmate upside the head or the inmate is committing suicide. They don't want to hear how this inmate, this officer can communicate when they can get right down and talk to each other. They don't want to hear that because it's not news. It doesn't interest them.

CONNIE GOLDMAN: Shut the prison doors and take care of it. I pay my taxes.

SPEAKER 1: Right, that's it. That's the very words, right. Greg Carlson, Mac Warren, the opinions of two Stillwater guards. The legislative subcommittee has a second meeting scheduled for this evening. It's expected that those called on to tell their opinions will offer, once again, several views of the undercurrents and overt aggressions at the prison. More tomorrow, this is Connie Goldman.


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