On our correctional institution

Jun 3, 2020

To the editor:

Calm down, folks! Our sheriff has enough on his plate without the good, bad, and sometimes ugly commentaries regarding the recent dust-up at our local gated community. I have never personally met our sheriff, nor have I visited his Dartmouth installation, but I had two decades of employment in other gated communities (New York, female max. and Massachusetts, male max.), and independently try to help former inmates with their problems.

Based on the accounts that appeared in the local newspapers — and now even those in Boston — it sounds as if the non-stop Covid-19 coverage has created an otherwise ‘slow day’ phenomenon in the newsrooms of Massachusetts. 

An emotional lady from Marion castigated the sheriff’s conduct as “grotesque and ludicrous.” In the next issue, a second writer suggested that she had fallen “...into the same trap of vitriolic garbage as most do when they try to equate the sheriff and the president…” A staff reporter wrote about the 60-inmate, 24-hour hunger strike, the rising prices of commissary food (just visit any supermarket), and the trade-off of two free half-hour phone calls in exchange for the loss of the regular four-hour family visitation rights. 

I would discount the screaming lady’s letter as the ramblings of a politically discontented lady who has never seen the inside of a correctional institution, nor knowingly engaged in conversation with either a correctional officer or an inmate. The second letter began with an honest admission of a personal and negative opinion of the sheriff, considering him “arrogant and self-absorbed.” This is a personal opinion, to which he is entitled. But the qualities he noted have little to do with the quality of Hodgson’s management.

Based on my experience, I believe that Hodgson is doing as good a job as can be done. Correctional work is unique, and it has complexities difficult to understand by people outside the profession. Correctional institutions can’t keep the inmates in without keeping the public out; hence the walls, which not only protect the public and the inmates from each other, but also add mystery, speculation and misunderstandings to the mix.

Prisoners do not become prisoners by personal invitation. They are sent by the courts for breaking the law and are not happy to be there. The same behavior that got them there in the first place is often continued upon arrival. Overcrowding is a constant — not an issue of the sheriff’s making — and is often the cause of disruptions like the recent dust-up. Food quality is determined by the budget, which is allocated by the legislature. Recalcitrant inmates, stressed out staff, and a virus buzzing through it all are heavy burdens to bear, and I believe that the whole correctional community would be better served by our support of Hodgson than by our backbiting.

The unwillingness to be tested for Covid-19 was a childish bid for freedom. Testing, isolating, and curtailing visitations are all for the common good of inmates and staffers alike. This was only a dust-up — all in a day’s work. It happens when you have unhappy and angry people watched over by overworked and tired others. It’s nothing new. Happens every flu season.

The sheriff’s responsibilities include testing and isolating the infected, separating the sometimes-aged inmates from the rest of the population, oftentimes protecting the prisoners from each other, and supporting the staff who must increase their hours because of staff illness. Yes, guards get sick, too, and their work has gone unnoticed by both the public and the media. To our great shame, no kind words have come their way. Sheriff and staff alike are duty-bound to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their charges by keeping order among the desperate, the troubled, and the broken. It’s a hard job, and they and the people they care for would be better served during this time of illness by words of encouragement and kindness, words that offer hope of positive and personal changes in the hearts and minds of all of us — inside and outside of the walls.

A. Carol Fitzgerald

New Bedford