Can a “culture of entitled authoritarianism” be changed?

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By Andy O . . . I read an editorial from the Washington Post Saturday entitled “George Floyd’s death shows exactly what police should not do.”  One paragraph really stood out:

We’re still learning more about the case, but the episode suggests poor training, insufficient supervision, a dangerously adversarial mind-set, A CULTURE OF ENTITLED AUTHORITARIANISM, and a disregard for the lives and good opinions of people of color. Those are all values at odds with good police work — values that rigorous training programs and quality supervision seek to stamp out. 

Note the phrase that I emphasized, “a culture of entitled authoritarianism,” as this phrase epitomizes the mindset of many police officers as well as correctional officers and others in law enforcement-related fields.  In prison I was regarded as almost but not quite human, and fortunately, that was long before Covid-19.  Now the disease is spreading in many of our state and federal lockups, and despite the typical reasons for not protecting inmates (lack of supplies, stupidity, etc.,) it really boils down to lack of concern.  They’re just inmates.  In “Staying alive, a doctor’s guide for prisoners on staying safe during COVID-19 pandemic,” published in Prison Legal News, there is this statement: “State agencies . . . cannot protect their staff and local communities without protecting the prisoners.”  One has to wonder if this is the only rationale for protecting inmates.

I remember in 2009 when I was first in treatment, I was required to take a class to learn about the deviant cycle.  The first thing the instructor told us was to turn off our cell phones so that we didn’t disrupt the class.  That was a reasonable request, and in any other context, it would have been completely sufficient.  But then he added, “And if your phone rings, I’ll make you dance to the tune of your ringtone,” the key phrase being, “I’ll make you.”  Implied but not stated was “. . . and if you don’t, you’ll be kicked out of treatment for non-compliance, revoked, and sent back to prison.”  I considered asking if the instructor had considered a second career as a prison guard but didn’t dare.

At my initial polygraph, I was told to sign a statement saying that I was there voluntarily.  I told the examiner that I was definitely not there voluntarily and that no one in their right mind would voluntarily consent to this exam.  He said that if I didn’t sign, he wouldn’t test me.  I wanted to thumb my nose at him and walk out the door.  Instead, I told my first and only lie and signed his form.

I got an email from a registrant yesterday as a result of the mass mailing of newsletters we recently did.  He wrote in part:

So, Dr. X, my treatment provider, sent a referral to my judge, and I appeared at a revocation hearing, and my sentence was revoked, and I immediately began serving a fresh 10-year sentence with no credit for time served and no appeal bond. Dr. X was actually sitting next to me at the hearing and spoke to me reassuringly, implying that the whole thing was just a technicality.  I’ve had several attorneys since then, and at least one of them said that there was no documentation at the revocation hearing that said why my suspended sentence was revoked.  The consequences that occurred as a result of the referral Dr. X sent to my judge was my immediate sentencing of 10 years in prison.

This culture of entitled authoritarianism is so deeply rooted in law enforcement that it cannot be easily changed.  When this manifests in a public way such as the treatment of George Floyd, the public is livid.  They get angry.  They demonstrate.  They may loot and vandalize.  But this is the tip of the iceberg, the visible part.  This culture is pervasive on a level not seen by the public, and I fear that it will never change.  For all I know, the registrant who emailed me failed to dance when his cell phone went off.  If so, we would probably never know why he was sent back for another 10 years in prison.

Why are registry scams so profitable?  It is because the scammers project entitled authoritarianism, and registrants get fearful.  The scammers know this and intentionally prey on these fears.  I know exactly what went through my mind and how I felt the first time this happened to me.

So, is there a fix?  Probably not, but we should continue to call awareness to this issue as best we can.  And when we choose to buck up against this mindset, let’s make sure it’s worthwhile and not just because we don’t want to dance to our ringtone.

Author’s disclaimer: The treatment providers and other professionals mentioned in this rambling do not necessary represent the mindset of other similar types.  Every profession has both good and bad apples.

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