29 January, 2020

The Ohio Risk-Assessment System Doesn't Work on the Innocent

The wing's loudspeaker blares, "Byron Case, bravo two-oh-seven, report to the caseworker's office." However much I'd like to ignore the interruption or put it off awhile, I drop the book I'm reading and go. It's just downstairs, after all, and shouldn't take but a minute.

Being called to the housing unit's caseworker's office isn't unusual. Caseworkers in prison wear many hats. Privileged mail, what comes from lawyers or the courts, gets shunted straight to the caseworker offices, to be opened and its contents verified in the presence of the addressee. The caseworkers' duties also include witnessing signatures and fingerprints on the appropriate form when a prisoner sends money from his institutional account – for mail ordering books, buying art supplies, paying court costs, making child support payments, et cetera.

The page this time is not for me to pick up a letter or sign a check but to take a questionnaire.

"Have a seat," the man says as I enter his tiny office. I note the Millennium Falcon poster hiding a couple of square feet of one pitted, gray concrete-block wall. Something tells me I won't get out of here any quicker if I weigh in on the perennial Star Wars debate over whether Han shot first. He squints at the packet of about twenty stapled-together pages in his hands. "This is gonna take us a while."

He tells me that the Missouri Department of Corrections is implementing the Ohio Risk-Assessment System, which the packet concerns, as part of its parole assessments. "Bear with me," he says, slipping his reading glasses on. "You're the first person I'm doing this with."

Parole assessments? Someone must've made a mistake. Because I have a first-degree murder sentence, I'm not eligible for parole. I volunteer what should be obvious: "Um, I've got life without."

He sighs, "Yeah, I know. They're making us do these on everybody."

Pages riffle. Someone recently burned popcorn in the office microwave. It's not even 10 AM; who the hell brunches on popcorn?

"Okay, tell me about your crime."

"What do you mean?" I don't want to be doing this in the first place. The presumption of guilt just adds to its offensive nature.

The caseworker's hand swivels on his wrist, as if he's loosening up for a video game tournament. "Just tell me how the crime took place."

"How much room have you got?"

"Summarize," he says, in a tone that sounds, surprisingly, like one of patience.

I give him the facts: that my girlfriend and I were hanging out with my friend Justin; that we went to pick up another friend, Justin's girlfriend, Anastasia; that Justin and Anastasia had been arguing a lot and resumed arguing the moment we picked her up; that Anastasia got out of the car while we were stopped at an intersection; that I never saw Anastasia again, but that after Justin later left our company he went back to meet her; and that the next morning a sheriff's deputy found Anastasia's body lying in a cemetery, shot in the face.

The caseworker has been scribbling notes in pencil while I talk. At no point does he show surprise, nor particular interest.

"How have you taken responsibility for your crime?"

"It's wasn't my crime, so I haven't."

"Okay...." He scribbles some more, then asks, "What steps have you taken to rehabilitate yourself during your incarceration?"

"I don't know about rehabilitation, since I don't think I was dehabilitated to begin with, but I'm always working to improve myself. I do a lot of writing, reading, mindfulness practice. I'm an analytical person by nature – you know, reflective. I think a lot about the kind of person I want to be in the world. I recently started daily meditation."

He looks up. "No programs?"

I know how remedial the DOC's programs tend to be, designed as they are around getting through to the uneducated, selfish, and hardheaded... when they're properly administered at all. A neighbor once took Anger Management and came back with a sheet of rebuses he said they'd been making the class do for weeks:

Years later, I signed up for a class that might actually teach me something. It didn't. I got a certificate for a class they never finished teaching. (I blogged about the tremendous disappointment of Mindfulness Training in 2015.) So I meet the caseworker's gaze, keeping in mind that he's just doing his job, operating under a particular limited mindset, not deliberately working to offend me, and answer him.

"No programs."

Scribble, scribble.

It goes on like this for a half hour. For years, I've said that I'm almost glad, in a perverted way, not to have a paroleable sentence, since it means I'll never be confronted by a panel of antagonistic board members who think they know the truth and are capable of accurately judging people's character. This ordeal of undergoing the Ohio Risk-Assessment System feels nearly as bad as I always believed seeing the parole board would. Will I have to do this all again next year? Shit, I hope not.

1 comment:

  1. Being from Ohio myself I can fully sympathize. It almost sounds like the line from Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant: Kid, have you rehabilitated yourself?


Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.