While employed by the Arizona Department of Corrections for approximately 50 months I had the opportunity to ask numerous questions from those who were hired to perform essential duties within a prison setting. This included nurses, psychologists, administrative staff and correctional officers. Given these conditions, I gleaned facts through reviewing incident reports, statistical data, observation, interrogation and interactions with these professionals that allowed me to create an accurate inference of the milieu or workplace, culture and practices. Although I must admit that this inference was not scientific or clinically attained, it does not preclude any or all my understanding o experience while engaged in the role of being the administrator in charge of many of these functions. I feel however that those who do engage in scientific or clinical practices feel compelled to reject or repeal my own inferences as experienced during the time I spent behind the prison walls.
Taking into consideration decades of training and practicing report writing for public service agencies, it has become a matter or record in the profession of law enforcement, that anecdotal writings serves the purpose of bringing people to trial or disciplinary action based on the writings of those reports and actions documented. Therefore, it serves a useful purpose but can be discarded at the whims of the executive or others. Today with the addition of forensic evidence gathering this task has allowed us to use these anecdotal writings as the very same guidelines or compass directions to allow forensic to continue their own tasks of validating the information or adding more detail to the evidence already available. This is the correct spirit to conduct whenever anecdotal writings are presented. Sometimes however, some health providers or executives have gone as far as discredit my writings about the lack of mental health treatment in solitary confinement and reports regarding certain prison conditions as being anecdotal in nature and not scientific. This is true in many cases but the reports or writings are filled with facts that were substantiated or confirmed either on the spot or reported by several witnesses much like those testifying inside a courtroom with no motive to tell anything that is either false or fabricated. The truth can and is often revealed by person’s own observations and can dispute clinical or scientific data resulting in it being credible data and subject to consideration when written in good faith. Realizing an anecdote is a story written or spoken, in the context of credibility it often relates to an individual’s experience with their surroundings or job in this case. It can often illustrate the person’s efforts to treat it, manage it or even change it as we find it generally acceptable to do what is best and according to laws, practices and training. To say that either anecdotal or scientific results are 100 % accurate would be false.
So why do certain officials take an anecdotal report less compelling than those scientifically created? What draws their suspicion that the one report [anecdotal] is not accurate and the other report [scientific] must be because it was done scientifically? The answer is in the reader’ ability to sort out the facts through confirmation of the sources and data presented in the report. Now one must ask, why write a report if the confirmation process will repeat the report all over again? The answer is simple, the confirmation process will not be initiated if the reader likes the content of the report and goes with the content as it is written. However, if the reader disputes the report, another report will be written to counter the original report to please the reader with its outcome.
People are human and humans tell stories. We learn from others and we learn from being exposed to the environment how to make most accurate judgments about the environment as well as how to tell a lie. A lie however, for this purpose does not serve any cause thus we will eliminate fallacy in this matter for the time being. Thus anecdotal writings are not scientific methods but close enough to report a legitimate point of view or concern. As this practice and experience is repeated, the report becomes more credible and the writer’s opinion becomes less subjective and more acceptable to the truth. When a report is written with the reader’s belief that it is accurate, it is difficult to nearly impossible that the matter exists otherwise but one must always reserve the fact that it can be changed with further proof or evidence to support the change of view or fact. It is the way people are structured and wired to comprehend ideologies developed through experience or instinct. Understanding the prison world through a factual or fictional account of an event or series of events is a good strategy to enlighten others of the environment and create teaching tools along the way to understand the culture and practices in more detail. Although the discipline of science could be used in such writings, these facts are often gleaned in sterile conditions and untrustworthy of repeating in a report as it may be compromised by the environmental change that took place when the events occurred. Thus approach of such matters determines response to the elements presented either way.
To understand this better, let me illustrate one example. When we write about prisons and solitary confinement, the best subject matter expert is the person experiencing the stress and the pressure of such conditions. Such a person could in fact detail the feelings, the pressures and the impact if asked by someone how they feel and what they think this type of confinement has done to their mind, their body and their spirit. The answer would be pure non scientific but none the less, real to that person. Now, injecting a mental disability or psychosis to the event, the answer could in fact be challenged scientifically because of the altered state of mind and be rejected as a false inference or statement. This is the problem that exists with our mentally ill persons in prison. They are not believed by the establishment because they are in a neurosis state of mind aka mentally challenged or mentally impaired thus subject to losing all credibility of their problems and issues. Hence the source loses credibility and we are back to square one relying on scientific evidence or data to determine the truth as it is revealed.
After spending 25 years in a prison as an officer, a supervisor, a programs director and a warden, I have acquired information in the area of knowledge and skills related to prison life and their impact on others incarcerated. Never claiming to be an expert, I write about the things I have seen, heard, smelled, touched and felt while being there inside a cultural trap where no normal person wants to live or work unless dedicated enough to endure the trek between sanity and insanity; for prisons are places of insanity and incomprehensible feats or occurrences. It is true my writing may be flawed by personal biases or opinions about the ethics or condemnation of such a place. However, they are no less false and no less written out of context as the facts remains that most of what I have experienced was real and not virtual in any sense. There is no make-believe in my writings; it doesn’t serve any purpose to do so. Thus classified as anecdotal writings the reader must accept that there is truth contained within the contents.
Scientific flaws contribute to unreliable and controversial reports about solitary confinement and its impact on the human mind and psyche. Taking a battery of tests for evaluating their mental status can only reliable if the same person is tested before entry into the abyss of solitary confinement and after spending a minimum of 2 years inside the walls of these units for I have seen a significant change in the human mind and behavior after 2 years in solitary confinement. Science does not take into account the human element of this placement as it is solely punitive in nature and should never be done for long term purposes. The fact remains that no man was meant to be excommunicated from other humans in the manner prescribed by prison isolationists. It their mission is to treat and rehabilitate for an eventual release back into society, these methods do more harm than any good for the only good is to break the person down and make them beg to be humanized again. This strategy is flawed and must be compromised to allow more human interaction to preserve what is rightfully ours from birth, our dignity and self respect to co exist with others even if the rules are so strict that you can’t touch one another but you can see, hear, smell and feel their presence near you to make you feel you are not alone wherever you may be situated. Anecdotal writing of prison life and its effects are tools of awareness that other can read and heed advice from or take action whichever is most applicable or appropriate. Suggestions to change the way we do things are based on life experiences and consequences of those experiences. Good decisions versus bad decisions, good judgment versus bad judgment all impact the outcome of your life’s destiny and purpose.
To finalize my subjective writings to some level of truth or accuracy, we can say that science has a most opportune advantage over anecdotal writers for the data presented can not be challenged by those for two reasons I can think of. The first is in the subject of mentally ill persons locked away into solitary confinement, they [the mentally ill prisoner] can’t accurately tell you how they feel because of their altered state of mind thus unreliable in content or explanations leaving the impressions documented as fact. The second is that dead men tell no tales and can’t challenge the content of the reports as being inaccurate or accurate.
The second part, “dead men tell no tales” is the whole purpose of this writing. Today, too many people are dying in prison and nobody, not even the coroner or the medical examiner can accurately tell you what really occurred at the time of their death AND those conditions that existed before their death that is not consumed, applied or found on their dead body for forensic evidence. Administrators wipe their hands clean when the coroner writes “natural death” on the death certificate as they are handicapped to learn or expose what could have been done to prevent or preempted the death going back in time to watch the development occur or form. To make it clear, it’s not the death we are writing about, but rather the conditions that existed before the death occurred. Whether it was poor medical treatment, poor mental health care or inappropriate security management that led to the death will never be revealed as the coroner or examiner had closed the books on any investigation by attaching a label to the body and calling it a “natural death” leaving no legal obligation to proceed any further with this matter. Poor medical care or poor mental health care for prisoner exists and is not being addressed as urgently as it should be today. Their reports of care should be challenged by those in positions of authority and reveal whether or not their performance inside these prisons are satisfactory or unsatisfactory to the mandated standards of care as there appears to be no benefit of their presence in many cases where death could have been prevented with proper care whether emergency care or standard on going care. There is a lack of motivation by those professionals who took an oath to preserve life and although I will be challenged by the naysayers and skeptics of these people, the evidence is mounting that too many people are dying by natural deaths and suicides inside our prisons. Unlike those on the outside, those who receive unfair or inadequate treatment by these professionals do not have a choice in going to another provider to get a second opinion on their treatment.
The third part is the confirmation part where the conclusions are read. This is a twofold situation as two conditions may exist. The first is an attempt to find another side of the facts already presented e.g. a death has occurred. The person reviewing the incident seeks to find the truth of the events told and requests an investigation. The investigation can be performed in two methods. The first is independently without political interference and the second is to write the outcome to suit the needs of the writer or the reader through micromanagement of the matter. Science uses good clinical trials and measures to derive an outcome or desired product. However, even scientist can manufacture a desired outcome. Based on specific scientific physical evidence or in some cases, psychological evaluations performed by good people [so it is expected] who care about their results in a most good faith and conscious manner. In an anecdotal writing or report the conclusion is also prepared to suit the needs of the writer or the reader with a moral obligation to reveal the results as being truthful and accurate to the extend it is allowed through a non-scientific manner. Neither reports are unacceptable and in most cases both are allowed for testimony as scientists compete with “experts” on their details and knowledge of the subject matter. Again, since “dead men don’t tell tales” they won’t be able to testify their own experiences, it is likely that it becomes the responsibility of the reader and the listener to determine what it truth and what is false. Judgments are made and those judgments are made by mankind that serves the purpose of relaying the results of the truth as it was presented or explained by those involved.
What is most interesting is the fact that the scientific community or professionals made up its mind a long time ago to dispute the weaknesses the anecdotal writings contained and the role they play. Logic and learned lessons of the past are clearly factors of this discussion and should be considered when deciding whether or not one method is better than the other or whether the two can work together and provide the reader with a more complete vision or picture of the subject matter at hand. I suspect the latter would be most beneficial to anyone in charge of a prison system or any other system that is under scrutiny for various issues at hand. It is the opinion of others and this writer that anecdotes serve a reliable purpose and source. Elimination of personal biases, frustrations, or even anger can clean up a most purposeful mission statement to follow and adhere to. Both methods can be validated if the reader chooses to do so but in either case, the results can be altered by changing the environment of the subject matter at hand.
Anecdotal writings are not designed to lower the bar on credibility or reliability of treatments or conditions written about. It is merely another tool that can deliver a calculated attempt to broach another view or opinion into the matter of discussion showing other possibilities and experiences that may or may not contribute to the overall evidence of the case. Together with scientific tools, the reader has a better explanation, view or opinion of the matter that is placed before them creating an improved state of affairs for a better decision to be made.