Another point of view – In response to tragic attack on Corrections Officer

By Laura Walsh, FFIMI Member

Massachusetts prison weight rooms temporarily closed, advocates push for change after correction officer attacked

This story of the brutal attack on Office Matt Tidman is truly heartbreaking and grievous.  AND, I am here to share that there is a whole other side of the story of “inmates and having weights in prison”.

Incarcerated individuals are living in a system that is supposedly “corrective” but let me assure you – it is punitive. True, there are officials who sincerely care and want restorative justice, but the general vibe between CO’s and inmates is very poor. Inmates live in a traumatizing environment where they are primarily viewed as “less than” by officials and are regularly degraded and dehumanized. A huge percentage of them struggle with untreated mental illness. Exercise (including free weights) is an integral part of daily routine and well-being for many.

To take a tragic incident and punish an entire population of people across the DOC system is unconscionable – a reaction that does not address core issues. In fact, it makes the situation worse. People are agitated, frustrated, and discouraged. Idle time in places of incarceration is unhelpful and is known to lead to agitation, tensions, aggression and lack of safety for all.

On a personal note, the gym is closed at my loved one’s facility – as well as the music program because the route to the tiny music room passes through the gymnasium, which is now closed due to the Shirley incident. Oddly, the library was immediately closed too. How is this helpful for anyone?  

As far as I know, this incident is not a recurring problem at DOC facilities. By far the ability of inmates to exercise, lift weights, go to the library, and attend other programming is a benefit to the residents, the corrections officers, and to society as a whole. Restorative justice means that we don’t just punish people for their crimes by incarcerating them, but we take the opportunity while they are incarcerated to help them develop into individuals who are able to return as citizens, ready to peacefully live their lives in our society.

Representative Xiarous’ desire to remove free weights from all DOC facilities is an understandable reaction to the tragedy at MCI Shirley, but is the wrong approach and would cause more problems than the presumed problem that this one incident represents. We, as a society, need to not react but to think clearly about these things.

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