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prisonchaplain

Why we violate ethics to 'help' others

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I asked my three daughters (11, 13 & 15) why they thought a prison staff member would be tricked into doing favors for an inmate. They all came up with the same answer I had--PRIDE. We think we can help others by trusting them. We think we see what others do not see. We think we can make a difference in a life by being their support. I hate to discourage any of that in the broad sense. However, true humility says we help people by pointing them towards God--not be violating ethics to be a hero. Who knows? Maybe I'm raising up the next generation of prison chaplains. :-)

Edited by prisonchaplain

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... why they thought a prison staff member would be tricked into doing favors for an inmate. ...

Is this a hypothetical kind of question? Was there a real staff member who was tricked into doing favors for an inmate? What was the nature of the favors?

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I think if you are raising any kind of chaplains, that is probably a good thing.

I suppose pride is a good answer and probably the real core of the matter.

But I suppose there could also be emotional reasons, or financial reasons. 

dc

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Is this a hypothetical kind of question? Was there a real staff member who was tricked into doing favors for an inmate? What was the nature of the favors?

 

Both.  There was a specific case I had in mind.  However, these things happen from time to time.  The broad scenario I had in mind is that a prisoner convinces a staff member do conduct some kind of business for him/her, and then put money on the inmate's account.  Staff are trained never to do business with an inmate, and to never accept favors (even business discounts) from family or friends of inmates.  For example, "Oh, my cousin stays at that jail.  You know what?  Let me knock 10% off your bill."  We can't even do that, much less buy/sell or handle money for an inmate.

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I admire what you are doing both at work and at home.  When I look at the situation you describe as violating ethics to help others, I see a fundamental weakness in either understanding or appreciating the basic law or ethic involved.  It is like the person who keeps the commandments while it is convenient, but when it comes into conflict with ones desires then sometimes the commandment is overlooked to satisfy one’s own ends.  We then sometimes learn the hard way the fundamental value of the law.

 

Sometimes, in this life anyway, we break a law/ethic and when we don’t get caught, we think we have gotten away with it which tends to add to our believe that we can do it again. 

 

I like the movie “A Man for All Seasons” where Sir Thomas Moore (sp?) is talking to his prospective son-in-law who advocates breaking the law because it seem right to him (the son-in-law).  Sir Thomas Moore’s response was so classic. I can only paraphrase a part of it where Sir Thomas Moore states that the law is our protection.  Sir Thomas Moore understood the value of law/ethics, and lost his head over it. Ironic? Yes, that happens in the short term of things.

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Both.  There was a specific case I had in mind.  However, these things happen from time to time.  The broad scenario I had in mind is that a prisoner convinces a staff member do conduct some kind of business for him/her, and then put money on the inmate's account.  Staff are trained never to do business with an inmate, and to never accept favors (even business discounts) from family or friends of inmates.  For example, "Oh, my cousin stays at that jail.  You know what?  Let me knock 10% off your bill."  We can't even do that, much less buy/sell or handle money for an inmate.

OK, now I think I understand better what you were talking about, and I am comparing it to the relatively small (compared to what you probably see) number of experiences I had with inmates (not prison staff) during my own career. If we limit our discussion to prison staff, then I don't suppose I can speak to their motivations beyond speculating on the basis of general human tendencies. Based on my own experiences with other people on the outside, however, I don't think it would be fair and accurate to answer your original question by attributing [being tricked into doing favors for inmates] to pride only. I think some people are motivated initially by kindness and compassion. I think such people are motivated by a desire to follow ethical behavior--differentiating ethics from policies. They are probably ignorant of the policy guidelines that have grown out of the prison-administration experience of others, and perhaps it's fair to say that some of these people are simply behaving naively. Again, I'm not talking specifically about prison staff with whom you have direct experience and opportunity to observe, which I do not have.

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...why they thought a prison staff member would be tricked into doing favors for an inmate. 

 

We want to love, be loved, be respected, be liked, by our fellow humans.

 

Also, sometimes we like being owed, being in a position of leverage/power.

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 I don't think it would be fair and accurate to answer your original question by attributing [being tricked into doing favors for inmates] to pride only. I think some people are motivated initially by kindness and compassion. I think such people are motivated by a desire to follow ethical behavior--differentiating ethics from policies. They are probably ignorant of the policy guidelines that have grown out of the prison-administration experience of others, and perhaps it's fair to say that some of these people are simply behaving naively. Again, I'm not talking specifically about prison staff with whom you have direct experience and opportunity to observe, which I do not have.

 

Let's consider a religious volunteer, instead of a staff member.  They receive an initial 4-hour training on rules, regulations and policies.  To over-simplify a basic rule, contraband is anything an inmate has that the Warden has not authorized.  Put even more simply, "Nothing comes in, nothing goes out."  3 months after starting, an inmate tells the volunteer (whom he sees once a week) that he is very stressed, and that other inmates and staff are unkind to him, in large part, because of his religion. He is an artist, so if he could just get some colored pencils to draw with, he'd be able to cope so much better.  The volunteers brings colored pencils in, and leaves them behind.  A couple of hours later the officer notices he's drawing with these pencils that are not sold in the commissary.  "Where'd you get them?"  He immediately gives up the volunteer, and she is dismissed from volunteer service.

 

Why'd she bring him the pencils?  She thought she understood him as no one did.  she believed he was persecuted for their shared religion.  She thought she could make a difference in his life if she showed him some trust.  She wanted to be the hero.  Even though there was certainly some good intentions towards helping the inmate, they were rooted in pride--the same pride that caused the soldier to try to catch the Ark of the Covenant before it fell, in violation of God's direct orders (God struck him dead, instantly). 

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...Why'd she bring him the pencils?  She thought she understood him as no one did.  she believed he was persecuted for their shared religion.  She thought she could make a difference in his life if she showed him some trust.  She wanted to be the hero.  Even though there was certainly some good intentions towards helping the inmate, they were rooted in pride--... 

 

I'm going to disagree with you here. There could be a variety of reasons why this volunteer broke the rules and more than likely pride being further from the reason. She could have honestly not realized that her act was that wrong. Even if she did go through the orientation of the rules, maybe it did not occur to her why her act was that bad. People make all kinds of choices throughout their lives and to determine that only pride is the reason for making bad choices is seeing human beings as very one dimensional. It's like you're saying people are either good or they're bad, they can't possibly be both.

 

M.

Edited by Maureen

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Here's an interesting article on this very subject.

 

...It’s evident that some inmates are extremely adept at being able to identify vulnerable prison staffers. After subtly feeling out a target, they’re often relentless in their pursuit of inappropriate relationships with these employees. With nothing but time to pass, a skilled inmate manipulator will make every attempt to turn even the most dedicated correctional employee into a deviant one...

 

http://theconversation.com/fishing-for-favors-how-inmates-lure-prison-staffers-44646

 

M.

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I asked my three daughters (11, 13 & 15) why they thought a prison staff member would be tricked into doing favors for an inmate. They all came up with the same answer I had--PRIDE. We think we can help others by trusting them. We think we see what others do not see. We think we can make a difference in a life by being their support. I hate to discourage any of that in the broad sense. However, true humility says we help people by pointing them towards God--not be violating ethics to be a hero. Who knows? Maybe I'm raising up the next generation of prison chaplains. :-)

In the broader view of things, one system of ethics may not match our personal ethics and so one has a conflict between the two.

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I'm going to disagree with you here. There could be a variety of reasons why this volunteer broke the rules and more than likely pride being further from the reason. She could have honestly not realized that her act was that wrong. Even if she did go through the orientation of the rules, maybe it did not occur to her why her act was that bad. People make all kinds of choices throughout their lives and to determine that only pride is the reason for making bad choices is seeing human beings as very one dimensional. It's like you're saying people are either good or they're bad, they can't possibly be both.

 

M.

 

Ignorance can be the fault of the newer ones, and complacency that of the more experienced.  However, I'm not arguing for one-dimensional analysis of people.  Instead, I'm suggesting that one of the most common under-currents of people who get tricked into violating ethics to help others is pride.  To find root causes--main problems--key cautions--is not to reduce people, it is to find solutions.  "It's not that bad?"  According to who?  The volunteer?  So, that individual gets to decide that the greater good is served by violating a rule?  Is that not pride?  "I know better.  This kid needs the outlet. Besides, what harm can come?"

 

Do not limit pride to bragging, self-idolization, self-promotion, or one-upmanship.  It can be the more subtle, "I know better...I can make a difference...this person needs me more than the system needs my compliance with petty little rules..."

 

IMHO so much of what we do wrong can be linked to pride.  There may be other factors, but to always says, "It's gray!  Who can say, who can judge?  Don't label!  Don't reduce!"--oh my, I'm gonna get on a rant against Post-Modernism if I don't stop now.  :cool:

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...

Why'd she bring him the pencils?  She thought she understood him as no one did.  she believed he was persecuted for their shared religion.  She thought she could make a difference in his life if she showed him some trust.  She wanted to be the hero.  Even though there was certainly some good intentions towards helping the inmate, they were rooted in pride--the same pride that caused the soldier to try to catch the Ark of the Covenant before it fell, in violation of God's direct orders (God struck him dead, instantly). 

Again, since you seem to be acquainted with the people involved you must be in a better position to evaluate them than I. But it comes across like you are posing a hypothetical specifically to justify your position on pride. I have no choice but to let it be as you've presented it.

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UT...my main contentionis that pride plays a larger role in these cases than we may think.  So often the person says they were just trying to help, that they thought they were showing faith in someone whom life had beaten down, that the rules seemed petty, etc.  Of course I'm presenting the scenario to underline the pride aspect.  I don't want to be too specific, because I'm not wanting to talk about a specific case, or betray privacy.  Instead, I'm trying to highlight an overlooked motive that I need to examine in my own life.  Maybe most of us do.

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UT...my main contentionis that pride plays a larger role in these cases than we may think.  So often the person says they were just trying to help, that they thought they were showing faith in someone whom life had beaten down, that the rules seemed petty, etc.  Of course I'm presenting the scenario to underline the pride aspect.  I don't want to be too specific, because I'm not wanting to talk about a specific case, or betray privacy.  Instead, I'm trying to highlight an overlooked motive that I need to examine in my own life.  Maybe most of us do.

Since that is your main contention (and I never doubted it) perhaps I should look inward and ask myself whether I'm being prideful in the give-and-take of this conversation. Perhaps I should think of you as if you were my own chaplain and simply take your sermon as you have delivered it without trying to pick it apart. I should let you be the pastor and I will be one of the flock on this. I should examine my motives and try harder to take your counsel.  :)

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