Mix-up a lesson in the power of little things
It’s never the big things in life that get a person in trouble. Always the little things.
Two weeks ago Friday, I was afforded the opportunity to visit St. Clair County Correctional Facility with a group of media and Sen. Cam Ward, as part of his efforts to pass sentencing reform through the state legislature.
The prison, it should be noted, is a foreboding, dangerous place. It’s not the sort of place you’d ever want to spend more than 15 minutes, under any circumstances.
In a way, that was sort of the whole point of the story. Here is a dank, dangerous place where a mass of convicted felons are sentenced to pay their debts to us, the taxpaying public, for terrible offenses that are part of our past. But for the people who work there every day, it’s a part of their present — the people we want put away so we feel safer, they walk in and amongst on a daily basis. And it’s even more dangerous than that, given the numbers disparity — more than 1,300 inmates live at the prison, more than 750 living in the “general population” there.
That would be daunting enough on its own, until Warden Carter Davenport mentioned that the typical staff of correctional officers “on the ground” is a robust seven people.
At one point during our whirlwind tour, Davenport noted that, in “an ideal situation,” his general population dormitories would be staffed by one person in each dorm, plus another staff member to float.
“How many dorms are you watching today?” he asked the officer at his elbow.
“All of them, sir,” the officer responded.
The response, however, wasn’t the big thing. It was a little thing.
In the story that followed, the editor of this newspaper wrote that the population at St. Clair Correctional is “1,331, 768 of which are ‘general population’ inmates.” The joke, it seems, is on me.
“Ain’t no 1 million people in that prison!”
Fair enough. I’m sure there’s a lesson here about proper use of punctuation, and the importance of ensuring clarity in your prose, so that there’s no ambiguity in what you’re saying.
Or it could just be that I’m not very good with numbers. Which is undoubtedly true — why do you think I went to journalism school in the first place?
Then again, maybe the lesson here is that maybe we should all be thankful that our officers — inside the prison and out — can do the job they do. After all, my foible only cost me a few ounces of pride and a few minutes answering calls and emails from people who wondered if I should have my head examined. They mess up a little thing, and the cost is ... prodigious.
I think I’ll stay where I am for now.