Petty Officers

by Mike Powers

One of the things I love about the American heritage is that we have a great distaste for pettiness. We find it aggravating and offensive when others "lord it over" us, especially about trivial things. Well, if any of you are even remotely considering a criminal act, BEWARE, because when you get caught, your life will be in the hands of petty officers.

You know I'm not talking about those fine men and women who serve our armed forces in the rank of distinction. I'm talking about TDCJ guards who get a grey uniform and an I.D. badge, and all of a sudden, they think they are the Great American Hero, and to celebrate their new status, the first thing they want to do is rub an inmate's face in it.

Most of these kinds are pimply-faced kids (I don't exaggerate), fresh out of high school, who see that TDCJ sign-on bonus dangled in front of their noses, and they just can't help thinking they've conquered the world and saved it all at the same time. Most of these kids don't last. Once the toy isn't shiny anymore, and they see that they have things like work schedules, they toss up their hands and duck out. But every now and again, one of these poor souls manages to tough it out for a few years, and then some really ugly things start to happen.

It all starts when they get rank. See, it's not enough that they have a certain way of doing things- a way that generally is either humiliating or aggravating to the inmates- that has worked for them. They despise it when they see other, more successful, officers managing the inmates and doing their job in a stress-free manner. They despise it because it reminds them of their own failure and inability to work well with others, and particularly to manage people successfully. So all of a sudden, they have these sergeant stripes, and they are barking orders like they are co-starring in a remake of "Full Metal Jacket". It gets ugly, people.

And then, if they somehow manage to hang on a few more years, well, they'll make lieutenant. And not because of their aptitude, but simply because of their seniority. He's made so: many decent officers' lives hell while he was sergeant, that. he's run off all the good help. So we get stuck with the dregs.

We've got this one woman who somehow made lieutenant here on the Hightower. Her name is Lt. Lewis, and you have never seen the like. She weighs about 300 pounds and orbits her little desk up by the chow hall like a moon. I only bring up her weight, because this woman can, invariably, be found with snack in hand. But, I assure you, she takes time in between bites to yell and scream at inmates and officers alike. In all my years, I've never had a lieutenant that screams at inmates all the way across the rec yard at three in the morning. And here's what I mean by petty: She's screaming about, not shanks, not fights, not officer assaults, but because an inmate has dared to walk too close to the middle of the sidewalk. And no wonder! He didn't get ANY sleep last night, because these people kept him all night with superfluous roster counts, and now, three hours before the crack of dawn at an hour that would make a FARMER go back to sleep, he stumbles groggily into the part of the sidewalk where he won't fall off into the ditch. How DARE he! So Lt. Lewis rolls out there like Whoopi Goldberg at a Keep America Great Convention and throws an apopletic fit. And while she's a good example of the type of petty officer I'm talking about, she's certainly not the only one.

If you want some evidence that these creatures exist, you simply have to look no further than the rules, and particularly the unposted ones. After all, that's where the roaches like to lurk... in the dark. For example, I'll tell you about the forbidden sidewalk.

Hightower is set up just like Stevenson Unit was, and there is a certain part of the sidewalk that allows three of the five housing buildings on these units to access the mailroom and visitation. (See figure 1.) Some petty officer in the history of this unit decided that these uppity offenders had no business taking the most logical route to the mailroom. Instead, the nasty criminals could walk around. You can see from the map it makes no sense whatsoever, accept as a "because I said so" rule. Fortunately, this idiot hadn't worked at the Stevenson Unit, yet, because you can still just walk straight to the mailroom and back. Incidentally, it occurs to me that if the goal of your security is to minimize the amount of time offenders spend unsecured outside of their building, this is the stupidest thing you can do to them. You also get some idea of just how far Lt. Lewis has to scream to get inmates on the edge of "her" sidewalks.

Another evidence of TDCJ pettiness is the staff and officers refusal to "condescend" to greeting offenders. Why, even when we were little tykes in school, the teachers, many years our senior and wiser in every way, didn't think it beneath their dignity to say "good morning" to a student. However, you'll find, if you ever end up on the wrong side of the law, that a majority of officers, and even our counselors and teachers, think it an assault on their dignity to greet an offender on the sidewalk. In the immortal words of Steve Martin, "Well, excuuuuuuuuuuse me!"

If your in a bind, and you need a job, call the number on the back of the Bluebird Bus and sign up for the TDCJ. Go cash that big, fat sign-on bonus. But when you do, officer, please leave the petty at the door.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez