by Jo Ellen Nott
From 2019 to 2021, guards at Maine State Prison in Warren used a Facebook Messenger group chat to mock prisoners, joke about using force on them and sharing confidential information about them. Yet the none was fired by the state Department of Corrections (DOC), despite the blatant disregard of policy requiring staff to respect the individuals entrusted to their care.
Of the ten guards who participated in the private chat during the difficult pandemic years, five have kept their jobs, while four others also avoided formal discipline before they resigned. The last of the group left the prison in 2020 before DOC officials became aware of the chat.
One of the guards who resigned after the chat was made public said it was a way for an “overworked and mentally stressed group of coworkers to decompress and support each other.” But Joseph Jackson, director of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, said “the DOC’s decision not to fire anyone shows how desperate they are to keep staff.” Jackson has also warned of a disconnect between the systemic abuse that occurs in prison and the positive changes that DOC claims to have made to improve prison culture.
Sgt. Evan Touchette was the only supervisor active in the chat. Despite being promoted to Unit Manager of the Intensive Mental Health Unit in 2020, he did not enforce the prison’s conduct policy within the group. Touchette was given a suspension in October of 2022 for “inappropriate discussions with coworkers, sharing confidential information about prisoners and failing to report misconduct of his subordinates.”
In the 2,500-page chat transcription, guards called prisoners “retards who do not even know to get high right” after one overdosed. Another was guarding a prisoner hospitalized after attempting to harm himself by eating metal – or as the guard described it, “swallowing shit again.” Another guard wondered if a prisoner had been placed on emergency observation status because he was mouthing off – or as he called it, “running his cock holster.” Yet another told the group he gave his daughter a cold after guarding “that retard in [a medical health unit] who was quarantined with the flu.”
The guards’ contempt was not reserved only for the prisoners in their care. They disparaged Gov. Janet Mills for being a woman and a Democrat, comparing her to Hitler for her pandemic policies. Touchette mentioned going “liberal hunting” as a group. Touchette also called people in his unit “sheeple” for complying with COVID-19 masking policy. Another chat participant – apparently convinced in the rhetorical superiority of hyphenation – called prison officials who mandated mask-wearing “a fucking bunch of fuck-bag, inmate-loving suck-offs.”
The discovery of the years-long chat prompted DOC to revise its policy on October 7, 2022, to include guidelines for staff on how to behave while using social media.
Source: Bangor Daily News
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