Race Relations at Butner

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 |

I feel compelled to write about a sensitive subject – race relations. I would like to say there are no problems between the races, and there aren’t overt problems per se, but there are underlying tensions. Most of the hostility I have seen is from black to white by both black inmates and staff. The Butner staff and inmate population is weighed heavily to the black. I overhear a lot of conversations where black inmates denigrate, and sometimes bully, the white inmates.

Black Use of the “N” Word

I had a very interesting conversation with four of my black cellies last night regarding a wide range of race issues. Two of the guys were 40+, one was 19, and the other was 31 years old. Interestingly, the two older guys blamed institutionalized racism and lack of opportunity as the reason for their economic and legal problems. The two younger guys blamed their personal choices. The hostility towards whites is, part and parcel, of their perceived institutionalized racism.

The “N” word is used frequently here – by the blacks. I made the comment to these guys that I didn’t understand why the word is used so much by the blacks.  After all, the word is viewed as inherently racist if used by white men. I told them that I never use the word.  My parents would have whipped me if I ever did. They told me that their use of the word typically means “bro”.  But, the biggest difference is this: Their use of the word ends with an “a”, and the profane version ends with an “er”.

I told them that I have never heard the word used (in either form) among my professional black friends and acquaintances. They acknowledged that their use of the word is more of a “street” thing. They also said that if they used it in front of someone black who resented their use of the word in either form, they would respect that and would not use the word in their presence again.

Staff Racism

My observation is that the black staff treats black inmates better than the white inmates.  White white-collar campers are treated the most poorly – again, this is my observation.  There seems to be a perception that the legal system treats white-collar crimes more leniently than the drug crimes.  In my opinion, the drug sentences are too harsh, but this doesn’t translate that white-collar crimes are treated too leniently.

Perhaps, the black staff resents the white-collar guys out of jealousy, and wanting to make the rich white guys “pay”.   Maybe, it is their chance to lord over those who have done better in life. Or, it could be a planned attitude to humiliate inmates, in general. One medical contract worker told me that she was told to be bitchy to the inmates. I don’t know for sure, and the reasons can be varied depending on the person. Anyway, it is one of those irritants that one must get used to. It requires patience.

I have a black female counselor, case manager, camp administrator and assistant warden.  Most of the medical staff are black. Therefore, I am the perfect storm for the black female staff. It gets frustrating. We are all in a difficult situation.  If it could I have my way, I wish race were never a problem and all were treated with respect.

The sad thing is that I don’t know this will ever happen. It’s too bad.

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