aNewDomain — When David Sweat and Richard Matt escaped maximum security this week with the help of a prison employee, people started to wonder how cons could con a regular, upstanding person into helping them out.
The news keeps bringing up that one of the cons has a large penis, as if that might have been a contributing factor. But the situation is a lot more complicated than that.
I’ve been in the field of developmental disabilities since 1998. It has been rewarding work, but people of disability aren’t puppies. Some of the people I’ve worked with were exceptionally violent sexual predators. In the so-called Community Protection Program, where I worked, the first thing we were taught is to always be on guard for seemingly unimportant decisions.
The pedophiles in the program are always watching for opportunities to reoffend. They live their lives under conspicuous supervision: We watch them, we let them know we watch them, and they obviously know they’re being watched. Watching is the one and only thing preventing the pedophiles we know about from reoffending. But most will take any opportunity to escape that conspicuous supervision, even for just a few seconds, to reoffend.
A trip to the public toilet. Five seconds alone with a kid around the corner of the aisle at the drug store. Anything.
It’s a scary life and it will turn you off of the human species. It’ll ruin your faith in corrections.
One time, I can’t and won’t say where it happened, one of my co-workers was seduced by one of the offenders. And at the time, people asked the same questions they are asking now: How did they get her to do what she did?
The answer boils down to seemingly unimportant decisions.
People tend to respond positively to unusual requests. It’s why Nancy Reagan started the Just Say No program: to train kids what to do in unfamiliar situations. It’s also why panhandlers change their tactics every few years. Remember? Five years ago it was “I need some money for the bus so I can get out of this city.” Now it’s “We’re on our way home to _______ and we ran out of gas. Could you help out with a few bucks?”
In Community Protection, it’s constant probing against the rules. Can we skip therapy today, or get there late, or stop for something along the way or can I sit in the front seat instead of the back? Anything, any variation of protocol. Any way to compromise your adherence to the rules.
Those seemingly unimportant decisions, they all can create windows for reoffense. Tiny ones, sure, but they are windows nonetheless.
And the thing is, once that window is open, it can be widened.
The airport used to be full of guys offering you flowers. Once you take the flower – a seemingly unimportant decision – you get caught in this weird social situation. The guy wants to talk to you about his cult and you don’t know how to get away without being rude. After all, you are holding in your hand one of his flowers. So then you listen, and there’s the tiniest chance you’ll accede to the next request, and the next and the next after that.
Next thing you know, you’ve given away all your assets, had sex with some people you know are taking advantage of you, and you are isolated on a compound someplace – and cognitive dissonance won’t let you admit you just fucked everything up.
Similarly, in prison, the stakes can get high really fast. Any violation of protocol the cons can talk you into becomes instant leverage for the next request. Watch “Training Day” and see Denzel Washington get Ethan Hawke in so deep so quick he doesn’t know what hit him.
Once you make one mistake, they threaten to turn you in for that unless you make another and another, which all becomes still more material for blackmail.
Seemingly unimportant decisions.
Compromise your ethics in small ways, and you’re liable to compromise them in increasingly large ways until your ethics are meaningless.
The librarian or whoever, she probably doesn’t turn out to be the bad guy in all this. She probably goes down for it. She loses her job, maybe does a little time. But the start of the whole thing most likely turns out to be some bullshit decision she made at the start of a relationship. Sure, sugar, you seem trustworthy. You can turn that book in a day late, or stay a minute after closing, or whatever it is.
And now the window is open. And over days or weeks or months, she gets in deeper and deeper, the window getting ever wider.
What decisions are you asked to make every day that don’t seem important? That compromise your ethics just the tiniest bit, the littlest fraction? What window is being opened, and what’s going to get through it later?
In Community Protection, a little mistake could mean a kid got molested. Out here in the real world, the non-offender community, the stakes don’t generally see that high.
But aren’t they?
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.
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