I got a letter from Leo C. Arnone the other day. He is the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Correction. He was upset by a column I wrote complaining about how one of his employees treated me at the York Correctional Institution. He was offended by my comments. He stands by his employees. The senseless shakedown I enjoyed at the hands of a guard with the charm of lobotomized melon reflected routine practice.
I don’t normally write on these pages about those who poke at me. Life is short; the road is crooked; and events unfold at speeds making too much time spent looking through the rearview mirror dangerous. But Arnone’s letter bothered me. It requires scorn because it represents an arrogant assertion of the Big Lie. So I write today in response to a man who thinks truth is a button he can press to erase uncomfortable facts.
By way of review: I appeared at the perimeter of the women’s prison not long ago. When I handed a guard my driver’s license as identification and announced I was there for a legal visit, he sneered: “You’re a lawyer?” He wanted to see proof. I told him what he well knew: Connecticut does not have mandatory bar cards; what’s more, no one had ever asked for one before. Things went down hill from there.
Arnone writes that the same procedure for entry to the institution was followed on the day of my visit as took place on other visits. This statement alone proves that Arnone doesn’t know what he was talking about. On no other occasion did a guard require proof of bar membership to enter the parking lot. It just ain’t true. Arnone can assert it until the veins in his forehead burst. But he is wrong.
So here are the disturbing possibilities: Arnone does not know what is going on in the prisons, in which case his effectiveness as commissioner is questionable. Should I ever meet the man on the witness stand I will know he is capable of believing any tall tale.
Or perhaps he’s been lied to by subordinates. That is more disturbing, if true. If the rank and file have so little regard for the man that they can and do lie to him at will, that conveys a lack of respect for the top dog.
Finally, it is possible that Arnone knows the truth and simply lied. In that case, he is unfit to lead a state agency.
Whatever possibility comes closest to the truth, the fact remains that an institution reflects the character of its leadership. If morale is low among guards in the Department of Correction, look no further than the Commissioner’s office for the cause., Arnone is far from an inspiration.
I guess the commissioner has been preoccupied of late. Top prison administrators have been thinking a lot about masturbation lately. Just what they themselves are doing behind closed doors is unclear. The face they show to the world speaks to lawmakers and asks for a new law making masturbation a crime and requiring those who do so in the prisons to register as sex offenders.
Where did we find Arnone? Did he put the rude in prude?
Yes, keeping discipline in the prison is difficult. Men caged become enraged. Some use masturbation as a weapon, seeking to disgust and humiliate the guards, some female, who patrol the cellblocks. It is a pathetic spectacle. Why not ask what can be done to empower prisoners to act with dignity rather than seek to punish them for using one of the few tools left to them to express themselves?
Arnone is apparently a spit and polish kind of commissioner. He is also apparently has only a passing familiarity with what the rest of us regard as truth.
I’ve got your number, Commissioner. Remember that if I ever see you under oath.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.