BEYOND BARS: Who is the Worst Fool?

William A. Larson
Licking, MO

I have been under the loving care of the Missouri Penal System (MDOC) since 1981 and had been previously incarcerated in 1963-64. I am 77-years-young and it is pragmatically improbable that I will live long enough to walk the streets free again.

The MDOC is the exemplar of the eternal truism that “power corrupts, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” The “good ole’ boys” from the Shawshank Redemption days are still firmly in control. According to the local news media, the MDOC paid out more than $7,500,000 this past year to settle staff sexual harassment suits.

For the past 35 years I have been diligently documenting, via the grievance procedure, the blatant corruptive culture that permeates the MDOC; especially when it comes to sadistic reprisals.

MDOC staff has honed their ruthless reprisals skills to a fine edge since they had their wrists slapped in Scher v. Engelke 943 F2d 921, 924 (8th Cir. 1991). Unfortunately, Scher was pre-Clintonian PRLA/AEDPA; which has returned prison litigation to the stone-age.

It is phenomenally impossible to go through a day without violating some obscure prison policy/rule. Said policies/rules are purposely constructed so vaguely, they can be arbitrarily interpreted to mean or prohibit almost anything. Staff takes full advantage of this when it comes to retaliation.
I usually file grievances to combat the frustration caused by dealing with staff who treats us like three-year-olds, with no personal rights whatsoever (a “slave owner’s mentality”).

As I am the typical Aspie, filing grievances is very cathartic for me, even though I know there is very little chance of being successful. I usually rate my success on how inauspicious the reprisal is. I can fill a myriad of volumes with arrant reprisal events that have been perpetrated against me, and others, in the past 35 years.

In the early 2000s, I was having problems getting CRCC staff to respond to my grievances in a timely manner. I filed an informal complaint.
When I didn’t receive a timely response, per policy, I advanced it, sans response, to the grievance stage. I didn’t get a timely response to the grievance of the first appeal stages; I advanced them, sans response.
I finally received a response to my second appeal, 90 days late. The response facetiously stated: “I agree with the previous responses, grievance denied.”

At about the same time, I was involved in a civil action concerning staff deliberately forcing non-smokers to cell with smokers, regardless of their known medical disabilities. Larson v. Kempker 414 F3d 654 (8th Cir. 20015). Needless to illuminate, I was subjected to relentless sadistic reprisals by CRCC staff prior to and during the litigation of the case. There was no doubt that the reciprocation was approved by staff at the highest levels. The blatant reprisals drastically increased shortly after Mr. Arthur Benson deposed Director Lombardi and Superintendent Kemna.

I and my cellmate were locked up in Ad. Seg. for months with heavy smokers, under a pretended investigation. I still do not know today what the investigation was supposedly about. This is a very common retaliatory practice of MDOC staff.

On 5/4/05, I was called into the caseworker’s office, given a copy of the court’s mandate (which is not standard practice) and told to pack my personal property. I was transferred to SCCC the next morning and placed directly into Third level Ad. Seg. For almost six months, without issuance of a violation or benefit of a mandatory hearing.

All this brings to mind the venerable question of who is the worst fool: The fool himself (staff) or the one who argues with the fool (grievant)?

This old fool has survived 35 years like a Timex watch, takes a licking and keeps on ticking, outlasting six different Directors.

Our new incoming Governor has just named a new Director for the MDOC. She comes from the North Carolina DOC. I wish her all the luck in the world; she will surely need it. ■