Maine Corrections Commissioner Hits the Ground Running!

Posted on March 31, 2011


Author: Stan Moody

Newly-appointed Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner, Joseph Ponte, is living up to his reputation as “Joe the Boss.” Quiet, self-effacing, he is assuming control by doing the right things early on.

Mark of a Good Manager:

A good manager begins by sitting down with staff and asking them to describe their jobs – i.e. to justify their paychecks. Ponte is personally going right through security and support staff at Maine State Prison. The objective is not to hear job descriptions but to hear what it is that staff is actually doing or, worse, thinks it ought to be doing but is not.

Word is that if you cannot describe your job in terms that fits a heads-up corrections facility, it is time to brush up the old résumé. You may be headed down the road.

Rumblings from the Rumor Mill:

The rumor mill is alive and reporting severe cracks in the “Old Boy System.” Rumored but not confirmed are the following:

• SMU, the segregation unit, continues to be packed as an overcrowding and staff shortage safety valve…
• A Case Worker was fired for bringing in cell phones and steroids… (An active cell phone will bring as much as $1,000 in today’s prison market.)…Prison administration is rumored to have prevented prosecution…
• A laundry worker was fired for bringing in pornography…
• A Case Worker was verbally assaulted by a Deputy Warden and reportedly took his claim outside administrative channels to his labor representation…
• Several staff members have reportedly been fired for drug and sex violations, the two currencies of choice within the prison…
• One Deputy Warden is on dangerously thin ice…
• A security guard with a string of sexual allegations against him but related to a former high-ranking staff member is still being protected at the top…
• A former Mental Health worker, pushed by staff into incriminating herself in several criminal prosecutions that have not proven to be prosecutable, is getting ready to tell her story…
• A former Chaplain, whose background includes decades of business consulting, hopes that through his writings he is encouraging those ethical employees whose careers have suffered as the result of valuing personal integrity over expediency…
• It is rumored that administration is top-heavy with Deputy Wardens and Captains, no surprise to most…

The Elephant in the Living Room:

Like a black cloud, the Sheldon Weinstein homicide of April 24, 2009, hangs over the prison, a source of impendent terror for all on the periphery except, of course, those who failed to survive the inquisition that has served management well as a defense against transparency.

Questions hang in the air:

• If Weinstein died of an assault in his cell, why has at least one of the alleged perpetrators been released?
• Why has the AG’s Office failed to go to the Grand Jury?
• Based on his condition when autopsied and on his position in his cell in segregation when found, why are several implicated staff members still at the prison?
• Was Weinstein assaulted in his cell in segregation after being admitted there as a result of his request for protection?
• Why are some staff members released without criminal prosecution, while others with like charges are not?

Reform from the Top Down:

The story of Maine State Prison and its protector, the Department of Corrections, has yet to be told. Commissioner Ponte, however, is the answer that wiser heads among staff sought when concluding, “The only way to reform this place is from the top down.”

As one who has devoted his life to writing and publishing 120 articles over the past 16 months, puncturing the shroud of secrecy over this important taxpayer-funded entity, I look forward to moving on to new horizons.

Commissioner Ponte has the right perspective. If you are doing the job correctly, you have nothing to hide. If not, all your energies will be consumed by covering up what you are doing instead of carrying out the people’s sacred mission.

Time and wisdom are the arbiters of prison reform in Maine. Commissioner Ponte has thus far exhibited a fair balance of both.