President John Tomandl’s Letter– November 2019

Hatred and Violence Betray the Sacredness of the Human

Today’s rhetoric in the public and political tarnishes the sacredness of the human soul. The environment of news, the workplace, social media and even private discussion is becoming confrontational, even toxic, bringing out the worst of our society so that instead of prison reflecting the worst of society, in many ways it seems to be becoming society reflecting the worst in our prisons!

Chaplains have long had to deal with the bad language, foul tempers, anger and dishonesty of the inmate population. In turn, the very atmosphere in which security and civilians work inside of correctional facilities has long brought out the worst in human nature; if not in outright bad behavior, then in poor attitudes, loss of self-esteem and the sense of anger that often carries out of the facility and back into the larger society within the families where staff go home to each day.

On average, correctional officers and labor/technical staff have in the past indicated the lowest levels of support for inmate rehabilitation and tended to adopt a more favorable attitude toward retribution and punitive behaviors. In contrast, health care professionals, programs staff and supervisors/managers reported the most support of inmate rehabilitation. Prior research from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) found similar results, as newly hired treatment and clerical staff recognized better than correctional officers that staff support of treatment programs impacts inmate rehabilitation outcomes, and that staff actions and interactions with others can make a correctional facility a more positive, rehabilitation-focused, health-enhancing environment (Antonio, Young and Wingeard, 2009; Antonio, Young and Wingeard, forthcoming).

Employee morale is a significant factor in creating a good or bad work environment. Morale influences the attitude, behavior, choices, beliefs and actions of an individual, and it also can determine the environment. I am defining morale as the soul of a person or group that is either positive and hopeful or negative and hopeless – it affects confidence, discipline, attitudes, behavior and a willingness to perform assigned tasks. Morale also symbolizes a dedicated spirit which unifies individuals toward a common goal (, 2003). Clearly, morale is an emotional state which joins employees together in a shared mission in order to achieve organizational goals. The organization consists of a synchronized social unit, formed to operate uninterrupted in order to perform universal objectives (Freeman, 1999).

The chaplain can, and SHOULD, be the person/office that helps to bring up morale to a higher, more positive level. This is a calling that inherently demands that expectations of action and thought can, and MUST, be clearly defined. The staff, as well as the inmates, must be able to see in the Chaplain an example of a positive attitude deploying encouragement and a call to a higher awareness of, and actions reflective of, more positive moral action by everyone.  The ACCA Code of Ethics calls for chaplains to uphold and display the highest personal, professional and ethical standards of conduct.

Past President, Vance Drum, once said that, “After many years in the field, I can tell you I’ve made lots of mistakes. I’ll note three big ones:

1. Not Pacing Yourself

2. Not Managing Your Program Meetings

3. Not Developing Helpful Relationships with Staff”

I do not think that I can offer any better advice than to remind us all of Vance’s words!

The basic qualities of the human can always be overcome and the true nature of humankind, the sacred beings encapsulated in our mortal bodies, that God created, can show forth if we exercise self-control, and positive thinking.  Always (I MEAN ALWAYS) in each and every situation, we need to have a prayerful approach where we encounter with the reality that we are the voice of Grace and Reason and Kindness in a sea of fear, anger, hostility and negative images. In 2014, the following acronym/acrostic appeared on the internet suggesting that everyone consider what they were about to e-mail or discuss with anyone before acting: T.H.I.N.K.:

T – is it True?
H – is it Helpful?
I – is it Inspiring?
N – is it Necessary?
K – is it Kind?

We must remind others by our actions each day that everyone is a person … created by God  … s/he may have done bad things but the perpetrator is still just a person … staff members are just people – sometimes tired, scared or angry – but still just a person. On my worst day, I was still a person and on my best day, I am still a person. Persons ALL need respect even when they don’t give it; love, even when they can’t or won’t give it; encouragement, even when they appear hopeless; and forgiveness even when unforgiving.

Please don’t forget that as Chaplains we are not better than anyone else, we are not God, nor are we exempt from the struggles and temptations that confront all persons; however, we are called to model that in spite of human weakness, the true nature of humankind is capable of touching the face of God.

If we think that our work will take care of itself, we are at the leading edge of insanity. Without diligent and constant planning, willingness to change, and, awareness of needs, no program will succeed for very long. Also, never forget that success without successors is failure! How have the programs and practices that have brought peace and self-worth to the inmates and staff at the facility been empowered to continue and thrive into the future?

In general, the staffs that we work with are focused on only one aspect of the life of the incarcerated people in the facility or the work lives of the staff themselves. Administration, program, support and security staffs all have specific functions but broad and overlapping needs. If the Chaplain is focused solely on the inmates, the outcome will be that “s/he’s an inmate lover” model of Chaplain. A model, which, I might add, has never produced change, rehabilitation, support – OR – change in anyone’s attitude or self-image.

Do not succumb to the temptation that you work alone; do not give into the temptation to change who you are to fit the profile of the rest of the staff; rather, continue to bring hope, encouragement and support to EVERYONE in the facility; regardless of the uniform they wear. Focus on becoming the person that God created you to be and to be doing the work that God has prepared in advance for you to be doing. AMEN!

  • ACCA President, Deacon John Tomandl