I just checked google and it was, as I remembered, Shakespeare who said: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Fear of liability is another life-killing version of bureaucracy.  And so I was not allowed into the prison to visit Micheal this morning. I suppose they recognized my name somehow – Brennan must be attached to Micheal’s records because of Abe, and so they stopped me, without of course telling me why they stopped me.  I wonder, of course, what they would have done had we had different last names.

In any event, about an hour after I registered, they finally sent a CO down to talk to me.  First he confirmed with me that Abe was my son.  And then he told me that they had gone up through the ranks, right to the warden’s office and it was agreed by all these levels that this wasn’t the proper venue for this “meeting.”  Like it’s any of their damn business.  He told me to call the warden directly, which I will this afternoon, and that “victim services” would be the people to set up the meeting.  Victim?  Now I’m a “victim?” Please….the only victimization I experienced is the victimization of defining me as they choose to define me, and then acting on their definition.

The fact that Micheal had asked me to come as soon as possible; the fact that I told the CO that I had no bitterness towards these kids and simply wanted to talk person to person; that fact that they would never have known who I was if Abe and I had different last names, meant nothing.  What meant something – it finally slipped through his lips – was “liability.” Uh-huh. I should have guessed. They were all afraid of being held liable for allowing this visit.

My definition of liability: the fear of taking responsibility.  Were our positions reversed, i.e, myself and the warden, I would have simply checked with both parties that they wanted this meeting and I would have allowed it. What did they think?  That my 61 year old self was going to choke this 30 year old guy?  There was nothing else I could have done: I was not even allowed to bring my wallet into the prison, let alone any kind of weapon. Why didn’t they have the simple respect of giving me a meeting with the warden right then and there?

So now they will try to make some huge deal out of a simple visit between two human beings, each of whom wishes to face the other.  But such human interaction – freely chosen human interaction – is never factored into any kind of bureaucracy.

I have seen this kind of thing before. The fear of “liability” is a de-humanizing weapon always wielded by those who are afraid to stand up for right, or worse, by those with no understanding that there is such a thing as “right.”

To close with a Shakespeare paraphrase:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your [bureaucratic] philosophy.” {Italized word added by me}

Far more. And they are far more interesting and life-affirming besides.





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1 Response to Shakespeare

  1. Jack,

    I’ve got huge issues with bureaucracy, and have for decades. The most validating experience I had regarding my point of view on this was when I heard Simon Wiesenthal, Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, speak. Among other things, when he spoke about what it takes for fascism to take hold, as it did in Germany, bureaucracy was one of the four items.

    I believe that you lose the sense of who the people, the human beings, are when bureaucracy takes hold, and horrible things can happen. The commitment of the bureaucrats is to the established order, not to the people (see “Blaming the Victim” by Ryan).


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