• Former inmate discusses staff manipulation

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    Former inmate turned philanthropist and motivational speaker Andre Norman spoke to soldiers of the 40th and 705th Military Police Battalions (Detention) about staff manipulation by inmates in a leader professional development session Dec. 6 in the Lewis and Clark Center’s Marshall Lecture Hall.
    “Your safety matters. I can teach you how to be safe, how to be respected (and) how to do a better job,” Norman said.
    Norman said he learned three rules growing up. First, it was OK to hit because his dad hit his mom. Second, he had to protect himself because he was often bullied in school and at home. Third, he didn’t have to explain himself because his father walked out without an explanation when he was 10.
    With that mindset, while still in high school, Norman was involved in armed robberies and assaults that eventually led him to an 18- to 25-year prison sentence at the Massachusetts Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, according to his biography. Norman was transferred to nine different prisons over two and a half years before being sent back to Massachusetts. Over the next three years, he continued his habits of violence and drugs and became a full-fledged gang member, but in the sixth year of his 14-year sentence, he started to change course.
    “I was the No. 3 guy in the state and I had the chance to be No. 1. I just had to stab seven more people,” Norman said. “It was like the Wizard of Oz. You pull the curtain back and you see the guy hitting the switches and it’s all BS. …The king of the jail is nothing (and) the truth is you become the king of nowhere and I didn’t want to be the king of nowhere. I didn’t want to sit in that seat and just pull levers until I couldn’t pull them anymore. At that point, I made a decision that I could do and be better and I became my first client.”
    As soon as Norman made the decision to better himself, he said he got his GED, sought counseling for his anger issues, went to college and became a model prisoner for his last eight years. Since his release, Norman has spoken at adult prisons, youth detention centers, schools including Harvard University, and corporate training programs motivating others to make positive changes in their personal and professional lives.
    Throughout his talk, Norman relayed his own experiences to teach the MPs how to best handle situations when working with inmates by putting them in the mindset of the inmate. He compared the inmate and the prison guard to a lion and a gazelle saying lack of communication is the key.
    Page 2 of 3 - “Trust and believe the lion has anticipated your speed and everything else you think is an attribute and it will be used against you,” he said. “Oftentimes, your lack of communication is to our benefit. You leave each other hanging, whatever the reason, if you don’t communicate, trust and believe we do … It’s always staff against detainees.”
    Norman said communication is how the manipulation starts, but also comes with how inmates project themselves.
    “Conversation (and) personal intrigue … we just have basic conversation (and) we’re going to find out where we match up. Through general conversation, I will come to know you better and you’ll come to know me better,” he said. “People respond based on what you project. So, I can control how you treat me based on my projection to you.”
    The way to avoid being targeted by inmates is to follow policy, Norman said.
    “The guard we avoid is the one that does policy. See, we know the policy book. Even though you read it, signed it and threw it away, we took it out of the trash and read it,” he said. “We know what you’re supposed to do, how you’re supposed to do it. We understand all the systems.”
    If the rules are broken once, it sends the message to inmates that they can break the rules, too, opening more doors for manipulation and danger to the staff. Staying within the guidelines of the job is the best way to act, Norman said.
    “Your job is to keep a safe facility, a clean facility and space for redemption and rehabilitation. That’s your job,” he said. “The next Andre needs to see a person of integrity. He needs to see a person who stands by what they believe, and does not yield or bend … If you want to create the next Andre, you do so by setting an example of integrity, of respect, of caring and consistency. That’s what’s going to forge our next leader who’s going to come outside of a cell.”
    Master Sgt. Randall White, 705th S-3 Operations, said what Norman had to say was useful.
    “I thought he did a really good job,” White said. “He was a former inmate so getting the information from the horse’s mouth was beneficial to the staff.”
    Sgt. Ariana Naranjo, 705th S-3 training NCO, said that Norman’s message could translate anywhere.
    “I worked in both facilities and I do think that that was a good message to send to staff members … It kind of gives you an idea of what the thought process is and how they speak inmate to inmate and how that correlates to staff,” Naranjo said. “Anybody can fall under staff manipulation.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Sgt. 1st Class Katherine Tokles, law and order NCO at 705th, said she first saw Norman speak at the American Correctional Association Conference in St. Louis in August and knew what he had to say would be beneficial to the MPs.
    “It helps open their eyes to hear the premise behind why staff are manipulated from an inmate himself. Normally, when we talk about this, we have books and we read about it, but it’s not usually from somebody who is as high ranking in the prison gang structure or someone who did it so well,” Tokles said. “It gave us an inside perspective on the process of manipulation (and) how it starts, how it ends and how they play head games with the staff or use the staff’s job against them to help them gain additional access to things within the system.”
    Norman said it meant a lot to be asked to come speak at Fort Leavenworth.
    “It was an honor and a privilege to stand here. As much as you think you’ve learned from me, I’ve gotten so much more from being here than you can imagine,” he said. “When I came, it was to learn and to share and to let you know. (So,) do your job, do it with integrity and that’s all you need. You are a value (and) you’re doing great work.”
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