Donald Lock is a handicapped inmate at the Pendleton Correctional Facility. He has been in many Indiana prisons — serving life for murder — but when he arrived at Pendleton on March 2, he began complaining.
The prison, he noted, wasn’t handicap accessible, which made it difficult for him to maneuver in his wheelchair. Two weeks later, he was placed in a handicap dorm, which he praised as one of the best handicap places he’s ever seen, and he’s seen many after 39 years behind bars.
But he found other things outside the dorm to complain about. In fact, the correctional facility Superintendent Keith Butts said, Lock was nothing but a complainer, trying to draw attention to himself.
Many people probably read this Herald Bulletin story and thought, who cares about prisoners. They did a crime — in Lock’s case, a major one — and they’re doing the time. It doesn’t matter how they do the time as long as society is rid of them.
Some of that is true. But, to paraphrase a Supreme Court ruling that said students don’t leave their rights at the schoolhouse door, prisoners do not leave their human dignity when the bars close behind them. And sometimes, it takes loud, obnoxious prisoners to stake a claim for themselves, a claim that might not be given to them willingly since the state has taken away their rights.
Even with these rights gone, inmates deserve to be able to take care of themselves — using restroom facilities, taking care of their hygiene and moving around from their cell to the mess hall, library and any jobs they might be able to do. This is a minimum demand on the state.
To Pendleton’s credit, such amenities are offered. Other institutions offer them, too. The prison is not a hotel. But, as Neil Potter, prison spokesman, said, “This facility remains committed to housing these offenders in a manner that affords them dignity and respect.”
That’s the bottom line. Doing hard time is no picnic, and offenders can’t expect too much. But fundamental dignity and respect should be given to the inmates, even if they, at one time, did not give their victims the same respect.
Lock knows he’s going to die in prison. He’s got nothing to lose, and complaining seems to be the only thing he has left. He’ll go on making complaints, but it looks as if Pendleton is doing right by him.
With their rights mostly gone, inmates still deserve to be able to take care of themselves.