Of Wardens and Caretakers ... and Gods...

Warden Henry Brubaker has seen Wakefield Prison as it is, from the inside. He initially entered Wakefield incognito, as an inmate, sufficiently schooled in its practices and usages not to be caught like an unaware first-timer. He comes forward after an incident with an enraged death-row prisoner and proceeds to attempt to do something the prison board never expected: to actually reform the prison.

His efforts meet resistance from all quarters. The prisoners figure he’s one more showpiece, all talk and little or no action. The prison board expects him to do nothing while appearing to do something and live off the fat of the land of what should be a cushy job.

Brubaker forges on anyway. He ends the practice of prison rank men being used as slave labor for the local town while simultaneously reining in the actions and excessive privileges of the trustees, who are used as unpaid guards. He cuts through the corruption which has the prison board riding high financially on goods and monies laundered through the prison. In a prison board meeting, he asserts accurately that he can run Wakefield at a profit, given time and resources. Problem is, most of the prison board thought those profits would be lining their pockets rather than improving a prison they ultimately had no interest in improving.

Despite all of that, things at Wakefield do at least begin to improve. The rank men’s barracks gets a new roof and paint, the prison farm raises its own meat and vegetables. The whole place begins to at least try to become a 20th century farm, as Brubaker intended. All is well … until an old inmate who has overstayed his sentence by three years, mostly because no one thought to process his release, mentions something to this new warden about a prisoner burial ground. Brubaker pursues this story and finds the prisoner graveyard. The news almost immediately reaches the governor’s office, and when the now-embattled warden refuses to back down and “take a chip in the big game,” he is fired.

Not much later at a news conference with the prison board, Brubaker suggests to a reporter that, to save time and trouble, the next time someone is sentenced to Wakefield Prison, take him out behind the courthouse and shoot him. Disgusted with the whole business, Brubaker leaves the press conference. The prison board chairman is incensed, of course, and Lillian Gray, the board member who sponsored Brubaker in the first place, goes after him.

Lillian: I want to know why you always think you can just walk out.
Brubaker: Because that’s murder they’re talking about in there. And if I condone it, you can’t turn around and tell these men why they’re locked up. It’s one standard for everyone, the way I see it.
Lillian: And you can’t see any options, no middle ground.
Brubaker: No, I don’t see playing politics with the truth, Lillian.
Lillian: No way to compromise?
Brubaker: Oh, on strategy, maybe … but not on principle.
Lillian [flustered]: But that’s what I … goddamn it, I agree with you…
Brubaker [bluntly]: No you don’t. Not really.

“One standard for everyone.” The caretaker is held to the same measure as those he cares for. You don’t mess with people simply because you CAN, and if people are in your care, then it is your job TO CARE FOR THEM to the best of your ability. Based on this example, Brubaker would make an infinitely more proactive deity than Yahweh ever was. While he states bluntly that most of his charges belong where they are for their actions, he is at least as interested in the improvement of their lot as he is in their simple maintenance while incarcerated. By comparison, the deity of the bible is an absentee landlord, who for the large portion has allowed his creation to run amuck, with neither guidance nor feedback other than a 1,600-year-old tome whose inconsistencies have been repeatedly dissected and refuted.

If a man can think and reason and act in his own behalf, he may not be a god, but neither is he a child to be condescended to or treated as a clueless innocent in a vast and supposedly unknowable world. A god who does condescend either reveals its own inhumanity ... or the inhumanity of those who thought him up. Either way, when men can be better than the gods invented by other men, of what use is that god?

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Tags: brubaker, caretaker, prison, warden

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Comment by Loren Miller on June 19, 2013 at 6:40am

He was, indeed, Dennis ... he played Henry Brubaker.

Comment by Michael Penn on June 19, 2013 at 6:25am

Very interesting, Loren. Wasn't that Rebert Rodford in the film version "Brubaker?"

Comment by Loren Miller on June 18, 2013 at 9:21pm

Postscript:

While the character Henry Brubaker is a fiction, the man he was based on, Thomas O. Murton, was not.  Murton ran two prisons in Arkansas from 1967 to 1968, and the movie Brubaker documents at least in part Murton's experiences while in that position.  I should add, Murton was also a technical advisor for the movie, Brubaker.

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