Every bureaucracy needs its whistleblowers and gadflies, its disgruntled ex-gofers and disillusioned ex-go-getters, eager to expose government waste and folly. Without them, the smell would become unbearable, like a public toilet that hasn't been disinfected in months. And that makes the disappearance of The Real Colorado Department of Corrections, an anonymous blog that routinely skewered one of the state's largest, most imperious and troubled agencies, an occasion for some puzzlement and concern.
Run by a former DOC employee who called himself Thomas Paine, the blog was a somewhat sporadic but eye-opening effort to educate taxpayers about the way the state prison system really works, or doesn't work -- including some specific examples of money shredded and projects gone bad, harebrained policies and abuse of power. One highlight was his frequent use of memos he'd preserved from his days working at the Limon Correctional Facility, one of the most violent prisons in Colorado. The "Memo Corner" was a compendium of classic works of subliteracy and doublethink, such as, "The Visiting Room will not be staffed on Wednesday, August 23 due to staffing reasons."
As I observed two years ago in a post about Paine's work, the memos "bring home the authentic feel of the bureaucratic mindset in our state's corrections empire. These communiques, if not damning, are at least a pretty good indication of how grammar, language and coherent thought have all been put in lockdown and are awaiting execution any day now."
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But a recent visit to Paine's site found the blog removed. E-mails to his address bounced back. There was a time when I spoke with Mr. Paine by phone, but I no longer have his number or his true identity. Did he -- if, indeed, Paine is a he, something you won't get out of me -- move to Paris? Expire? Join the royalists? Hard to say.
Whatever the reasons, his silence is our loss -- particularly given the kind of upheaval DOC has been through in the past year, from the murder of director Tom Clements to the shakeup of parole operations to the shuffle of top administrators to the increasing calls for reducing the system's heavy reliance on solitary confinement.
Tom, if you're out there, check in. We could use a fresh dose of Common Sense.
More from our Strange But True archive circa October 2011: "Limon prison memos: A new form of cruel and unusual punishment?"