Assets or Addictions?
Dan Mahony, M.Phil.
In its rehabilitation centers, employees are called "beneficiaries." One of Webster's definitions of beneficiary is, "...in the middle ages, a feudatory or vassal." Webster's further defines vassal as, "...a servant; a slave." Let's take a look at a composite "day" in the life of a beneficiary in a Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center.
Wake-up time is 5:45. Many beneficiaries are homeless refugees from the streets and glad to get any safe sleep at all. They tolerate motel-size rooms with six or seven bunk beds without a wince. After a shave and shower, all must go to chapel regardless of their religion.
In chapel their prayer is followed by an ear-banging from the Warehouse Supervisor about working harder at their work therapy. After that there's the usual warning from the House Supervisor about some infraction that can result in being prohibited from leaving the facility. The service ends with a prayer that exhorts them to accept the things they cannot change.
Next it's to the cafeteria for breakfast. The food comes from (1) government surplus programs; (2) from wholesalers when the food is near the end of its shelf life; and (3) from other local charities. It is also bought with (4) the money the Army gets from United Way. Yet another source is (5) the food stamps the beneficiaries are eligible for. Thus, little of the Center's daily cash flow is spent for meals. The Major prides himself on all the money he saves the Army and gets a pat on the back from Territorial Headquarters, a branch of National HQ, a branch of World HQ in London.
Mrs. Major is in charge of the kitchen staff. It's 6:15 A.M., however. Mrs. wouldn't be in much before lunchtime, if at all. She sometimes screams at staff, and once broke a Dutch door off its hinges during a tantrum about a menu without a single food she eats.
Beneficiary breakfast begins with the first of today's many cups of strong coffee followed by the usual high-fat fried eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, donuts, etc., and is consumed quickly in a cloud of cigarette smoke.
After breakfast the beneficiaries must sign out at the TV-security booth. The cameras are not there to protect them but to monitor the donation boxes behind the warehouse. Homeless persons constantly lift donated goods from the boxes, and the Major is trying to prevent the immorality of theft.
It's 6:45 A.M. in the warehouse, the start of an unpaid 8½-hour day of work therapy. Fork lifts swirl around, blinking and beeping loudly. Huge crushing and baling machines noisily squeeze out more and more recycle profits from unsellable donations. It's quite a surprise for a new beneficiary.
When labor is so cheap, recycling is profitable indeed. A center can make an extra million dollars a year recycling items not good enough to be sold in the Army's thrift shops. Throughout the day tractor-trailer trucks arrive to take neatly baled clothing, paper, cardboard, plastic, metals, etc., to places anywhere in America where they will fetch the best dollar. There is so much opportunity in the low-to-no-cost-labor recycling game that a previous Chief Fiscal Officer set up his own recycle warehouse in another town. Major is often off to some other part of the country teaching fellow center commanders the secrets of the recycling business. Recycling is big-biz, and Sally's been in it from the start.
The warehouse air is dusty because most of the donated goods have done time in attics and basements. Lights shine down in a stale fluorescence. The dust-filled light mixes with the emission fumes from the trucks being loaded for the Center's dozen thrift stores. Warehouse Supervisor and his assistants sit in their glassed-in office drinking coffee and making sure via their body language that the beneficiaries know who's in charge.
On the sorting line, the previous day's take is being divided by hand into three categories: the best things for the Army officers, the good things for sale in the stores, and the rest for recycling. It is the worst job of all: dirty, dusty, and terribly monotonous. There is no time to sit down. It is one step up from the homeless bottom of life's pyramid, the place where most new beneficiaries are assigned. Some beneficiaries escape the sorting lines because they have a skill the Major can use, e.g., auto mechanic or carpenter. Time on the sorting line can also be punishment for lapses in obedience by those who have climbed this religion-corporation's ladder a rung or two.
In the warehouse offices, the finance department's outside employees are arriving to begin the day's considerable accounting work. They need five computers to keep track of incoming and outgoing. It looks like any corporate accounts receivable department because it is one. The Army is very serious about money.
Chief Fiscal Officer (CFO) is the most important outside employee. In the real world the Head Counselor would be much more important, but she has no real rank due to the Major's careful control of anyone with more education than he. CFO struts around bragging about this or that to the three secretaries who are trying to catch up with the work he's in charge of. The switchboard is blinking with calls from good citizens who want their donations picked up.
Some donations are major. One day a call came from someone moving to Europe and willing to let the Army have everything in the house. Two trucks were immediately dispatched. Last week it was a sport-fishing boat that belonged to someone recently deceased. His survivors didn't want to pay any more dock fees. "The Army is such a fine organization," said they. It was decided to hitch it to an unmarked Army van and send it to the Major's vacation home in Florida. Two live-in employees (former beneficiaries), glad to get away, drove night and day all expenses paid.
The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 in London by "General" William Booth. He had discovered that animals were treated better in the 1860s than homeless persons, so he set up shelter-workplaces so the homeless could have the dignity of earning their keep―a fine idea. But over time and by slow operations wealth & power have eroded the original idealism of the General's army.
Head Counselor decides to call the Warehouse Supervisor and try to convince him to let Jack Beneficiary come up to the counseling office to talk about a problem. She knows he usually refuses, saying that he needs all his men today. Besides, he particularly enjoys his power over Head Counselor. She has a masters degree in counseling, but Major gives Warehouse the power to overrule. Major never went to college, but he has a Masters in Divide and Conquer. Warehouse Supervisor doesn't even have a high school diploma. His credentials are that he's been in recovery in AA for over a year.
Head Counselor decides to claim that Jack needs to go sign up for a Medicaid card. Warehouse Supervisor relents because he knows Major says Medicaid cards are a must. So Jack B. gets a bit of counseling this day. He's already been to the Medicaid office, but Head Counselor knows that Warehouse Supervisor wouldn't know this. The only trouble is she'll have to come up with different lie next time Jack B. can't get off the sorting line.
Speaking of government benefits, there is no workman's compensation insurance for beneficiaries. If one is injured, and many are, he'll have to sue on his own―an unlikely possibility. The Army doesn't even pay into the unemployment insurance program for its outside employees. Head Counselor will get no unemployment benefits if she loses her job.
Major arrives at his corner executive office. He handles the overnight faxes and emails from Territorial Headquarters (THQ). The Territory's full-time real-estate appraiser will be there today to look at properties in the area. The site next door is being considered for expansion of the recycling operation. Appraiser will also look at a number of possible store sites in the territory's towns. He'll be talking big bucks and put together some great deals because, along with its tax-exempt status, the Army has its own mortgage company. It's win-win deals all around.
Major signs "Memo to All Who Haven't Yet Enrolled in the Payroll Donation Plan." All are required to make a charitable contribution to the Army. In the case of the beneficiaries it is deducted from their $5-a-week "gratuity." The Memo concludes with a reminder of the spiritual value of charity.
In another office a telephone company rep is meeting with the CFO. Major wants a new phone bank for the eight incoming lines and the Center's fifty or so extensions. It's not that the Center really needs a new system, but CFO is well trained in the Army's poor-crying ways and will no doubt come up with a very good deal that is a combination of tax-deductible charity plus guilt-motivated discount. It'll be higher tech and cost less than the present system.
A beneficiary construction crew arrives to begin the latest expansion of the financial offices. They hammer away until Major loses patience with the noise and comes out and orders them to do their work therapy during the night.
Head Store Supervisor arrives in his office for another day of cigarettes and schmooze. His office is right next to the Major's, revealing the Center's true hierarchy. Store Head and CFO daily vie for power as the Major makes sure neither gets much turf. Head Counselor isn't even in the game.
But Major can't control the staff's every move. "Real politics is the possession and distribution of power," as every corporate executive knows. So a lot of shenanigans and abuses are possible. Head Store Supervisor once showed around a little bag of diamonds removed from donated jewelry. "It's for an auction," he said with a wink. This could amount to grand larceny, but fear not for Head Store Supervisor. The Army does not often take anyone, inside or outside, to court for fear that the public will discover just how much money is involved. Once in a while, a red Christmas bucket is stolen by the guy they hired to stand in a mall and ring the bell. (Army officers will have none of this, so they hire outsiders to stand and freeze―except when TV cameras show up.) They'll report the crime to the police but take no action. The lack of prosecution will appear as yet another charitable gesture. THQ will simply fax out a Security Alert ordering all Centers not let in the errant employee. The question remains, however, as to just where the daily national loot of jewelry, antiques, and other expensive items goes.
The Captain, an administrator in training, arrives at his office. Captain gets little time with Major or Mrs. Major, however. THQ expects Major to field train him, but the Maj much prefers preaching and traveling. Besides, the Captain already knows the game. He'll get his own Center in July. He's here to learn nuances and kill time until the Major of the Center he's going to is gone.
Mrs. Captain arrives at her office. As usual she begins watching soaps on a donated TV. She arranges for someone to pick up the kids at school and do some shopping for her. After the third soap she begins to fill out a college financial-aid application for her daughter. Daughter is a true "Army Brat." She wouldn't have to fill out an application. Mrs. Captain declares a near-zero income even though they live quite well-off in a nice no-cost house in the suburbs. Daughter'll get financial aid. Besides, the Salvation Army is such a fine organization.
On paper it looks like the Center's officers have little. This is accomplished through a clever system of perks paid for by the Army, a tax-exempt religion corporation. They get free food and food-shopping allowances, expense accounts for the entire family, gas money, and free worldwide travel. Beneficiary mechanics fix and maintain their free cars. Besides having its own mortgage company, the Army has its own health-insurance and deluxe pension plans.
Donated antiques and oriental rugs adorn the officers' paid-for homes. All utility bills are paid by the Army. If Mrs. Major wants a new patio, beneficiary (slave) masons and landscapers will do it. Beneficiary roofers will create new roofs, electricians new wiring, carpenters new decks, plumbers new pipes, all for just the cost of materials.
The Army probably spends more 80% of its 'income' on administrative costs. But just how much they spend on themselves is a well-kept secret. Numerous charity watchdogs have tried to find out, but Sally's a religion-corporation.
Then there are the vast tax-free real estate holdings and the tremendous cash assets built up over a hundred years. The Major's multi-million-dollar 'Center' is just one of more than a hundred in the United States. The Army has them in dozens of other countries as well.
But, unbelievably, the Army claims it can't afford to pay minimum wage! This claim is quite selfish. If it paid each of its ten-thousand American beneficiaries $12,500 a year plus benefits, the additional cost would be about $200 million. That would leave more than $1 billion a year left over after all profit and personal perks.
The U.S. Department of Labor tried for years to get the Army to pay its beneficiaries the legal minimum wage. The matter came to a head when the competition, Good Will Industries and Volunteers of America, sued for permission to treat their employees as underpaid beneficiaries just like the Army does. In December 1990, a federal judge ruled against the Army, but somehow or other the matter simply evaporated. The U.S. Dept. of Labor suddenly ceased its litigation, and status quo ante prevailed.
Meanwhile back at the HQ its time for the big weekly staff meeting. Every supervisor is present around the spacious walnut conference table while the whole warehouse operation somehow runs without them. After an opening prayer, Major expresses his displeasure at the production level, that is, the speed of distribution of goods from the sorting line to the stores. The excuses offered by the supervisors are predictable: they blame the beneficiaries. "We'll have to work on Saturday," threatens Major. They decide to add a second shift. A dozen or so beneficiaries will now have to work from 4pm to midnight. Details are worked out as to how the cafeteria will feed the new second shift.
The Center's counselors are also present. They raise some social service issues but are ignored in favor of deciding which beneficiaries will be moved to the sorting line because they don't work their therapy hard enough. This is an ongoing problem for the supervisors. The better (= faster) workers view the sorting line as a punishment and so want off of it as soon as possible. But the Center is a corporation which always needs increased productivity. It is agreed that the Warehouse Supervisor will "talk about it" at tonight's prayer-supper.
Major tells Head Counselor to call local detoxes and drug-treatment programs to recruit more beneficiaries. The Army claims in its brochures that, "57% of all those who graduate from our program stay sober and drug free for a year." It conveniently omits the fact that 67% of all those who enter the program do not graduate. So the true success rate is 57% of the 1/3 who complete the program. That is a 19% overall success rate, no better than for those who recover without any form of addiction treatment.
Staff Meeting is interrupted by a phone call from the Mrs. Major. She shrieks at Major loudly enough to cause him to pull the phone away from his ear. It emerged later that Daughter's car had broken down the previous night and the Mrs. was furious. It was decided that a beneficiary mechanic wopuld sleep with a pager so that if it happens again he can speed out to get her at any time. Daughter will soon get a new car. It will be listed as being for social services and will not have Army insignia so as not to embarrass its occupants.
Next, they deal with the main business of the day: the opening of the latest new Thrift Store. Someone suggests they rent a huge spotlight to light the night sky. Rejected with a snicker. Head Store Supervisor drops a bombshell: the new store doesn't have enough racks and shelves yet. This could delay the Big Opening. "Get it done TODAY," roars Major. It is decided to dispatch a crew of beneficiaries in two trucks to take a few racks from each of the other stores and set them up in the new store. They will work into the night. A few packs of cigarettes and a supervisor's wink will be thrown their way as overtime pay.
The meeting grumbles on. Security wants another TV camera that scans and focuses on the Center's donation boxes by remote control. He already has two, but Security Supervisor is a computer-video hobbyist with other plans for the third camera. Major knows the security game and orders an immediate check written. He can rid himself of Security any time he wants, but right now, this one's loyal. And sober.
Security Supervisor decides to celebrate his victory and now complains that too many beneficiaries leave their empty soda cans in the Recreation Room. So he's closing it for 24 hours. The Major's silence signals his refusal to overturn the verdict. He usually gives Security free reign because it pays to do so in the long run. The staff grunts its approval―except the counselors who know that the rec room is the only pleasure, the only escape from work therapy.
All business, religious, and social-service decisions are made by Major, either by royal edict or by silently letting lower rulings stand. He is not only Chief Executive Officer of the Center's multi-million dollar retail and recycle business, but Head Therapist, Head Counselor, and Minister. Over time and by slow operations all this power has corrupted him completely. (And the Mrs. and the kids.) Everyone must call him "Major." No one in the Center calls him by his first name, not even upper-echelon outside employees. Even behind his back he's "The Major."
It's night now. From the pulpit The Major quietly reminds beneficiaries that they live in a feudal system: "It's my way or the highway." Either they follow his and his underlings orders or they'll be sent back to the streets. His soothing voice belies his heartlessness. Once business matters are handled, he then preaches God and morality, reads from the Bible, and requires them to sing hymns while he conducts.
Following that, Warehouse Supervisor demands faster work therapy. Around the holidays, when donations pour in at a furious rate, a night shift and sixth day are added to the work week. The whole thing is worse than feudalism. At least in merry old England vassals got to live on some land and had shorter work days. At the Center it's, "three hots and a cot."
Sometimes, when Major is away, there is a crackdown by his recovering-addict supervisors who have neither the skills nor the temperament to supervise personnel. Beneficiaries who cross them in any way are terminated and have thus lost their abodes and jobs in this born-again company town. There is no referral process. It's just back to the streets.
Supervisors are usually long-time loyalists who have made their way up the ladder from beneficiary by showing compulsive loyalty to a string of Majors. They are paid minimum wage minus their rent―$400 per month to share a small room. (Guess who's their landlord.) At the Center this is status. One of their privileges is that they get to rule over beneficiaries. Power makes up for lack of money for these recovering-addict supervisors who would never achieve anything near such status anywhere else.
Head Counselor complains that some men seeking admission to the Center are being kept on the streets by the Intake Supervisor who has the gall to base his selections on whether or not he likes the candidates. He gets away with this because he is a favorite of Major's. He especially dislikes Hispanics, who, as a result, are rarely admitted.
Intake Supervisor can listen to himself talk all day, especially during the group therapy sessions he leads. He never went to college, but he is actually given the role of therapist by Major. During his group sessions few get to share anything as he rambles on.
Head Counselor would like to be able to supervise Intake Counselor and perhaps teach him some group-counseling techniques. After all, she has a masters in psychology, and is state certified. But Major is jealous of educated persons―he too never went to college.
Head Counselor is almost as depressed as the beneficiaries, her idealism daily crushed and recycled. The Major keeps her far enough down his hierarchy to insure that she won't make much difference. She can't sleep at night, and counts the days until she has completed two years and can get a job elsewhere. This is just what the major wants. Then he'll' get a new Head Counselor, after extensive interviews of candidates. (He especially likes doing job interviews. The power sends his adrenalin soaring, and he'll likely choose a female for the job.)
Major can get away with all this because the Army scrupulously avoids regulation by government agencies. No state would ever permit untrained persons to act as therapists. Worse, Major can make all the psychotherapeutic decisions he wants because he's a Minister and is therefore automatically a licensed psychotherapist. Fortunately for the beneficiaries, he is normally too busy with the "fiscal and spiritual health of the Center" to do much psychological counseling.
But we have digressed from the staff meeting.
This week's list of beneficiaries to be ejected from the Center is presented by the warehouse and store supervisors. They go down the list one by one. There is no rhyme or reason to their decisions. Some beneficiaries are thrown out, others get a reduction in their five-dollar-a-week spending money. (The spending money, for legal reasons, is called a "gratuity," by the Army. It is little more than a left-over morsel thrown to obedient vassals.)
Money matters notwithstanding, Head Counselor tries divert the meeting towards helping the needy by objecting that Jack Beneficiary should not be made to hit the road just because he does not work his therapy hard enough. "He's depressed," she says. The store supervisors become angry at being opposed in front of others. They suddenly invent other infractions to further jeopardize Jack's case. Head Store Supervisor overrules her. Major silently lets it stand. Jack is history. The supervisors swoon in the euphoria of power as the rest of the staff grunts its approval--except the counselors.
A few days later, "Jack" was kicked to death while sleeping in a railroad station. His real name was Robert. He cleaned the counseling offices as part of his work therapy. His only crime was that he could not work harder because of his depression. This writing is dedicated to Robert's memory. It is written with the hope that some day the Major and his Army will no longer be allowed to get away with these things.
Lunch time. The meeting closes with a prayer. It's Head Counselor's turn. She ends it with: "Please make us worthy of your gifts."
At the cafeteria, officers and outside employees eat in the officers' dining room which is set off from the beneficiary cafeteria. The food is served by beneficiary waiters.
Mrs. Major is in for lunch today along with Daughter who is just back from Europe "visiting Centers." She's showing around photos of Paris tourist traps. The conversation drifts from deferral after deferral to Major. Suddenly, Mrs. Major declares that she will be hosting tonight's Special Concert. The Head Store Supervisor groans to himself. He knows she'll go on and on triumphantly conducting hymn after hymn. Major and Mrs. can't get enough of conducting. It's so symbolic of their power. The emotion of the music causes many beneficiaries to mistakenly associate their filled hearts with The Major. (And beneficiaries who take part in a singing group don't have to go to Bible Class.)
Mrs. has another motive for wanting to lead tonight's special concert. She's used to the home-court advantage and doesn't want to be upstaged. The concert will feature a spiritual vocalist who sings along with tapes recorded without a lead singer. Unlike the Mrs., she can really sing. It will be spiritual karaoke using the chapel's big sound system The whole thing will sound like Beethoven's Ninth. The Mrs. is in danger of upstaging.
A previous Major at the Center also did spiritual karaoke. He'd sing along with emotional accompaniment tapes made in recording studios by one of the Army's full-time orchestras. He was transferred to a distant Center, however, after he had gotten involved with an outside employee. Her husband had come into the offices threatening to kill him.
The Army does not permit popular music to be performed by anyone in the Army. Its excellent bands and orchestras perform only songs written by Army composers. The one exception is Christmas carols on those rare occasions when a Army brass band plays by a mall-bucket. For the TV cameras. Otherwise it's just the dinging bell.
Speaking of the buckets, in the early nineties some mall owners tried to ban the Army's bands and bell ringers. The mall owners were under pressure from other charities who wanted a shot at the big holiday money. The Army seemed to have exclusive rights to the malls. Suddenly, First-Lady Barbara Bush appeared on the network news standing by a little red bucket. The Battle of the Malls was history.
Back at the Center, lunch is over and the warehouse is again humming. The trucks are returning with the day's loot so the sorting line is abandoned in favor of unloading. Warehouse Supervisor keeps an eagle eye open for the antiques and jewelry.
The Center's mechanics are at work on the never-ending rotation of trucks and cars to be maintained and serviced. Major depends heavily on his beneficiary mechanics. They save the Army a good deal of money. Besides the dozen Sally trucks, there's the Major's car, the Mrs.'s car, Daughter's car, one for the Captain's family, and another for visiting officers and wives. The well known trucks have Sally insignia on them, and two vans without insignia are for social service uses such as ferrying beneficiaries to the hospital or the Welfare Dept. Or for private Army activities.
The Center's vehicles are usually not more than one or two years old before they are traded in. Local auto dealers give Major a good price because he's such a good customer. And he pays cash. He's also good at getting them to sell him auto parts at cost. Dealers can take the difference as a tax-deductible donation. Besides, the Army is such a fine organization.
The trucks, cars, and vans used to have two-way radios as part of the Center's communications network. But once a staff meeting had to be spent handling a complaint from the local Federal Communications Commission office that the Center wasn't following proper procedure by using "over," etc. It's all cell phones now.
The special concert ends. Neither The Major nor The Mrs. stay around to conclude the night or thank the guest vocalist. Store Supervisor gets up and does it. The exhausted beneficiaries finally get to their bunks. And besides, the $alvation Army is such a fine organization.
© 2008 by danmahony.com
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