I've always considered myself fortunate to be an officer who supervised a Direct Supervision unit at the county jail. As a newly licensed therapist, it's fascinating because I am exposed to every type of behavior that was explored during my college years as a grad student. As a young officer these types of behaviors were never explained. We were just told to manage our units within the framework of our policies. It's easy for me to understand why so many officers get into power struggles with inmates. I often use the analogy of managing a bull in a corral. It's so much easier when we as officers choose to remain outside the gates. That bull or (disruptive inmate, alcoholic, abusive partner, gambler etc.) is going to do whatever it does. If you remain outside the corral you can objectively choose your position, when dealing with that behavior. It is actually quite simple. Many of our newer officers consistently try to ride that bull and become frustrated when they get thrown off. Many times it will feel as though they are literally bumping their heads, and they are until they master better strategies. Ask anyone who tries to maintain a relationship with and alcoholic or addict. There are so many tools in the treatment field that would enlighten our officers and will make their jobs much more tolerable. Some officers will find themselves leaving their careers early due to burn out. Sometimes a second job of something you love will alleviate the frustration.
Every now and then I meet an individual who actually inspires me. Each inmate who enters this unit has a story. Some stories are more interesting than others but nevertheless everyone has something significant to share. Many inmates take their time here seriously and many do not. For those who take the challenge and look within; their time here can alter their lives forever. I have actually seen several inmates make lifetime changes. Sometimes the changes are subtle and sometimes the metamorphosis is overwhelming. But regardless how it happens; the change can still be phenomenal. When I realize that I somehow had a part in the process, I have to remind myself how blessed I am.
We'll call this particular inmate Dave. I arrived at the block at my regular time. I was met at the door by several inmates who quickly informed me that there was an "artist" in the house. Anytime there is an inmate who has a teachable skill or a special talent, we encourage them to share that gift with others. It not only passes time, it allows our block to have a certain cohesiveness which allows our unit to work like a community.
In many ways our unit works like a treatment center. The inmates are given strategies to help them to begin looking at self. That is the foundation to all treatment models. The walls here trigger a certain reminder of pain and turmoil that does not exist outside these walls. It is hard to get up each day and not be reminded of the life you are now separated from. There is a certain reality that exists in this culture that is like no other. It's hardly ever safe to reveal or disclose. It takes a conscious decision not to take on the characteristics of this environment. The divorce rate in this line of work is monumental and I am not surprised. What I find sad is that many of my fellow coworkers don't see it coming. Law enforcement and Corrections can actually change people. It takes a lot of self analysis and discipline to remain unaffected. I know several individuals that refuse to have relationships with those who work within the criminal justice system. On the other hand the work we do is extremely important, we have the ability to change the way an individual looks at him/herself. We have the opportunity daily to provide direction that will initially start the healing process. One of my favorite slogans is "Hurting people, hurt people." I see it everyday. I can honestly say; I know what "self hatred" looks like.
Meeting an inmate like "Dave" reminds me of the reason I followed my dreams and returned to school. The possibility of pursuing a PhD in some physiological field may be my next step. Dave shared with me; that his career ended at the plant after putting in over twenty-six years. There were other personal losses that complicated Dave's outlook to include his wife and family. Dave said that he went on a self destructive rampage; eventually he became tired of the life and was finally relieved when he was arrested. This is a statement that I hear quite often; coming to jail for many is a way to stop the madness and the insanity.
Dave shared that when he entered the unit he noticed one of the inmates at a table drawing a picture and before he knew it, he was sitting at the table too. All during Dave's career at the plant much of his free time was spent sketching coworkers and friends. He was always told that he had a special gift but he never quite trusted the idea. It was just a something he took for granted. As Dave sat down and began sharing skills with other artists; several inmates noticed his work and asked if he would sketch them.
Dave describes the process of drawing as exhilarating, he suddenly realized that he was bringing joy and uplifting the spirits of the people he was sketching. He felt an indescribable connection that was better than getting high. Dave admitted that years ago, while in jail; he would draw strictly for the store items. "When you are incarcerated with a talent such as this, it is a way to keep from going hungry." But this time it was different. Dave stated that it was as if God were trying to tell him something. "Of course he had my attention, I'm in here."
Dave added that years ago a Chaplin at a treatment center asked, "What do you do when you want to be close to God?" Dave replied, "That's easy, I draw!"
It finally hit him, "When I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, these gifts always come back." For the first time in a very long time, Dave began to connect with what drives him spiritually, the gift of sketching. Inmates lined up for a special gift that came easily. Dave not only brought joy to himself, his gift ignited the true love of self.
The jail walls contain the destructive self that exist in many inmates. By creating an atmosphere of acceptance many inmates can begin to bridge the gap that leads to conflict free functioning.
I realized that day that I am also living my dream. I am the catalyst in self-renewal and discovery for a population that might have missed the opportunity. Dave captured me from a distance, many of my colleagues concur that Dave brought out my true spiritual essence. I have to admit," I think they are right!"