Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stress Debriefing

Maybe two years ago there was a young man in one of our tougher dorms haveing a rough time. It wasn't the inmates- he had a measure of respect and wore all the 'right' tatoos and knew the 'right' people... and he wasn't exactly new to the system. He was depressed and sometimes crying- not good or safe jailhouse behavior.

He wanted to talk and I listened.

He'd killed a man. He'd done other crimes, but he'd never killed before and he couldn't quite wrap his mind around it. He couldn't sleep. He would wake up from nightmares in a cold sweat, choking on a scream.

He claimed it was self-defense and I told him not to tell me anything about his case, but I would listen to what he was going through now.

He talked about his guilt, and I told him he should feel guilty. It was normal. We talked honestly about the enormity of taking a human life, how small and fragile it makes the universe. How much the world can change with a decision that took a fraction of a second.

We talked for hours over several days and I remember walking away once thinking, "I just did a post-traumatic stress debrief on a criminal. Weird." Has anyone ever considered doing that? What kind of effect would it have? Simple truth is that everyone comes to some kind of accomodation with their actions. This young man could choose to learn how to deal with the killing from other criminals or from me. He could have learned that it was cool and a mark of manhood and his emotional response was a weakness to be rooted out. He chose to work it through with me, and I chose to listen.

Did it have any effect? Will it have any effect? I'll never know.

In the paper yesterday it said that his plea of self defense was rejected and the jury returned a verdict of guilty in a few hours, as well as guilty verdicts on a string of armed robberies he never mentioned to me.

By the time he gets out of prison, if he does, I'll be long retired- sailing with my lovely wife or diving or climbing.

I'll never know.

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