Saturday, September 15, 2007

Three Layers

This started as a simple idea, then another idea and then a third idea that tied them together. Really, this should be three posts, but the connection seems very powerful and important right now.

1) HEROES Our agency is getting a lot of flack right now. Some from the media, some from our own members, some from the public. In any big group, people will make mistakes over time. In any high stress situation, people will make mistakes... the people who make money by focusing on the mistakes and screaming for change will never know what we do every day.

Our people are exhausted. After a five-year hiring freeze, we are very short handed. There is a lot of overtime and a lot of money to be made in overtime, but the people who do it regularly are exhausted. Some are working three or even five extra shifts a week. Every week. Others are given no choice- the operation requires a certain number of bodies and when no one volunteers, somebody has to be ordered to stay. The public outcry, however, is about OT expenses and sick time abuse. I'll be honest, when I've had 34 hours of sleep in the last seven days I've been tempted to call in sick just to sleep, and I have burned a vacation day for eight hours of sleep and it felt like a vacation... and I do relatively little overtime.

We've cut our beds drastically from the past. That doesn't mean we have fewer criminals... when jail beds are cut crime goes up because punishment is less likely. What this means for us is that we have a higher concentration of more dangerous people in custody, the ones who are less likely to be dangerous are the ones left out on the streets. More dangerous people supervised by an exhausted skeleton crew... Yes, staff is assaulted more frequently and more seriously than ever. No one hears about that.

They don''t hear about the officers who talk down severe psych inmates in crisis every day.
They don't hear about the officer who walks into a tense situation (between inmate and inmate or even inmate and officer) and gets everyone to calm down and talk.
They rarely hear about the officers in a situation where deadly force could be used who risk their own lives to handle it at a lower level.

This blog is called Chiron because, like the centaur, I am aware that I do not train men or women or officers. I train heroes. Every day I am surrounded by people who deal with dark, dangerous and depressing situations so that no one else has to. Men and women who deal with life and death decisions in split seconds with only partial information. Men and women who are castigated by the people they protect for any perceived departure from perfection. They hold their heads high.

Remember the song, "The Impossible Dream"? Here is a line:

"And the world will be better for this: That one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage..."
That's who I work with. Scorned and covered with scars...

2) YOU ARE WHAT YOU SEE People respond to the world as if the world was like them. When reporters or citizens assume or declare that anyone in power must be corrupt, it is because they believe or fear or know that given that power they would use it for their own ends. When someone warns you that no one can be trusted, watch out. When someone treats strangers as trustworthy or takes risks, they are often safe to take risks with.

This is mirroring, and it is reliable. We assume, until proven otherwise, people see what we see and evaluate the information in much the same way- one of the reasons why some people are offended by others who disagree on subjects like politics. If we come to different conclusions from similar information and (the assumption) we process it the same, the only way we can have different conclusions is if you are stupid... You see this all the time, yes?

The other side effect is that people tend to hang with people who are much like them. If you are aware that all of your friends are jerks, I hate to be the one to tell you, but so are you. When you look around at your friends and feel lucky to be in such awesome and inspirational company, you are doing well. Your friends are looking at you the same way. When someone on the outside says, "No one is that honorable, they're covering deep, dark secrets," that person has only told you about himself.

3) See the tie in? Maybe it is a chicken-and-the-egg (layers in the post title. Get it?) thing. I am surrounded every day by heroes. How could I NOT step up when I am needed? How could I not do the right thing? My life is largely spent trying to be worthy of the people I see all around me. Not just the officers- their day to day heroism is expected. We get paid for it and we deliver. But even inmates some of whom I've written about here who have struggled to cope with trauma from early childhood or Vietnam; criminals who have tried; people who have dealt with levels of mental illness that might have crushed anyone else in despair but they kept fighting and trying and surviving, maybe not even understanding why. And my friends, who have been strong and honorable and faithful, have met challenges and disasters and just kept going. Friends and family who bring light to the world no matter how dark it gets...
How could I not strive to live up to what is all around me?


Anonymous said...

This is why I'm am so honored that I can call you my friend...I just hope that I can continue to live up to the priveledge...


Mac said...

The longer an officer works in the 'combat zone' the more the emotional side of his or her brain takes precedence; the less rational he or she becomes. The rational approach to burn out (reassignment, counseling, vacations, increased sick time use) are rational approaches. The trick is to validate the emotions, get the officer to express the negative emotions, and then redirect those emotions into positive emotional successes - 'eurekas', if you will.

Kai Jones said...

I'm sorry we didn't have a chance to talk about this in more depth yesterday.

I have a question that I want you to think about. I don't especially care about the answers, but I sense there might be something important in them for you.

Why do you ask me questions as I'm leaving, when there isn't time to really talk?