Thursday, March 30, 2006


Epiphany again, something that happens a lot with this student. Not a martial epiphany or even a teaching epipheny, a regular old epiphany.

Why does it seem that the best martial arts instructors don't teach for money?

Read that sentance. Re-read it. Then point out, in detail, how the sentance itself is designed to mislead to a forgone conclusion. (Homework).

It's an old debate in certain circles. Everyone knows an amazing instructor who teaches out of his garage for little or no money. Everyone has been exposed to the glitzy schools that will sign you, if they can, to a contract totalling thousands of dollars that guarantees you a black belt whether you attend class or not.

From these common examples, they conclude that business sense is incompatible with "true" martial instruction. Maybe. I was in this camp for a long time, largely because 1) the best instructors I'd seen didn't charge; 2) One of the instructor lineages I was most impressed by made it a formal part of their philosophy- you didn't pay for the instruction in money now, you paid in the sweat and heartache of teaching the next generation; 3) I was told, and I believed without researching it for myself, that the Japanese Bushi class was incompatible and antagonistic to the merchant class and that there was no greater insult than to be a warrior for money.

Am I Japanese? No. Is this even true? No idea. Didn't the bushi recieve at least a stipend for their armed service? Hmmm. When all is said and done, aren't I paid and paid well to fight (in the most controlled, restrained and civilized manner possible, of course) for money? Damn right.

The person who actually got me thinking was Barry McConnell. Barry is one of those Hapkido/Arnis guys. He's also wicked, mean, funny, intelligent and sensible. Very much worth listening to. He asked, if you can't make money, maybe it's because what you're teaching isn't worth anything. Harsh, but accurate. If you feel your panties getting in a twist, take a moment and make sure it's not because he's right.

Barry got me thinking, but I can't honestly say I thought much about it. I don't need to teach for money and I've never cared for dealing with finances and accounting, so I just didn't bother charging.

On to the epiphany. This student really isn't a student. She is working on a project about teaching and I'm very eager to read what she has to say. She mentioned that in certain types of teaching, money is almost a taboo. She pointed out that I never talk about it and that not talking meant something. She plans to write a section on this. She asked the right questions to open up the back of my mind.

It's not about money. It never has been. It's about the relationship between teacher and student. In most endeavors, you hire a teacher or a guide with a pretty sure knowledge of where you want to go. A piano teacher will teach you to play the piano. If I was teaching a style, if I was _only_ teaching the motions of Sosuishitsu-ryu, it could be done this way: Give me X amount of dollars and I will show you the syllabus.

The relationship to teach about combat or survival is very different. I'm not an employee. I can't be. At some point, the student got to know me and I got to know the student and the student said, "Take me there." Take me to a dangerous, scary place that I have never seen. If I was an employee and the student was the boss, they could skip the rough spots and avoid the dangers and they would decide when they had arrived, even if they did not know what the destination looked like. The old relationship, the true relationship, has to give the guide, the instructor, the sensei freedom to push the student when the student wants to stop, freedom to force what the student most wants to avoid and freedom to terminate the relationship at any time. Sometimes because the goal has been reached, even if the student does not recognize it.

(Note- without an instructor of good heart and great experience, this system is ripe for abuse. An ignorant instructor of good heart can do nearly as much damage as an evil instructor).

She said that there is always an exchange in the student/teacher relationship. Both sides benefit in money or ego gratification or insight or skill or something else. There is always a currency exchanged. What is yours?

Borrowing Trouble

When my father died, it wasn't a huge blow. It was sudden, it was unexpected but it wasn't devastating or crippling. He'd never been one of those fathers who said, "I'll always be there for you." He had always been clear that someday he would die and someday mom would die. That someday, each of us will be alone. He said that his entire duty as a parent was to prepare us for that. Death had never been anything special in our house. The proper attitude to mourning was to focus on the ones who were hurting most and help them.

Dad's wake was a big affair and in many ways it clued me in that there was a lot about his life that I didn't know. One memory of that night, however, still pisses me off. A well-meaning pair of relatives, an aunt and uncle took me aside to tell me I was taking dad's death "too well" and needed professional help.

That stayed in my head for far too long. When someone with a medical degree or counseling experience tells you that there is a problem, it's hard not to second guess yourself. It's easy to "borrow trouble", to create a problem because you expect one.

I've said it several times before, but most of the world is imaginary. What people think of you exists in their head. It only exists in yours if you let it. I'm not denying that people with power over aspects of your life can't change things based on their thoughts... but how important those changes are exists only in your thoughts. It is possible and far too easy to put so much belief and energy into an imaginary problem that it sucks energy and creates stress like a real wound.

It's said that the unexamined life is not worth living. That's absolutely true. To develop you must experience life AND you must integrate that experience. But humans are monkeys and are driven to play with things. We are genetically programmed to see patterns and can find or create patterns (or excuses or entire religions) in completely random events. And that's a danger with introspection.

The goal, for a lot of soul-searchers, is to clarify life to a point that there are no glitches. That things, even unpleasant things, are what they are but don't cause discomfort or a bad reaction when they come into awareness. You don't freeze on them. For people obsessed with clarifying parent issues (for example) they want to remember their childhood and see the effects without reliving the pain. They want to see the source of some of their problems, give themselves power to change their behavior.

Do you see that the goal, really, is to NOT think about it too much? Not wallow, at least. Simply, not borrowing trouble.

I've read a series of articles lately by people who didn't have a problem until they fell in with a group of people who existed for that problem. They were told that if they were a certain... (size, age, color, religion, economic class, social class, gender) they must have these problems, that any belief that they didn't notice or didn't bother was (egad!) repression...

After months of soul-searching and deep meditation, they found the problem. They found deeply buried resentments and hates and repressed acts of repression. Most disturbing, to me, the writing of these two people changed palpably from voices of strength and wisdom to voices of hurt and anger. I can't help but feel that there was less uncovering of hurt than creating of it, because they had been told by people that they love and respect what they were supposed to feel.

Rule of thumb- if soul searching makes you more angry and less loving, you're probably deluding yourself. Remember that the human monkey-mind likes creating stuff out of nothing and needs to be part of the herd... but a unique part of the herd... but not too unique... but special... but not ...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Brothers in Famine

For the first time in months I met with my team as a team. The present budget crisis (is it real or imaginary this time? What's the difference?) has been targeted at overtime and especially "specialty teams". We are a "specialty team". If you get taken hostage inside the jail or there is an inmate uprising, we deal with it- that's our specialty. We'll be expected to deal with it whether we have trained or not.

The last time this happened, it was eight months and it took everything Dre and I had to hold the team together. We did, and we came back stronger. As a team. Everything as a team.

We cheated to day. Due to workman's compensation issues and completely unfounded fears that the media will label us as a rogue unit or a cabal, we have not only had our training budget frozen, but we have been FORBIDDEN to train on our own time. We train on our own all the time- this is a group of men and women (woman) that live for training. We put in time in the gym, time at martial arts or shooting or climbing and most of us read.

Training as a unit, though, is hard. So today we cheated. It's time for semi-annual qualifications at the agency. We 'accidentally' signed up for the same day, on a day when all the instructors were team members. Qualification was budgeted for three hours. We kicked it out in a third of that for some time to work together on our own skills.

Not as much time as we needed and honestly, we didn't use it efficiently. We work three different shifts and seven or eight different assignments, so a lot of the time was spent catching up, reconnecting. With a little bitching about the lack of training.

It's a good crew. I miss them. For the first time in a long time, shooting didn't seem like a chore.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Silly Games

Since the kids were babies, we would play "Pounce". The idea is to sneak up on each other and suddenly leap in the air, grabbing your prey and yelling "Pounce!". I would stalk the kids and they would stalk me.

The kids are too grown up to play Pounce now, at the ages of 12 and 14. Not Dad, though. I still play.

Lately, I've been driving my son nuts by talking to myself while stalking him.

Slowly, stealthily, I sneak to the table where he is making notes for a role-playing game. He catches a reflection in the sliding glass door and says, "I see you, Dad. Knock it off."

"Ah," I say out loud, "the wary prey has noticed the reflection of the predator. The predator holds perfectly still, knowing that herd animals are weak and stupid and will soon forget the imminent threat."

"Dad, I can hear you. You're talking out loud. Go away. And I'm not weak and stupid."

"The prey, hoping to discourage the predator, makes weak bleats of protest. Secure in the stupidity of his prey, the predator slowly advances."

"Mom! Dad's gonna pounce me and he's doing that stupid talking out loud while he does it. Make him stop."

"Once again, helpless, the prey squeels for aid from an uncaring world. Soon, very soon, he will be but another nutritious meal provided by nature in the bloody struggle for survival."

He finally turns on me, trying to keep a straight face. "Dad, you are a very silly man who doesn't understand the concept of inner monologue. I see you and I hear you. Knock it off."


Tickling ensues.

It's a silly game, but it's really funny.


I sit across the table and listen to this man. He has the flickering tongue of years of psych meds and the toothless grin of an old crack addict. He talks to me because I listen. He is so easy to dismiss as a crazy old man, a crazy old addict, a crazy old criminal. A couple of years ago, when I first talked to him, he was bursting with the crazy story of getting a medal for saving someone from drowning. He was laughed off and pushed away, crazy old man.

I got on the internet and checked. He had recieved a local life saving medal for exactly what he said. The article identified him as homeless and a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran.

In his mind, it was the Medal of Honor... but other than that his story was accurate.

Today we sat and talked. Not about anything specific, yet it was. It was about living to your fifties through things that had killed many people who you knew and liked. (Luck? A divine plan? Or were you just faster?) About following orders and moving fast. About doing what needed to be done.

And we talked about the shadows- the memories of smells and sounds that you can never share. The failures and addictions. The boredom of the heart (his concept, half words, half gestures as he tapped his chest time and again, saying, "Bored right here, bored and so tired.") When you transition from intensity of that level to... what? A job, family and white picket fence?

Once you've been beyond that veil, it becomes almost impossible to relate to civilized people or have them relate to you. They fantasize about it, write books and film movies about it- but they don't want to see it and if you really share what is in your head they flinch away.

There's a shadow to that too, because though they never want to see beyond the veil, they have no problem judging the people who went there.

Sometimes I think that for my age and era, I have experienced many things, some very dark... then I talk to someone like this man and realize that I've barely scratched the surface of darkness and its echoing shadows.

As I was leaving, the deputy working that dorm called me over to say I had the "patience of a saint" for listening to the crazy old man. I didn't know how to tell her that I was honored and awed. No matter how much or how little time he spent in-country, he is still paying for it. It was an honor to listen and maybe lighten his payments for a few minutes.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


The rookie was asking a lot of questions today. He'd been on the edge of sending someone to the hole, balancing all the rookie concerns: Is it right? Is it justified? Will the inmates think I'm weak if I don't? Will they think I'm authoritarian if I do?....

He asked some advice and I made him make his own decision, which was to talk one more time and if it went bad, send him to Seg. It was a good, balanced decision, but it brought up more questions- if it had gone bad, then what? How do you cuff a real criminal? What if...

It's been a very, very long time. I told him the verbals I use and how the response tells you right away if there is going to be a problem; then I gave him a few verbals I use if there is going to be a problem to prevent it. Some were words to the inmate, some words to other people. I told him that in any group of 75 people your ability to read and influence was only limited by your imagination.

The rookie confided that he's been watching a lot of officers, comparing their different 'styles' and mine was very different (no!). He said it was calm. He said he's seen me talk down things he was sure were doomed to go down bad (it took me a while but I remembered he was the rookie who was hovering around when the psych lost it and needed to be transported (the Mac Moment). Then he asked how.

Crap, I've been doing this for fifteen years. I have no idea how I do it. Lots of experience and trial and error and clear priorities. Good teachers and bad ones and knowing the difference. Taking the failures as lessons instead of making excuses.

So I gave him homework. (Rookies will do anything you tell 'em to). You can do it too, if you want.

Step # 1: Write down everything that matters to you. It should be a long list and take some time. Not just people, but things like safety and duty and causes. Make it a good list. If you are doing it for real, take a break before you read any further and make the list. I never do that, but it might be prudent.

Step #2: Cross out everything on the list that is imaginary. Safety, my friends is imaginary. If everyone dies, you can't be safe, only safer. The social contract, every aspect of it, is imaginary. You don't have to be punctual, you happen to live in a society that chooses to value it and you choose to act on that value. Punctuality is imaginary. Very, very few things on that list are real.

Step #3: Look at all the things you crossed off. Choose the ones that you WANT to matter. Decide which ones you will act as if they were real. You are actually choosing your own ethical code. Choose them, live by them, but never forget that they are imaginary. It is your code. It's foolish to argue about imaginary things or to expect anyone else to live by your imaginary ethics. This allows for great tolerance- I can disagree on fundamental levels with murderers and drug pushers and vegetarians and still listen with respect. It allows me to deal with the issue of the moment instead of dredging up past events or my judgment of past events.

Does it make me condone murder? No. And if an inmate asks, and they have, I will say (and have said) "I think you deserve to fry for that." And they don't get offended.

Looking at my personal list of imaginary things, almost everything that I value is internal. Integrity is on the list, but reputation stays crossed off.

So why did I do this to the rookie? Because not one person in a thousand differentiates between their real values and their imaginary ones. Because humans will almost always serve their real needs before their imaginary ones. Because if you can clearly know your own real and chosen list, your entire reality is less cluttered, cleaner and you see and breathe and move like a wild thing. And with a little practice, you can see the line between other people's imaginary and real values, and then you literally can predict their behavior better than they can. This kind of clarity, well, it leaves rookies asking "How do you do that?"

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What Do You Want?

There's a constant interplay in our heads between the world and how we want or expect the world to be. Because of my interest, I see this mostly in the concept of martial arts versus the world of violence. I just read an article by someone describing 20 years of training- he's trained and trained hard for many years with people who most martial artists consider legends. One of his stories is about finding a traditional Chinese instructor with a small dojo. The instructor talked and trained mostly in the esoteric aspects of his art. When the author asked him about practicality, the instructor said that practicality was simple and didn't interest him anymore. The author, of course, asked for a demonstration. In a matter of seconds, he got his balls handed to him. By an older, slower, smaller, less athletic, traditional, meditating...

The author shook hands and chose not to study there. That puzzles me.

If he was looking for effective, why did he run away when he saw it? Was it because the fight (wrong word, it was more like a demonstration) that he lost so spectacularly didn't look or feel like the image of a fight that he carries around in his head?

Fighting for your life is very simple. It is very quick, or you lose. It is very ruthless, or you lose. It is maximum power and speed applied where it will do the most good. And all the while, someone is trying to do the same thing to you and he started first.

Sometimes the strongest wins. Sometimes the fastest. But usually it is the meanest. If you decide that you are going to beat me and I decide I am going to hurt you, hurt you so bad that you wake up crying every night for the rest of your life, I will win. If I decide that this is going to be the worst day of your life and I don't care what I have to pay to make it happen, I will win. When I embody your pain with absolutely no concern for my own life, I will win.

Most people have never faced this mindset. Most have never felt it. Thus, they can never comprehend it. And they are happier for that lack. Trust me.

So, when and if you look at your martial arts, think about what you want. If you want a good exercise program, go for the one that works. If you want trophies and belts, go for it. If you want to learn about violence and defending yourself, those aren't just words. Those are pain and fear and ruthless simplicity.

All day!

K fixed her steely gaze on me, obviously angry.

Still bleary, one cup of coffee down, it took me a second to notice. "You're in a pissy mood," I said.

She tapped her foot. "You haven't kissed me or tickled me all day! Of course I'm pissy."

"Babe, I just got up. All day is only, like, fifteen minutes."

"So? Get to work, Bucky."

Sigh. "I'm going to brush my teeth. Then I'll think about it."

"I'm thinking about kicking you in the testicals right now. I thought you should know."

I tried not to smile, but I failed. She was both dramatic and deadpan and perfectly cute. I brushed my teeth. I then pretended to have a hard time deciding between kissing and having more coffee. Kissing won.

That's cool. We've been together for over nineteen years now and still play and flirt. We still make up stuff to argue about to stay busy. We still tickle and cuddle and wrestle Life is sweet.

Monday, March 13, 2006

People and Problems

I don't have time to cover this in the depth it deserves right now.

This was the kernal that started an entire string of thought, added to fifteen years of dealing with criminals, the violent and the insane.

The 'Normal Distribution', commonly called the bell curve, is one of those statistical fundamentals that are everywhere. In a given group of people, some are very short, some very tall, and the majority make up the middle. Same with intelligence. Same with most things. The mistake we make is that the bell curve is so common that we assume it is universal until proven otherwise. Many of our solutions to big problems are based on this assumption even when the assumption is wrong.

Homelessness was one of these issues. Society as a whole has assumed that homelessness is a fairly long term situation that follows a normal distribution: a very small number are homeless for only a few days, a very small number are permanently homeless and the majority are somewhere in the middle, homeless for a few months to a few years.

That's completely wrong. According to the research done by Dennis Culhane, it turns out the most common length of time for a person to be homeless is one day. The second most common is two days. These short time, one-time homeless account for eighty percent of the homeless. People are people and they are adaptable. If they find themselves homeless and don't like it they will overcome and get on with their lives.

There were about 10% who come in periodically for a couple of weeks, usually in winter. The last 10% were the chronic homeless. It was this group that make up the people that most of us think of as homeless, whether you think of them as pitiful and severely disabled or alcoholics and grifters.

This means many things. First and foremost, it means the problem is small enough to solve, not just treat.

Philip Mangano, mentioned in the article, has a solution to the problem of chronic homelessness: it would actually save money to give them a nice apartment and provide for all their needs with a dedicated staff of social workers. It would be cheaper than it is to pick up their bills for Emergency Room visits and jail time.

I had a solution, too, but society isn't ready to let people die. I firmly believe that when a safety net begins to enable, it must be removed from that individual. If the person still continues to behave in a self-destructive way society should have no guilt when they suffer the consequences. But that's me- I'm aware that I don't exactly have a standard outlook on problems.

Side thought (and there were many side thoughts from this article) my instinct, when given a problem, is to solve the people (shut down the threat, train the rookie, counsel the errant) to change them in a crisis or help them change themselves... others, including Mangano, solve the environment.

More side thoughts- criminals also follow this distribution. Violent crime is committed by a relatively small percentage of criminals, and they do far more than we ever get them for. Solve the problem or solve the person?

The article applies this to police misconduct- the vast majority of officers do an excellent professional job, a small percentage are asses. The whole idea of the standard response to negative media attention (more sensitivity training) is based on the bell curve assumption. Mass training always is trying to shift the curve a little bit to the 'saint' side. The trouble is that when you have a distribution that runs closer to 30% saint; 25% hero; 20% good guy; 15% civil servant; 7% lazy bastard; and 3% asshole the training insults 75% of your people and the 10% you're trying to reach either don't care or won't act. Again, when the real problem is this small, you can solve it. I prefer firing, but our agency has a tendancy to put the worst officers in positions away from the public, which sometimes involves a promotion. Solving the environment instead of the person.

Not enough time to draw out all the things this article made me think of. Read it.

Did you get a visceral reaction to the idea of giving the worst of the worst everything: housing, medical care, special help? According to the article, if you got that reaction because it's wrong to reward people for being bad, you're a right winger. If the reaction was based on the belief that no one should get it unless everyone does, you're a left winger. I suppose if you're reaction was "Wouldn't it be cheaper to just let them die?" you'd probably get the cold-hearted bastard label.

One more: There is a difference between a policing problem and a policy problem. I don't necessarily want to tie this directly to the two statistical curves without more thought. However, given a problem, sometimes it can be solved by writing guidelines and sometimes it can be solved by enforcing the guidelines already in place. Writing more gun laws is a policy approach to a percieved problem: if we throw more words at it, define more actions as wrong or criminal, fewer people will die. In truth, almost evry bad thing you can do with a firearm is already illegal. The laws just need to be enforced. It is a policing problem.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Darwin, Hobbes and Synergy

This is what the last post was laying the groundwork for:

I'm reading Hobbes' "Leviathan," a philosophical treatise on the need for a State and why they evolved. If you aren't familiar with Hobbes, he's the one who said that the life of Man in his natural state was ,"solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Probably not an optimist, I'm thinking.

His premise and argument is that without a society that has standards as well as the will and power to enforce those standards, the strong will take from the weak not only because they can but because it is logically in their best interest to do so. Since trusting on any level leaves you vulnerable to the one you trust, mistrust is the best survival strategy and in this condition, without a State, the natural way of man is a war of all against all.

You can see the logic in this, but it didn't happen (much). Darwin stepped in.

In any given population there will be immense variation in any given trait. One of those traits will be trust. True, in most cases in the Hobbes World, trust is a negative. But if two people with trust hook up and form a partnership, their power- both to gather stuff in this eternal war and to watch each other's back- is a tenfold advantage over the other players in this war.

It is such an advantage that it counts as a change in the environment: With one or two of these partner units operating, the only effective survival strategy is to form one yourself. The farther you extend the trust, the bigger and safer becomes your unit. Betrayal can crash the whole unit- what might have killed one long ago now can destroy an entire tribe or culture. Natural selection moves on- the truer the trust, the longer lived the unit. Someone said that cooperation is the only hope for mankind. On a tribal level it already has been.

Thought for the day: There are things that we can do that are so powerful that they count as changes in the environment.


There are a few people out there who don't accept or understand Darwin's theory of natural selection. That's too bad, because it is extremely powerful, elegant and simple. It is also something that we see every day and in all facets of the world- not just biology but in human interaction and economics and your own learning.

At the common sense level, the theory is this: In any given population of like things (cows or people or ideas or political movements or...) there are differences between the members. In any given environment, some of those differences are advantages. Though the population will maintain differences, the next generation will look more like the successful members than the unsuccessful ones.

It's statistical- if the temperature drops over a period of years, the hairier racoon has a slight advantage, produces more kits ...and in a hundred generations you get predominately shaggy racoons. For all the crap that free-market capitalism gets in certain circles, it's consistantly produced the higest standard of living and all other systems have drifted toward it or collapsed.

The principle goes even to personal behavior: you have many possible responses in any given situation, but over time this variation will drift towards what has worked best in the past.

This system can be manipulated- we have so many varieties of dog because of selective breeding, which can do in a few generations what would take nature eons to accomplish, provided it drifted in the right direction at all.

There's also culling, or "eugenics". If someone had the power and decided to kill all the blue-eyed children within a few generations humans would be brown-eyed.

Rapid change in environment increases mortality and speeds up this process. Some people are lactose intolerant- if there was a disaster such that protein became very hard to come by and the only reliable source was a milk cow, lactose intolerant children would die of malnutrition in much greater numbers, fewer would grow up to have children...poof. Fast change in the gene pool.

We are used to thinking of this variation in terms of genetics, but it applies to much, much more than that. Even adopted children learn much of how to treat people from their parents. My students will teach more like I did than a stranger will. A good idea can grow and spread to the ends of the world.

Last point, for now- the teleological fallacy. Certain processes, like natural selection, are resource and environment based. In other words, things arise from what is there. This means that they can drift or grow in any way that works. Teleology is the belief that there is a reason or an endpoint to the process. That humans were the entire point of evolution, for example. People are very uncomfortable with powerful processes that don't have plans. They want someone to be in charge. The idea that we are just a stage in something that will go on forever makes some people profoundly uncomfortable. Get over it.

This process is not for or about you. The environment decides what is selected for after the fact. Who had the most babies who grew up to have babies? They are the winners. The next generation will be more like them. Someone who has no children has lost this game... except no one is keeping score.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Mac Moment

This one's for you, buddy.

You have to picture the scene- the guy is 6'4", muscular, with a mohawk, USMC tatoos and buggy eyes. He's from one of our mental dorms and earlier had started to square off with another inmate. When the fighters were broken up and he was taken to Seg, he attacked the three officers escorting him. He then confessed that he wanted to die, so medical staff placed him on suicide watch.

My shift comes on duty. He is in the cell, slamming the lexan with his fist and elbow making the walls echo. Medical staff wants him moved to another facility. This means that officers will have to enter the cell, take him down, cuff him and carry him to a transport vehicle. It's not my area, but they call me.

So I wander down to the dorm where the sergeant in charge of the area is making the entry plan and a rookie deputy is running around getting belly chains and leg irons. I pull up a chair across from the lexan door, sit down and get comfortable. First rule: if no one is getting hurt, there is no reason to rush. It's not a macho game- whether I could or not, I have no business going into the cell in some kind of contest. I'll wait, stack everything I can to my advantage and go in fast.

The guy is screaming, spit flying out his mouth, slamming his fist again and again into the door, eyes locked on mine. Understand that this is calm for me. There are huge subconscious things going on with dominance and aggression that give most people an adrenaline surge when threatened even if there is no real danger. If you've ever gotten worked up over a phone call or an internet flame war, you know what I mean. For whatever reason, non-standard emotional wiring or experience, I don't get excited.

I'm sitting there, legs crossed, leaning back, hands behind my head and say, "What happened today?"

"I lost it!" He screamed, "I fuckin' WENT OFF! I need some fuckin HELP! MENTAL HELP!"

"That's pretty clear," I said, "Why'd you lose it today?" He kept screaming, but he was puzzled. The way his world works is: You get loud and angry, the other person gets loud and angry and then you get violent before he does. I wasn't working by his rules.

At this point I could feel a palpable rage. I'd been able to smell the adrenaline from the rookie, but this was different. There were waves of rage coming off the inmate, not just rage at me but rage at himself, just pure human anger. I decided not to work with the anger. The next part will not only sound weird, but corny. The kind of thing that only occurs to people who talk to Mac too much. I felt for the source of Universal Love and let it flow from me into the inmate.

As he was talking about his breakdown and making threats, I was projecting warm light and I was saying, "You did good. You did good for a long time. I know you don't like being in a dorm around people but you did it and you did well for a long time. No one can ever take that away from you. You did well and I'm proud of you."

He paused for a second and I said, "It's time for you to go. Will you let me put handcuffs on you?"

He said yes. He even said thank you.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Seeds of an Idea

Training for the Mental Health Team was conducted today with very mixed results. There's no doubt that Corrections staff who deal with the mentally ill need specialized training, the issue is that people outside the field don't seem to understand what we need. When we design and deliver the training ourselves it seems to work best.

Sometimes we have experts. I recall one outside expert we brought in. He was a retired street cop who had made his reputation from maybe thirty encounters with mentally ill people in crisis. It was enough of a reputation that he lectured nationally... it was less experience than one of our deputies will get in one year. The other end of the spectrum are the subject matter experts who try to cram a college psychopharmacology class into one hour.

What we need is very basic- how to tell if someone is mentally ill, and if so how much of their behavior is voluntary (it would be nice if you could be crazy OR an asshole, but not both. Reality is you can be both.)

What kinds of mental illness and what kinds of crises we can expect and how to identify them.

How to communicate with them, especially in crisis.

Honestly the deputies, especially the experienced ones, excel at these points. The next points are harder:

Give us the terms and dignoses for what we see so that we have a common language with the counselors and medical staff.

What medicines do we need to watch for? How long before a therapeutic level is reached (some medications take over a month to show an effect). How do we tell if someone is over medicated? What are the signs of an immediate medication-triggered emergency? What are the signs of long-term use (being able to recognize tardive diskenesia, the "thorazine twitch" can give you a big head start in knowing who you are dealing with). Which drugs are commonly sold to other inmates?

We also need to know what resources are available outside the jail. We're just a phase in the life of a mentally ill criminal. Where do they go and what can they access when they are on the streets? Where can we send them? If one talks about a program, how do we contact that program?

The lieutenant had an idea today. It can only work because all involved personnel have signed their federal medical privacy pledge: Take the booking pictures of a dozen of our regulars. Here's the picture. This is the behavior we see. This is the diagnosis, the medical term for that behavior. These are the strategies that have worked consistantly with those behaviors. This is the standard treatment. If you see these behaviors, think of this person.

It's brilliant. It encapsulates everything with an easy touchstone to personal experience. Even outside our agency, we could use silhouettes instead of pictures and names and still tie stuff together.

A new project. Cool.
Bipolar, paranoid schizophrenic, substance withdrawals, dual diagnosis, delusional, excited delirium; the common personality disorders: asocial, borderline, narcissistic....

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Decision to Kill

This isn't about deciding you could kill or some kind of soul searching or fantasy. It's also not about reflexive fire at a firing position or blazing away at a sudden ambush. It's about making the conscious decision to kill, with full awareness, up close and personal. I'm going to explore it here because so few people in our culture will ever be in this position.

I've made this decision four times.

The first, I honestly thought I was about to be killed and I decided and acted. I was very young and very lucky- one of the first to arrive had been a combat medic. There was no fatality. Had there been, it would have changed my life in ways that I can't even imagine.

The second and third time were similar, and what happened seemed very odd. Again, I was sure I was going to be killed and I made the decision. In both these instances the threat was very large, very close and staring in my eyes when I made the decision. Both times, the instant the decision was made, the threat went almost limp, in one case dropping me. They both staggered away, mumbling, eyes glazed over. I'm not sure what happened or how they were aware of my intent or why it had such a profound and almost physical effect... but I've heard similar accounts from two other people since.

The fourth was at a riot. We'd cleared out the "semi-combatant" and potential threats leaving four bad guys barricaded. For weapons they had shanks, used syringes and the blade of a papercutter. Then an administrator made the brain-dead decision that since these were juveniles, we would have to take them down with no weapons whatsoever. With our pepperspray and bean bag rounds and other toys, we could take them down with minimal injury. Without, it would be another story. We weren't dojo cowboys who can delude themselves that it's easy to disarm someone with a knife without injuring him.

"Today's the day I kill a kid," I thought. It was that simple. If ordered to go, I would. I would not let myself be killed or let any of my team be hurt. That meant I would use as much force as I needed, as much as I had. I made the decision and kept putting on gear. It was an easy decision.

That doesn't mean that it was a cheap decision. I have too many friends who had made the decision or had the decision taken out of their hands and I knew what it cost them. In a fraction of a second I had weighed the legal hell, the nightmares and depression...against my children being orphaned. It was easy.

Our commander talked the administrator into a semblance of common sense and we went in with the right equipment and no one was hurt.

Maybe this can't really be discussed here because almost none of this was words. The one thing I can say is that I've been very, very lucky to make the decisions with so few consequences.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bored Bored Bored....

I've been complaining all week about how boring things have been.

What happened?

Around the house I burned brush, moved big rocks for my lovely wife's rock garden and graveled the parking area. We also re-explored each other in a way we haven't in a while. I taught my son the target areas for shooting big game and worked with him on power generation, striking and awareness- training that I didn't get until I was much older than he is now.

At work, very quiet. A primary source of boredom. Some good conversations with a schizophrenic; interviewing a developmentally disabled young man who may be the victim of fraud; interviewing several disciplinary inmates. Found some contraband where an inmate had inscribed a quote from an author who is a friend of mine. E-mailed Steve to let him know he has a fan in jail. Only one decent back-up call, which got me into a room alone with three fighting inmates- who immediately broke it up and sat down when I ordered them to. Did tameshiwara on a ten pound bar of chocolate. Yay.

Outside of work and home- one good workout; taught a weapons retention and DT course for a small town PD and met some cool people; worked out with the erstwhile "Friday student". Took some good hits, but not enough. I know what we need to work on next. Read "Protecting the Gift", "The Zombie Survival Guide" and almost finished Tacitus' "History".

Bored, bored, bored.

Writing- a little editing on the manuscript that's out, a few entries here.