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?"

1 comment:

The Moody Minstrel said...

Rory, have you ever considered publishing a book?

Oh, wait...never mind...