Worlds collide

Corrections, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Relationships, Uncategorized, Writing

I just completed our required three days of DOC In Service and my ass may never be the same. I don’t remember the chairs being so hard last year, but maybe they were. This is my third In-Service and it was less terrible than the other two, for which I am quite thankful.

But I’ve noticed something unexpected, now that I’m back in my office and with my students. After spending three days with DOC folks (Medical, Security, and BHS), I feel oddly disconnected from my students. It’s almost as if the collective DOC aura rubbed off on me, building an invisible barrier and forcing me to see them as inmates, not students.

It’s a strange sensation, a kind of double vision. I see my student or clerk working or talking to me and, at the same time, there’s a faint overlay of “Inmate” where there wasn’t before. I don’t like it, it feels uncomfortable and disorienting to suddenly have this imposed vision of “Other.” These are my worlds, colliding, and it doesn’t feel good.

I always know my students are inmates (or Adults in Custody), but I don’t give that label priority billing. I work within the rules and boundaries, but their primary identity is themselves, not their inmate-ness. Today, their inmate-ness is more present, and I know it’s a result of three days of hearing others refer to them in that way, being in the mind-fields of those people, knowing that my approach and relationship with my students is so much different than theirs – as it should be. I assume that if some of them saw how my program works, they’d think I was crossing all kinds of boundaries and making lots of mistakes, but they would be wrong.

I just operate differently, the women relate to me in a different way, and I see them first as people and women, not as inmates. I hadn’t realized what a difference it makes, that it makes working here bearable for me. If I had no option but to treat them always as inmates, I couldn’t tolerate the work. It’s good for me to be reminded of the mindset of so many of my co-workers, but that’s not a path I want to walk.

The moon rises

Corrections, Hard Stuff, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

Some mornings when I enter the parking lot, the full moon perches on the tip of a silhouetted pine – enormous and pale, gray and ephemeral.  Over the gatehouse and Medium security buildings, it is unseen, and unappreciated.  In the Minimum security facility, when sunrise is late and sunset is early, the women may catch a glimpse of the moon and early stars in the moments it takes to walk between buildings.

With October, evening yard comes to a close.  During the winter months, there is no chance to see the night sky. Overhead, there are clouds or rain, and the purpling buzz of flourescent lights.  If they are lucky, people living in prisons see the sky during approved daylight hours, but only then.

Women incarcerated in the Medium facility are restricted to sunlit hours.  The few daily hours of yard time happen while the sun rides high.  Shining bright, or clouded and dim, it looms in the blue or gray air, defining the limited outdoor environment.

There are no opportunities to view the sunset or sunrise, or the times in between. Their entire physical world is contained in one building, where they walk and walk; the same glossy gray floors and unchanging beige corridor. Women who spend their years in Medium custody will likely never see silvery moonlight, or midnight blue sky.  There are no walks in soft twilight or twinkling star-crusted nights.

The loss of these simple pleasures, the gentle indigo of evening and blushing rose of morning, is just another in the endless litany of losses, never-ending and ever-present through their time in prison.

The  freedom to walk when and where we choose is always deeply wound with laws, boundaries, social mores, and decisions about safety, but this is what it is like to lose that freedom entirely.

The moon transforms into a ghostly memory, floating above razor wire coils, no longer part of the world they know.

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