Thursday, October 29, 2009
In our lives, we have two or three opportunities to be a hero, but almost every day, we have the opportunity not to be a coward.
- Spanish proverb
I work in a prison. I am a correctional officer. Every day, I walk a tier, escorting offenders to showers, exercise rooms. I talk with those I supervise, the sergeants and officers with whom I have worked with and sometimes for, in the past. We laugh, chat about the ball games over the weekend, the games coming up. Occasinally, one of the inmates we are escorting will join in the conversation: those are the light moments. The day is easy, quiet and cares appear to be miles from the next foot step. Many inmates just walk quietly, waiting to talk to other inmates through the windows about what ever is the 'big thing'.
Usually, 'the big thing' is some issue that has been misperceived or deliberately misjudged. The inmate feels he is being targeted and is going to seek revenge. Other times, they are discussing how some member of another gang has disrespected them and there is going to be retribution. It seems as if they need to have drama and tension in their lives to feel alive. And reading their case files, they live the same way when they are on the outside, living in the 'world'.
Occasionally, things don't go so quietly or peacefully. There are moments (which seem like hours) when there is nothing but shear terror. You are standing on the tier facing a grown man with a razor blade embedded in the handle of a tooth brush who is waving it towards your face and throat fully intending to use it on you.
It is not a question of bravery or cowardice: many a time I have stood there facing that adult simply so scared I see my life 'passing before my eyes'. It is simply that this is my job; it is what I do for a living; I enjoy the people I work with: staff and inmates (except for those moments of shear terror). I just do what I have to do. It is what I am paid for.
And when I am out on the streets running to relieve the stress and tension, I am humbled by the courage that so many around me display by simply getting up everyday and going to work, doing 'normal' things and living simple, normal lives. To me, that takes more courage than simply walking a tier.