Courage to Change the Things I Can

(In which a question which I’ve been asked many times is again posed: “How do you move from the prison-librarian demeanor to the Normal-Joe-living-life demeanor?”)

For those who aren’t yet aware, prison employees have a higher rate of (fill in the blank with any social tragedy imaginable)__________________  than nearly any other helping profession.    Newsweek – “Prison Officers Need Help”

Thankfully, I go home to a loving family who really do understand what love is and, to prove it, they doggedly choose to put up with both the bad and the good in me.  I’ll never know why, but for this fact of my life I am blessed and grateful.  

I’ve found that the way you are inside is the way you are outside.  There’s no magic switch for this stuff.  So you try to treat inmates & employees the way you want to treat your family.  funny-feelings-on-off-switch










This very day, a fascinating thing happened between myself and an inmate who is uber-stressed about getting a reply brief submitted by his court deadline.  Because he was being verbally aggressive to people in the law library, I took him in my office, closed doors, and talked with him.  Within 60 seconds of explaining why he felt the entire world was conspiring against him, he started tearing up. 

I saw the tears & said “See that?  That’s exactly what you need.  Don’ be afraid to cry in here.  For your own sake, relax and let it come.”

He did.  He broke down & cried.  Through the tears, he talked about the pressures he’s under, and how he’s innocent of the crime he’s convicted of, and how he needs to get out.  Crying was exactly what he needed. 

(Researchers believe that crying may have a biochemical purpose.  Tears release stress hormones or toxins from the body, says Lauren Bylsma, a PhD student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, who has focused on crying in her research).   “Why We Cry: The Truth About Tearing Up”

We also discussed his notion that everyone was out to get him, as a way of pointing out to him that this kind of thinking only adds to the tension he feels. 

After our talk, I pointed toward the law library & said, “And don’t feel self-conscious about leaving this office with red eyes.”  He said something instructive: “Oh, I won’t.  I’m not proud.”  

That took guts, to let down in front of a staff member, and fearlessly show emotion in front of people who, in general, see crying as a weakness.

We shook hands.  He left feeling better and, hopefully, thinking a lot clearer.   I kid you not when I say:  it’s for moments like this that I do what I do.  

But to return to the original question.  The implication is:  if I can help an inmate through his stressful times, that means I still have enough humanity left to go home and be there when the people I love and who love me need me.serenity-prayer