The Wonderful Home Brew of Oz

(in which it is driven home that word choice matters, even when discussing American cultural archetypes….)

 

WWOO2

Today with my course assistant, talk turns to our next humor-as-therapy class.  Last class meeting, our group decides in a future class to watch The Wizard of Oz as an object lesson for identifying instances of destructive & constructive humor.  I mention that, from a selection of 30 DVDs purchased for the program, their choice of this particular film surprises me.

“Bill, you can only see it on cable.  THAT’S why they wanna see it.”

“Yeah, but it was weird.  That was the first film I mentioned, and I suggested it as a joke, really.  But then every hand went up.”

“They miss it.”

 

 

Talk then turns to the performance of Judy Garland.  My assistant mentions that MGM originally wanted Shirley Temple for the role of Dorothy Gale.  I said that, as an old man, I now respond to her character from the point-of-view of a protective father.

“FYI — I won’t be able to see this film without tearing up.”

“Bill, I tear up at almost everything now.  TV, books, movies, don’t matter.  I’m a big lush.”

<pause> “So, you’re a drunkard now?  Since when?”

“What?”

“That’s what ‘lush’ means.  You’re a drunk.”lush

<laughs> ” Oh!  I thought it meant you cry easily!”

“What you mean to say is ‘I’m a wuss.’ ”

“OK–”

“–who likes drinking to excess.”

<laughs>   “Yeah!  I’m just a big lush!”

“I’m telling!”

“You probably will!”

 

hooch

Pruno.  Hooch. Home Brew.  And the score of other jailhouse nicknames for sugared fruit left out on the window sill to ferment into alcohol.  I doubt anyone’ll be drunk while OZ is playing.  Not even the ‘big lush,” who’ll be too busy crying.

 

 

darkoz1But I’m waiting for someone to suggest we synch the film to Dark Side of the Moon

How would you write the Authorization to Enter form?

“ITEM TO BE BROUGHT IN:  Pink Floyd CD to use as soundtrack to Wizard of Oz.”  They’d call a Code 99 & truck me away. 

 

 

WWOO

Unless they’re fans of the Trailer Park Boys.

Dark Side of Oz | “In Popular Culture”

 

 

You Get What You Need

Today, I receive a PDF file in my work email containing a letter to an inmate in response to his complaint that more typewriters should be placed in the population law library.  No this may come as a shock, but I do not believe that this is a very professional way of communicating a change in service with your professional librarian.  Because I believe this, I am furious.  Dismissing the letter-writing impulse to the Superintendent, I feel that the direct way is best, and decide on the day following to call his secretary to make an appointment to meet & discuss this.

micromanagers

Next afternoon, while walking through our staff parking lot toward the front door–a walk of about 100 yards–it occurs to me that my input was in fact solicited by my boss.  Not only was it solicited, it had been mentioned more than once over the past two months.  It took a while for this to surface, because of the casual way in which these conversations were held, almost as an afterthought.  So it isn’t that the Librarian’s input was not sought; it was that a decision was made that did not jibe with the Librarian’s input.

So I have that to stew over.

But that’s much easier to deal with than having not been asked in the first place.  In this case, Administration does the professional thing and asks the front-line employee for input before weighing the alternatives.

Do I think that their decision caves in to the demands of a few loud-mouths?  Of course I do.  But you can’t always get what you want.  You can’t always get what you want.  You can’t always get what you want.  But if you try sometime, you just might find — you get what you need.

I need some sleep.

cant-always-get-what

Smells Like Teen Spirit

(In which an associate asks, “Do you feel that your parenting experiences helped inform your role of correctional librarian and dealing with inmates?”

This same associate says: “I am not equating dealing with my daughter with dealing with narcissists, sociopaths, and misogynists.” Whyever not?  EYE do.  Teenagers are narcissists, and I argue that they’re sociopaths until they learn to show real concern and compassion.  And many teen boys have never been taught to treat their female counterparts with the respect they deserve.  Parenting is an apt analogy. 

Prison is akin to a dangerous day care center, where the 10 year-olds are 6’5″, 235lbs, don’t read well, think the universe revolves around them, cry to their Mommies (i.e., file grievances), and hit instead of think.  It’s arrested development.

Hey — ‘arrested.’   Get it? arrested

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

“Not to kiss his a$$, but this is a good class!” OR, LOCAL HOOD MAKES GOOD

ABLE MINDS meets each Wednesday night for two hours in the Lending Library. Right now we have eight participants, including my course assistant. This is the advanced class, where we delve into the components of good human character. we’re using The Hobbit. Tonight marked the 2nd of eight planned classes for the cycle.

All students demonstrated the depth of their knowledge regarding the novel. To be sure, The Hobbit was written for children, but participation of this kind you do not take for granted in the Pokey. An engaged classroom is something to be thankful for. The Moderator (Yours Truly) did not dominate the conversation, as everyone had something tangible and pertinent to contribute. That’s the way ABLE MINDS is supposed to work. I don’t need to lecture; I need to introduce concepts, see where they take them, and then challenge them to come up with alternatives if opinions begin to stray in the antisocial realm.

Many of the men contributed personal anecdotes about explaining the course to family members, both face-to-face in the visiting room and over the phone. One student’s ex-girlfriend was surprised to hear that he was reading the novel, a book that she happens to know well, So now they have a common conversational thread. Another student said his sister was shocked to discover that he was reading the novel, as she has been coaxing him to read both it and Lord of the Rings (LOTR) for several years.

The men were honest and sincere. One guy held up the novel and said, “I can’t relate the story to the life I’m leading.”  But then he held up his THINK FIRST handout and said, “But I can ride with this. This is gonna help me live in here.”  (At break time, my assistant discovers that this man had difficulty reading in English, and is ashamed to admit it. I’ll discuss this with him later on).

From the PowerPoint lecture, the concepts of friendship, duty, and honor drew nearly an hours’ worth of reflection. We identified plot points in the novel where examples of these take place, and then attempted to relate these to our American culture generally and then to specific prison culture.

One individual was called out of the classroom by an Officer, and was told to bring his coat and books with him. It looked like he was done for the night. But he returned, and explained that he had the choice of remaining in the Unit but chose to come back to class because “I have an anger issue, and I think this class can give me a better way of thinking.”

Several times during the evening, I’d made correlations between The Hobbit and LOTR.  Finally, one man said enthusiastically, “Why don’t we do that book next?” which elicited some laughter from my course assistant.  I explained that we’d been using LOTR in ABLE MINDS since April 2007, and just discontinued it in favor of The Hobbit.  Feigning frustration, I said “Where have BEEN for the past five years?!” He said “Here!” which elicited general laughter.

Toward evening’s end, our discussion turned to emotions. I ventured the notion that once someone recognizes an emotional problem within himself, he must next recognize an inescapable truth about that problem, which is — It Will Never Go Away. The best that we human beings can do is work at it and hope that it gets better. A student said “And will it? Does it ever get better?”

I said that this question is probably one of the most useful questions that can be asked in a consequential thinking seminar. I asked the class to contemplate the adage, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” We’ve assembled in a course that offers troubled people encouragement and a problem-solving method to try. Like the reformed alcoholic, the problem remains but we are its master. We try. We fail. We try again. We succeed. It begins to get easier. Nothing we can ever do can make the problem vanish. But we can learn to manage it. And managing it is good enough. Knowing we have the control to make it better is enough of a self-esteem boost to get up out of bed and face each other. We give ourselves the confidence we need to face our burdens every hour of every day.

It’s a good group of men. They listen, they ask questions, and they give those answers consideration. That’s all any teacher can hope for from the classroom dynamic.