An overdue “from the ferry”

Posted: May 16, 2009 in from the ferry, prison, general, prisoner rehabilitation, prisoner writing, The Hero's Journey Workshop

It is time to start making plans to go up to the prison again this coming Wednesday. How do two weeks go by so quickly? At this moment, I am sitting outside, taking in some much anticipated sun and thinking, maybe I need to lock myself away for a few days. Disconnect from the constant hum that is my life as of late and have time and space to think, time to reflect on my evenings at Monroe, time read more books on the prisoner experience and time to work on my own essays about working with the guys at Monroe. It all feels so important and yet seems so impossible to get to. Perhaps this is just the typical whining of a writer — there’s never enough time. Or perhaps once I graduate in July I can truly reorganize my writing priorities and make a real decision about where the work at Monroe falls on the list. Perhaps I just put too much pressure on myself to be able to be everywhere and do it all. It is hard when I have a heightened awareness of the gifts my freedom grants me to feel at times like I am squandering those gifts. I read the postings by Better Man and think — what hell am I bitching about? You want struggle, Erika? Get locked up for two years and then try to survive your release. It’s all perspective, I know. And my experience with cancer taught me that you can’t really compare one person’s life to another’s. It is what it is, and right now mine is full and I don’t feel like I have 100% to give to the guys in our group and I am sorry for that. The work remains no less important to me. It’s just that no one seems to be willing to figure out how to get any more hours into the day, and so I must recognize my limits. Which is maybe one of the lessons of working at the prison. Learn what you can’t do and focus on what you can do.

Our last visit to the prison was frustrating. Or at least, getting in. Suddenly, it seems, we have been filling out our entry paperwork wrong and the guard at the second security station, who checks us through almost every week and knows exactly where we are going, almost refused to let us in because we had not checked one little box. It’s maddening sometimes how the rules change. And sometimes, it’s not even a rule but a particular officer who wants something done differently and apparently thinks you were supposed to read his mind and know it. The trick is, much like the inmates, volunteers are one down, at least, on the power ladder at a prison. If you argue with an officer he can easily tell the community services director that your group has become a problem and just like that your entire program can come to an end. If you don’t fill out your paperwork right (never mind that you’ve been filling it out the same way for a year and a half and no one, including this guard, has ever said a thing) they can deny you entry for the night or send you back to start the security process all over and thus delay your group. As a volunteer you have to make nice. If an officer says you filled out your paperwork wrong, you apologize. It’s frustrating. No one likes to feel stripped of their power, not me and not the guys in our group.

Gloria and I tried to let it the incident rolls off our backs, but there’s no denying we were upset. We work to do everything by the book because we know how the game is played and we want to be certain we can continue run our group. But if I had been anywhere else but in the prison and someone had treated me like that guard treated us I would have been asking to speak to his supervisor. When I read Better Man’s April 14th post in which he writes about the lights of a cop car and the panic attack he experienced simply trying to help a woman get directions I think of our incident last time with that officer. And then I think about safety vs. power and I wonder how much we sacrifice in order to have safety, or at least the illusion of it. Do I believe the officer that night was just trying to do his job? Yes. Do I believe he might have just been having a shitty day? Yes. And I also believe that with great power comes great responsibility (who said that?) and all too often I see those with power forgetting that their first job is to serve, then to protect.

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