Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Prison Job--a side-step in a direction.

I now work in a state's highest maximum security setting among people who have been incarcerated for socially unacceptable acts. It's very different from the mental health and recovery centers where I've worked before. But, the clients are still just people.

Like always, I just help the people get what they need, in this case, to live out their lives in a secure, safe setting, for the public and themselves. I've faced people, ideas, and situations that I needed to face.

Eye to eye with another person who committed some of the most inhumane acts, we're still people. They might need to be loud, use horrible language, threats and react in other ways rarely seen on the street. But, so far, I haven't found it necessary to do so.

Neither their judgment nor punishment are part of my job description.

What would you do for a cup of coffee, a burrito?

Since I came to work with criminals, whose lives will be lived out behind walls, I've been thinking a lot more about the freedoms I take for granted.

There have been times when I was short on cash, the worst was when I'd plan for a cup of coffee each month, then plan when and where it would be, whether I'd be alone or with someone. Now, I live large--I can drink coffee any day, anywhere.

And as far as fast food or home cooked meals go, I can have either. For instance, I have the choices to make a burrito, or buy one.

The men I work with are willing to trade a world of favors for bootlegged meager ingredients, put two wires into a socket risking their lives, to warm a cup of water, or coffee, if they're very lucky.

It's hard to know that a burrito so easily purchased by a lucky guy like me, has by inmates to be cooked by "secretly" ironing them between layers of state issued khaki pants.

True, I didn't put them in prison. But, it's also true, that my life isn't over yet, and I've done plenty to deserve a worse life than the one I've got.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Doing the "next right thing"

This summer, a woman described what she'd do if she could become sober. She said the standard line, "I'll do the next right thing." We who have some sobriety use that line a lot, "Just do the next right thing."

I learn from people like her. I questioned myself about the way I was spending my days. What was I doing with my own time...was it really useful to anyone? Was it the next right thing?

Of course, I fulfilled the general expectations of my employer. I shuffled papers around, spoke, wrote, traveled a lot, blessed projects, signed papers so obscure projects could be financed. Somewhere my name is folded into dark boxes of records that no one would ever need to read. I also made equally forgettable charts, goals and mission statements and multimedia silliness...just standard administrivia and politics. My days seemed just part of a life sketch, but not a real life, not MY next right thing.

So, I listed people I wanted to spend time with and places of importance for me to be. To fit my calendar, I found that my job was simply in the way. So, I dispensed with that.

I said goodbye to Liesel who moved to Kansas City, and to Molly who moved to Switzerland. Then I left town for a while. First, I needed most to be at my parent's house. Later, Kausik and I needed to see his home and family in India. Over the past few months, I've enjoyed quiet time with good people, seen great landscapes, and some difficult lifestyles.

I've read books. I dug the potatoes. I've been thinking and drawing sketches of succession growth---(you know the scruffy plants that grow after people get out of the way, like weeds, brush, sprouts-- I like that stuff) I've pondered what could be the most likely first growth between those cracks in the road, if someone didn't fill them with tar--it interests me tremendously.

I don't know what I will do next, but there so many "next right things" I will not need to worry over it for long.