A little while ago I posted a little story about visiting the jail, and how great the interaction was with the incarcerated person. Today I visited the jail again, like I usually do on Thursday mornings. One of the kids working in our coffee shop commented, “How nice,” when I told her about the visits. “It’s one of the corporal works of mercy,” I responded. I’m sure she never heard of that, but that’s a story for another day. In any case, it was a great visit today. And, it’s been a great visit for the past few times. It is usually great because seeing the prisoners is good, but walking around with the guards has been really wonderful. (A note about language here… the “guards” prefer to be called officers. I’ve used the word guards so people on the outside might understand who they are. From now on, when you see the word officers, you’ll know who they are.) In any case, the men and women who work in the jail in division 8 RTU are amazing. First, a little bit about the place itself.
I think whoever designed the building must have hated people. It’s supposed to be the best thing ever, and it cost a fortune to build. It’s a leaky piece of XXXX. The sight lines are awful, since it’s a curved building and the hallways are curved. You can never see more than about 20 feet. There are windows to the outside, but the lower windows are all covered with plywood. The only thing you can see from the inside is the sky. No grass, no trees. The windows are also locked shut and the knobs are off the windows. It’s because a lot of the people in this particular part of the jail have mental illness, and they like to hang themselves. Sometimes from the window hardware, or maybe throw themselves out the window. All the doors are electronically controlled from a central location, and you ring a kind of a doorbell to ask “control” to open the door for you. It’s computer controlled. Do computers ever get a glitch? One time I had to stand in the hallway with a group of mentally ill prisoners and officers for half an hour, stuck between doors that wouldn’t open. You start to sweat a little. The only way we got through it was to start to tell jokes! I could go on and on, but for my money the older part of the jail was a much better place to be, more humane, and more secure. Think bars and big locks, no computers. The officer I talked with today about this agreed completely. On the way out there was a puddle of water on the floor. Comment to the guy watching the door, “I think this building is a POS.” Answer, “You don’t know the half of it father.”
Anyway, the officers. Often enough these officers have been the high point of my visit. For the past three visits that’s certainly been the case. Each time on my way out, I’ve told them as much. They’re in a dangerous job. One of the by products of mental illness is sometimes physical aggression. It’s always unpredictable in a jail, but even more so in 8RTU, because a lot of the population is mentally ill. By the way, that’s the reason they have to walk me around, because there’s always a chance one of the people I’m visiting might take a swing at me.
In the face of all this these officers have been mighty impressive to me. They know the prisoners. They are polite to them. They seem to actually care about their welfare, and they do care about their welfare. They care for each other, and they care for the people they’re trying to protect. And they’ve extended that umbrella of care to cover me. I’m very grateful for their help in doing this work. Without their help, I couldn’t do these visits. I consider them my guardian angels. Not everybody can do this job. You have to be a very special person do to this, to be with and protect people so far down on their luck.
The last two visits, I’ve been walked around by a “white shirt.” They’re the supervisors in the jail. They’ve been walking me around because they’re short staffed. Nobody wants to come to work, it seems. These supervisors have been very good, and today I talked a bit with my companion about how things are. “Morale is in the toilet. Nobody wants to come to work, and the people who are here don’t want to be here.” I told him this problem wasn’t just in the jail, that it’s everywhere. Still, if you’re reading this, maybe offer a prayer for them. Some of our parishioners are in the jail. Some are prisoners. Some are officers. I know I’ll lift them all up in my prayers. Maybe you could pray for them too.