Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I take It Back

I didn't think I was full of shit when I made my last post. 

When I said didn't have much feeling one way or the other about the more extreme crimes committed by some of the inmates housed in the facility in which I work, I believed it.

Then the very next night something changed my mind.  A particular inmate was convicted of doing something violent and horrible to a person who was defenseless.  I won't say what he did, because I really don't know what I'm allowed to say outside of work.  This guy was being moved to someplace he didn't want to go and told a lie to postpone it.  First he said it to another officer, then later to me. I told him he was going anyway and he just turned around and sat down, emotionless. 

When he spoke to me I had the sensation of cockroaches crawling on my skin.

I told another, more experienced officer how I'd reacted and she told me, "That's your instinct warning you.  Listen to it."

She made me think of Gavin de Becker's "Gift of Fear".  The people I used to refer to in Krav Maga class as "types" of attackers are real people now with faces and names and voices.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Job, Random Thoughts

I've been working on the floor of a jail for almost 4 months now, and here are a few things I've noticed:

*Apparently it's a myth that all inmates claim they're innocent.  I've worked with several hundred of them by now and only one has insisted, every time anyone would listen to her, that she didn't do it.  Her story never changed, I noticed, no matter how many times she told it. 

*What I do hear frequently is "what I did wasn't that bad, my sentence is way too harsh".  I try not to roll my eyes or have any visible reaction on that one. 

*I expected to have more animosity toward the inmates, at least the ones who have done some things I find shocking or horrible.  Strangely, I don't have much emotion about it one way or the other.  Maybe because I haven't heard anyone bragging?  They drilled it into us at the academy that I'm here to be their keeper, not their judge, and maintaining that attitude seems to make the job easier and probably keeps me behaving more ethically.

*I get lied to a lot.  A LOT.  Blatantly.  Holy cow.

*The other day within less than 2 minutes I saw a heated argument beginning between two inmates over the most ridiculous nitpicky bullshit you can imagine and 30 feet away I witnessed one inmate behaving with such kindness and generosity toward another who was struggling that I was deeply moved.  Incarceration seems to hold a magnifying glass up to the best and the worst in us.

*You can't tell by looking at someone who is here for not paying their traffic tickets and who murdered someone.  Sometimes its the most pleasant people who have done the worst stuff.  Which means when you're at the grocery store you can't tell by looking at people who is going home to provide a loving, supportive and stable household and who is going to go home and beat the shit out of their 6 year old for not putting away the groceries fast enough.  While I obviously have some knowledge of the people I'm working directly with, it seems that the most useful thing I can do is pay attention and listen to my gut.  There's a line in the book Game of Thrones (my current obsession) where Arya's swordfighting teacher reminds her "See with your eyes".  What he means is for her to put aside her hopes and fears of how the swordfight might unfold, to release her assumptions about her opponents strengths, weaknesses and intentions.  To see with her eyes she must observe objectively her opponent's behavior in this moment and act according to the situation.  It's so hard!!  I'm learning to see with my eyes. It turns out that jumping to conclusions is a big time-saver.    

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Try Not To Think About It

I've started teaching again and it makes me so happy.  Working in the jail is good, the inmates are fascinating to me, but I'm a teacher at heart.  And a student, too.

We've re-started the women-only class now that my time at the academy is finished. Today we worked defenses against chokes, both standing and on the ground. Additonally we talked about the whens and why's of eye contact.

But what's really on my mind right now is some of the questions I received from a student and in particular how she asked them.  Okay, I'll be frank, I can't remember her exact questions.  But the gist of it is something we hear frequently:  "You're teaching me this, but what if he does that?  Or that? Or that?"  Occasionally this line of questioning devolves into the "27 ninjas" scenario...what if 27 ninjas come at me all at once?  What do I do then?

Now this woman was NOT giving me one of those scenarios, and her questions were completely valid.  But she was asking us in a sort of shy and uncomfortable way that tells me she doesn't yet believe she can pull this stuff off. Not that there's anything wrong with that. 

The truth is there are experienced trainees who have have beaten off an attack successfully and those who have failed.  There are people who have never trained a day in their life who have beaten off an attack successfully and those who have failed.

What we're doing in class is merely working to improve our chances.  That probably is a real bummer to hear, but it's true.  No matter how much you train, there are no guarantees you will succeed.  Anyone has the potential to lose when attacked.  But here's the awesome news.  You might be "anyone".  But your attacker might be "anyone", too.  Isn't that lovely?  I think it is. 

So here's what you do in class.  When you are new to training, don't try to master all the "what if" scenarios.  That comes bit by bit as you continue to train.  Absolutely ask "what if" questions if its something that's bugging you or if you've faced a particular situation in the past or expect to in the future.  But don't get eaten up with all the minutia of each possibility, you'll drive yourself nuts.  

Allow yourself time to work on the basics and to master what makes them effective.  Things like driving with your feet and transferring your weight to put the power of your whole body into a strike.  Engaging with aggression while maintaining control.  Staying loose instead of tightening up & moving like Frankenstein's monster (we all do it sometimes).  And one of the most important, yet most difficult: learning to keep a clear head under pressure.  These concepts apply regardless of the technique you're performing.

If you can get your body to grasp all these concepts they will serve you well no matter if an attacker does "this" or "that".   As you put the concepts into play through repetition of training, and you work them into a growing number of techniques, your confidence will grow along with your chances of success.

Thanks to everyone who came out today, we'll be working one person's choke from behind "what if" on the first Saturday of October.  Come train with us!