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.