|By Corporal William Young|
It is the Fourth of July and the weather is so beautiful. It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold. You’re at home and you are surrounded by your friends and your family (at least the family that still talks to you) and a few of your neighbors. You even have a special guest. Your cousin, the combat veteran, is finally home, safe and sound. You smile as the sweet smell of grilled meat makes its way from the back patio to the front porch. Yep, everything is perfect.
As soon as the hamburgers are ready, you put together a plate for your cousin. You ask him if he wants ketchup or mustard and he says both. You are so proud of your cousin, and you are so happy that he is here. You build his burger and top off his plate with a huge scoop of macaroni salad, some baked beans, and a fat slice of watermelon. To wash it all down, you hand him an ice cold beer. You love your cousin. You are so proud of him and you are so thankful for the sacrifices that he has made for you and for his country.
Then, while your cousin is eating, right as he is taking a bite of his macaroni salad, you light and throw a big brick of Black Cats underneath his lawn chair.
The Black Cats explode one after another for what seems like an eternity. You laugh, people clap. You love the Fourth!
But your cousin does not share your excitement. In fact, the noise and the smell and the shock cause him to dive forward out of his chair and roll into the grass. He covers his head and he lies there in a fetal position for several seconds after the last blast. When he raises his head, you can see that his eyes are distant and watery. He shouts at you in disbelief and questions why you would do such a thing.
Suddenly, you recall a conversation the two of you had not so long ago about how much he hates fireworks. You remember how he explained to you that the loud noise and bright flashing lights trigger his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, flooding him with dark and violent memories from his time overseas. You recall the conversation and you love your cousin, but you have no idea what it’s like to be in a warzone. All you know is that it’s the Fourth, and on the Fourth you like to light off fireworks.
Correctional Officers are no different. Just like the combat veteran in the story, we too have our triggers. Look, we don’t expect you to understand what it’s like to work in a correctional facility. We just need you to not light off the brick of fireworks while we’re trying to enjoy our macaroni salad.
It’s probably not right or fair but that’s how it is. We have spent the last eight or twelve or sixteen hours inside of a very loud and violent environment, our warzone, and we are fried. We get home and we kick off our boots and we hang up our uniforms and we sit down on the couch because that’s the only thing we want to do at that point.
And then life happens, then the fireworks go off. The kids come home from school and they throw open the door and they are yelling and screaming, and well, being kids. The phone is ringing and the TV is blaring and there are groceries that need to be picked up forty-five minutes ago. There are dinner dates and bills to pay and discussions to be had, all of which seem to happening at the same time.
We sit and try to remain calm in the midst of chaos. And when we have had all we can take, we react. That’s when we hear things like, “Why do you talk to me like an inmate?” or “You yell too much” or “You’re no good around people anymore.”
The honest to goodness truth is that all of those statements are true. Sometimes we do talk to our friends and family as if they were inmates, and we do yell more than your typical guy that wears a shirt and tie and works a 9 to 5, and maybe we aren’t as good around “people” as we used to be. So yeah, you’re right. Kuddos, congratulations, high-five, tell them what they’ve won!
What they’ve won, what they’ve inadvertently done, is pile up an extra helping of guilt and shame and self-doubt on an already overloaded plate. Look, I know that a rational person would never throw a pack of fireworks at anyone, especially a combat veteran with PTSD, right? That’s right, because a rational person would understand that certain afflictions can alter the way a person behaves and interacts with those around them. Well, our affliction, our fatigue is just as real as any other diagnosable disease or disorder.
We as Correctional Officers know that we are not the same as we used to be, and knowing that causes us a great deal of concern and distress. We’re not cynical and sarcastic and distant because we want to be. We’re not trying to be rude or standoffish on purpose. We’ve just been exposed to a lot of crazy stuff and we’re trying to figure it all out, we’re trying to process it, and we’re trying to heal.
I’m not asking you to walk on eggshells or to not include us in daily activities. I’m just asking that if you’re going to light off a bunch of fireworks, if you’re going to schedule that dinner date, let us know so we can prepare ourselves. I promise you that our response to those Sunday afternoon errands, to those fireworks, will be much different if we have forewarning that they are going to be set off.
Please be patient with us. And pass the macaroni salad.
This article as been reprinted with permission from the July 2019 Issue of Correctional Oasis, a monthly e-publication of "Desert Waters Correctional Outreach".
Corporal William Young has worked as a Correctional Officer in the state of Nebraska since March of 2005. He has worked throughout his facility in various areas ranging from Sanitation to Segregation and is currently assigned to Community Corrections. Corporal Young is a member of the Crisis Intervention Team and the Crisis Negotiation Team. He is a certified Emergency Preparedness (LETRA) instructor and also teaches Motivational Interviewing and the award winning course “From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment” (CF2F).
If you have any questions, comments, or feedback that you would like to share, please contact William at Justcorrections@gmail.com or www.facebook.com/wllmyoung/.
The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the author and not necessarily those of the agency.
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