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Poem: "Never Laid Open" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Never Laid Open"

This poem is spillover from the May 2, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from starcat_jewel.  It also fills the "talk with a counselor" square in my 5-2-15 card for the Wellness Toolbox Bingo fest.  This poem belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics, in the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread although it features their adversary Shiv.

WARNING: This poem deals with some sensitive issues.  Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It contains imprisonment, smoking, characters not coping very well with issues, hostile language, distorted thought patterns, dysfunctional interactions, touch starvation (largely self-inflicted), mention of past torture, and other challenges. But there is a little bit of personal growth too.  If these are touchy topics for you, consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: lone_cat, anonymous

FULLY FUNDED
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Amount remaining to fund fully = $201.50
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"Never Laid Open"


After his trial, Shiv went to the penitentiary.
He'd been in jail before, more than once,
but this was new enough that it took him
a little while to get the hang of it.

It helped when he managed to make a connection
with Ragno, who worked with some branch of the Mob
and soon became Shiv's supplier for menthol cigarettes,
cut down into inch-long scoots that could be smoked
in a few puffs before anyone could take them away.

Then one jackass decided to overlook the whole
supervillain thing in favor of Shiv's pretty face, and
Shiv being nobody's bitch promptly stabbed him.

So that got him a private little room and
a whole lot of alone time.

The penitentiary had all kinds of options for
earning privileges, but Shiv wasn't interested in
getting an education (too much like Juvenile Hall)
or going to therapy (too intimate) -- hell, he
didn't even want to quit smoking.

After a week, though, the constant boredom started
driving him nuts. The books, shows, and other materials
available through his tablet computer and viewscreen
were all either nonviolent fiction or educational junk.

The only video game that used any kind of aim
was Tagging Maggie, whose bird science theme
made it impossibly dull. CarGo held his attention
a little better as he packed the virtual groceries
into various containers, challenged by the game's
three-dimensional puzzle if nothing else.

It took Shiv a ridiculous amount of time
on coping skills worksheets -- one of the few
activities he could complete on his own --
to earn a privacy screen around the toilet,
where the sole camera ran on automatic
rather than live surveillance, drawing
human attention only in case of emergency.

What a fucking waste of time, he thought.
The only benefit was the payoff.

More tedious work let him return briefly
to the cafeteria for some meals, but
only in limited company, not
in the general population.

To Shiv's surprise, he found it easier
to control his temper in small groups than
in large ones: there was less competition for
what anyone wanted, and fewer people
to watch for possible attacks.

He still spent at least twenty out of every
twenty-four hours in his room, though. Sometimes
out of sheer desperation, Shiv would use his tablet
to open the Company Chat function on the viewscreen.

There were always people available to provide
human interaction for inmates in private confinement.
They included chaplains, counselors, teachers, and
some were other volunteers who had trained
to deal with criminals and their issues.

There were even older inmates who had
demonstrated enough stability to talk safely
with the younger ones whose wild antics
had gotten them in trouble yet again.

Most of the prison staff grated on his nerves,
but there was one pastoral counselor who was ...
not entirely unbearable. At least Ambrose
was better company than a blank wall,
or the stupid psych exercises.

For some reason, Ambrose always acted
happy to see him when Shiv logged on.
It made the supervillain suspicious.

"Hi, Shiv!" Ambrose said with a big grin.
"What would you like to do today?"

"I won't tell you anything," Shiv said,
not for the first time, and surely not the last.

"We don't have to talk," said Ambrose.
"I'm happy to sit in silence with you anytime."

"Do you have any idea how creepy
that is?" Shiv asked.

"Annnnnd bingo!" Ambrose said, brandishing
a card with a row of red stars down the O column.
"Thank you, Shiv. Now Phoebe owes me
a movie ticket for this weekend."

Shiv rolled his eyes. "And to think that
people call my behavior juvenile."

"Well, complaint bingo helps me maintain
my sense of patience with people
who like to tweak me," Ambrose said.
"You might try it some time."

What a pussy. Shiv's way of handling
people who bothered him was to cut them.
That just had to be a lot more satisfying.

"I prefer games that have an actual point to them,
and inmate gambling makes the guards tetchy,"
said Shiv. "Now if you could get me a dart board,
that would be something worth a smile."

"Sorry, not an option I can offer you," Ambrose said.
"On the bright side, we just got a shipment of goodies
that we're inviting folks to help us playtest. The cart
should be coming down your row pretty soon,
if you're interested in participating. You get
points just for trying it, and more if you
choose to fill out a feedback form."

Sometimes the prison handed out games
or toys intended to pacify the inmates.
It was stupid and obvious.

Shiv tried to resist, but he was just
so fucking bored. "What are they?"

"Pillows," said Ambrose. "We're wondering
if better creature comforts might help people
improve their self-control or relieve stress."

Shiv stared at the tab that popped up
on his tablet, offering him more information
about the product and its project. After
a moment's hesitation, he activated the tab.

Blah blah blah retro-engineering,
blah blah blah informed consent.

Shiv poked at his flat little rag of a pillow,
sighed, and tapped Accept.

Then he shut off the viewscreen;
it was embarrassing enough
to have given in, without
having someone watch him.

Not much later, he heard the rumble
of cart wheels against the hall floor,
and someone knocked on his door.

The guards could, of course, open it
whenever they wanted to -- but for
optional activities, Shiv had to get up and
answer the damn door himself, to show
his submission to the whole process.

He hated that.

Shiv made himself surrender
the old pillow and consider his options.

The new pillows proved interesting, though,
piled into the cart in a jumble of colors.
A soothing ice-blue caught his eye.
Shiv reached out for it, then hesitated,
looking at the guard manning the cart.

"Ambrose said I could have this," Shiv muttered.

"Sure, pick out whichever one you like,"
said the guard, waving a hand.

Shiv snatched the blue pillow
and retreated into his room,
locking the door behind him.

Only then did he assess his prize,
kneading it with his hands.

The pillow felt amazing.

It was big enough to burrow into,
the cover fuzzy but smoothing out
a little where he touched it, with
a soft yet springy stuffing.

When Shiv lay down on it and
stared up at the ceiling, he felt
like he was floating on a cloud.

Within a few days, Shiv noticed
that the pillow made him feel
just a little calmer and happier.

That bugged him, because
he didn't understand it.

The pillow was soothing, in a way,
almost like smoking a cigarette.

That made him wonder if he was
being drugged, or mind controlled.
He looked up the description again,
which didn't say anything of the sort,
but of course he couldn't trust that.

Shiv couldn't keep his damn hands
off the pillow. It felt like petting a cat,
except that it didn't purr, just felt
soft and oddly warm under his touch.

He tried to resist the new addiction,
leaving the pillow at the foot of his bunk,
but he didn't have anything else to sleep on
unless he wanted to wad his blanket
under his head, and then he'd be cold.

What the fuck is wrong with me? he wondered.

It was all because of the stupid pillow.
Shiv was helpless to stop wanting it.
He could no more unwant that pillow
than he could quit wishing for targets.

Nothing had ever gotten to him like this before.

He'd been captured and beaten, occasionally even
tortured by people who knew what they were doing,
and he stood up to that challenge just fine.

He could play the shrinks all day long
without letting any of them get under his skin.

He had never been so easily broken,
never stripped defenseless like he was,
never laid open with such utter vulnerability.

By a motherfucking piece of bedding.

It got worse when Shiv realized that
he could not affect the material with his talent.

Sure, it was soft and fluffy and useless
for turning into a knife, but he tried anyway
because he always tried -- that was just
how he dealt with things that annoyed him,
trying to make them tear themselves apart.

That frightened him more than he wanted to admit.

To soothe himself, he concentrated on
making a new shank from a sliver of steel
secretly peeled from his bed frame. It was
better than worrying over the damn pillow.

Shiv would never have taken the thing
if he had known what it would do to him.
Briefly he considered warning other inmates,
then thought what that would reveal about him.

Fuck 'em. They can take their chances.

However, Shiv still had ways of turning this
disaster to his own advantage.

With a grudging mutter, he picked up
his tablet and went to the feedback option
for the pillow that was wrecking his dignity.

He got five points just for opening
the stupid form. It had some questions,
which he ignored, and a blank space
where people could write anything.

I hate this thing as much as I love it,
he thought, rubbing the fuzzy surface.

This is better than the old pillow, Shiv wrote.

The tally went up by one point.

He knew how to game the damn system,
knew what it wanted -- more details,
more personal language. The trick
was to say things that were true
(or at least not provably false)
without revealing anything of value.

It feels like it's adapting to me.
That is so fucking creepy,
Shiv thought.

It is soft but not too squashy, he wrote.

Another two points.

Is this fucker actually addictive? he wondered.
Or worse, is it spying on me? It seems almost alive.

It is always the right temperature, he wrote.

One more point.

With ten more points, he could
get his gym privileges back,
at least a little bit.

The form popped up a box that said,
Do you like your new pillow?
Yes / No / Ignore


In the corner, a little (5) showed how much
he could earn by answering the question.

Well, he'd already given away pretty much
the same thing with his first line. This was
just a more personal phrasing.

Shiv clicked Yes.

A new box, worth another five points,
asked, Would you like a matching blanket
to go with your pillow?


Shiv shuddered, so torn between
longing and loathing that it was
all he could do to click Submit Form
before throwing his tablet across the room.

It hit the wall with a muted tap
that betrayed the heavy-duty insulation
which made the device almost indestructible.

Within five minutes, the viewscreen flicked on
and Ambrose said, "Hey Shiv, how are you doing?"

Because of course the fucking tablet
had ratted him out, the thing had
a motion detector that hooked into
the prison's inmate monitoring system.

If you tried to break it, then it pinged
one of the people you usually talked to,
or if you didn't talk to anyone, it just grabbed
some random counselor to come on and
nag you about anger management.

"Do not fuck with me, I am in a mood,"
Shiv snapped, glaring at the screen.

"I can see now. Anything I can do to help?"

"Not unless you can turn back time," Shiv said.

"Sorry, God hasn't seen fit to bless me with
that talent yet," said Ambrose. "Try again?"

Shiv rolled over. He couldn't turn the screen off
if someone else was controlling it, but nothing
said he had to pay attention to the nosy bastard.

"It looks like your last constructive activity
was filling out a feedback form, so thanks for that.
We're getting some great input from you guys
in this project, and it's helping a lot," said Ambrose.
"Hmm, what else ... you've been racking up
more points for positive behavior."

"Not enough to get me back in the goddamn gym,
and I really need a punching bag right now," Shiv said.

"Well, let's see what I can do about that," Ambrose said.
"Come on, buddy, meet me halfway on this one.
Roll over and look at the screen for a second."

Grudgingly, Shiv looked over his shoulder.

The corner display showed him
twenty points beyond what he needed
to recover his gym access.

"What the fuck is that for?" Shiv asked.

"You interacted with me, and despite
your harsh language, you worked around
to mentioning a healthy outlet for your stress,"
said Ambrose. "Those are good things.
If you want to visit the gym, all you need
to do is log it. I'll call a thrash coach
for you, and come walk you there."

Shiv tried to resist, but it was hopeless.
He didn't last a minute when all he could think was,
Something to hit something to hit something to HIT.

"Yeah. Okay."

He jittered around the room
for the few minutes it took to log
the change in permissions and get
Ambrose from his office to Shiv's door.

They went into one of the small rooms
used to practice boxing and martial arts,
the space laid out with mats and a gym rig
and an assortment of punching bags.

The gym was a familiar and much-missed refuge,
smelling of sweat and chalk, leather and testosterone.

The thrash coach came over and said,
"Hi Shiv, I'm Wacker. Ambrose tells me
that you're looking for something to hit,
so let's start by taping up your hands."

The black man was compact and focused,
so different from Ambrose's expansive charm
and soft all-American looks.

Shiv eyed him for a moment,
then held out his hands.

Wacker made quick work of the gauze,
and he knew what he was doing, too.
Shiv hated letting anyone control his hands,
but the coach was careful not to trap him,
so it wasn't as bad as it could've been.

"Try not to stab the heavy bag, okay?"
Wacker said. "If you rip it, then you won't
have it to play with again tomorrow.
Stick with your fists, and it can
take whatever you dish out."

Shiv heard a loud ripping sound
and whirled around to see Ambrose
using binder tape to mark a large X
at shoulder height on the heavy bag.

A target.

The sonofabitch chaplain
was giving him an actual target.

In that moment, Shiv almost didn't hate him.

He threw himself into the workout,
slamming his hands into the heavy bag
as fast and as hard as he could.
It barely budged with each new blow,
holding steady just like it should.

When Shiv slowed from the first flurry,
sweat poured down his face, plastering
his white-blond hair to his skin.

Wacker offered him a towel
and a bottle of water.

Shiv was too smart to refuse.
The last thing he wanted was to wind up
back in his room with muscle cramps,
or worse, in the prison infirmary.
He mopped off his face and
drained a quarter of the bottle
in one long pull.

"Want some tips on how to put
more power in those punches?"
Wacker asked. "Your form sucks,
kid, and you're like to break those
skinny little wrists of yours if you
keep flailing around like that."

Shiv snorted. "I'm not really
a close-up kind of fighter."

"No shit," said Wacker. "It looks like
you're getting a lot out of this workout,
though, and you'll enjoy it more
if you learn to do it right."

"Whatever," Shiv said.
He didn't like the idea of
breaking a bone either.

He depended too much on his hands
to risk them, even if he preferred
to throw things most of the time but
really felt more like hitting them today.

"Feet shoulder-width apart,"
Wacker said, tapping Shiv's left ankle
with his toe. "Bend your knees, keeping
your back heel lifted and your weight toward
the ball of your front foot. This is a good stance
for a bunch of different fighting styles."

Shiv obeyed, shifting back and forth
to test the truth of the claims. He was
surprised to find out how comfortable it felt.

All right, this thrash coach didn't suck much at all.

Wacker tapped Shiv's right elbow. "Next you need
to put your guard up. You right-handed, or left?"

"Ambidextrous," Shiv said without thinking.

"Why you lucky bastard!" Wacker said.
"Okay, we'll start you with right lead, and
then switch to left. Put your right hand
a little higher and farther forward;
tuck your left in closer and low."

The lesson moved on to instruction in
how to throw three different kinds of punches,
something else Shiv hadn't explored before.

Wacker let Shiv wear himself out,
not calling for Ambrose until Shiv had
flopped onto the mat gasping for breath.

"Come on, let's get you into a shower
before you stiffen up," said Wacker,
nudging Shiv with his foot.

Shower access came included with
gym privileges, because otherwise
the inmates got one every other day,
and nobody wanted a jail full of
tired, sweaty criminals.

By the time Shiv got out of the shower,
Ambrose was back -- with a tray holding
several turkey subs, more bottles of water,
and two lovely, lovely tablets of aspirin.

The chaplain helped himself to half a sandwich
and then told Shiv, "Eat up. You need to refuel."

Shiv grabbed the aspirin and chased the pills
with plenty of water. His body was already
screaming at him and he wanted it
to shut the fuck up.

The three of them sat on the benches
and ate together, chatting idly about
the quality of equipment in the gym.

Finally Ambrose walked Shiv back to his room
and said, "You did well today. I hope that
this helps you feel a little better.

Shiv didn't respond to that,
although he did feel better now.
Instead he stretched out on his bunk,
hugging the pillow while waiting
for the aspirin to kick in.

The situation wasn't as bad
as it could have been; certainly
he had survived a great deal worse.
Getting his gym access back should help
a lot. He was satisfied with that, at least,
so it wasn't a complete waste of a day.

But he still couldn't stop petting his damn pillow.

* * *

Notes:

Ragno (Corrado Rapallino) -- He has light olive skin, black eyes, and short wavy black hair. He is Italian-American, and his ancestors came from Genoa. Corrado excels at dealing with people, primarily in the underworld but also in more honest areas. He's not picky about the divide between soup and nary either. While his physical strengths protect him from the worst risks of smoking, Corrado is keenly dependent on tobacco for pyschological reasons. He gets incredibly antsy and cranky without it.
Amusingly, people often think his cape name -- which means "spider" -- implies that he has Spider Powers. He doesn't. He has supernal constitution, which enhances his resistance to disease or toxins, as well as enhancing his stamina. The name refers to his skill at building networks. Ragno views other people kind of like human tinkertoys: not for sake of manipulation, but to see how big a structure he can make with them. Although he does not belong to the Marionettes, he has worked with them and for them as muscle or button man as needed. Most recently, Ragno was a witness to an incident that the police would very much like to hear about. They offered him an excellent deal, and he turned it down, so the Marionettes are pleased enough to be working on getting him out of jail. Ragno is doing quite well as a smuggler of cigarettes and other contraband indulgences.
Origin: Ragno got his Super-Immunity from the Aegis vaccine base, and his Super-Constitution developed later. His body seems to be slowly optimizing itself.
Uniform: Currently provided by the Nebraska State Penitentiary, a zebra uniform with reflective white stripes. Outside, he wore street clothes.
Qualities: Master (+6) Loyalty, Expert (+4) Making Connections, Expert (+4) Tough, Good (+2) Alternative Economics, Good (+2) Iron Will, Good (+2) Leatherworker, Good (+2) Mobster, Good (+2) Wine Connoisseur
Poor (-2) Smoker
Powers: Average (0) Super-Constitution, Average (0) Super-Immunity
Motivation: To put the pieces together.

Ambrose Farrington -- He has ruddy skin, brown eyes, and brown hair with red highlights especially in the beard and moustache. His interests in history include religion, correctional systems, and the state of Pennsylvania. Ambrose works as a chaplain at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. He also volunteers in the community on weekends. His mellow, happy personality makes him an effective counselor. He tends to poke into other people's business, though, which annoys some folks.
Qualities: Master (+6) Quaker, Expert (+4) Chaplain, Expert (+4) Counselor, Expert (+4) Equanimity, Good (+2) Body Language, Good (+2) Constitution, Good (+2) Coping Skills, Good (+2) Emotional First Aid, Good (+2) Hiking, Good (+2) History, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Rock Balancing
Poor (-2) Nosy

Wacker (Waylen Hanes) -- He has brown skin, brown eyes, and short nappy black hair. He isn't very big, but he's powerful, a compact wad of muscle and grit. He has no close family, but plenty of friends among cops, prison guards, current and former criminals. As a Muslim, Waylen has good faith in religion, but doesn't feel like he practices the ideals of Islam very well. He's quite a fan of Malcolm X, but doesn't think much of Martin Luther King, Jr. ("King's a pussy." "He tried to save the country from itself." "And got killed going it: still a pussy." "Same thing happened to Malcolm X." *PUNCH*) His concentration helps him maximize the advantages of his strength and toughness.
Growing up in a rough part of Omaha, Nebraska quickly put him in conflict with the law. For a while, he worked as a supervillain henchman, quite a capable fighter and adequate robber. Eventually he used the resources of the correctional system to educate himself and do something more constructive with his life. His nickname doesn't have to do with hitting things. It's a holdover from when he was released from prison, and really wanted to come back into the system as an employee; "wacker" is a kind of "wannabe." Except now he's a "be." He works as a thrash coach at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, teaching people how to use physical activity to cope with stress. He also uses the prison's shop room to beat pieces of junk into interesting urban sculptures. Those are starting to attract interest through the prison's shopfront, The Rebound Bazaar, where staff and inmates can sell things they make. Unfortunately, he still looks like a criminal, which gets him hassled fairly often.
Qualities: Master (+6) Thrash Coach, Expert (+4) Boxer, Expert (+4) Strength, Expert (+4) Grit, Good (+2) Civil Rights History, Good (+2) Concentration, Good (+2) Emotional First Aid, Good (+2) Ex-Con, Good (+2) Faith, Good (+2) Friends in the Correctional System, Good (+2) Junk Sculptor
Poor (-2) Still Looks Like a Crook

* * *

“A life which has never been laid open in penitence and faith before God has little permanence in eternity.”
R.K. Harrison

The roots of the American prison system in general, and the concept of the penitentiary in particular, come significantly out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The Quakers ventured the idea of restorative justice.  Regrettably they also discovered that solitary confinement tends to drive primates insane, instead of producing desired changes in behavior.  In local-America, the failure of early model penitentiaries discouraged the Society of Friends from pursuing criminal justice.  In Terramagne-America, they stuck it out.  Somebody somewhere asked God "How do we keep people from hurting each other, without breaking them in the process?" ... and got an answer, and listened to it.  So you'll see glimpses of that in how different the penal system is.  The facility is somewhat modeled after the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.  It also draws from Halden Prison in Norway, Hameenlinna Penitentiary in Finland, and other Scandinavian prisons.

One major argument is over the purpose of prisons in the first place: punishment or reform.  The Quakers strongly favor reform, so that underlies many differences in legal processes and prisoner treatment.  An obvious factor is that most prison inmates eventually return to the outside community, and if jail has made them worse instead of better, the results are ruinous for everyone.  So there is a lot more focus in Terramagne -- where supervillains raise the risk factors considerably -- toward giving people a second chance and making sure they take advantage of it.  This contributes to making T-America a nicer place for everyone.

In T-American prisons, walls and doors are typically solid for audiovisual privacy; private confinement doors have a hatch for delivery of meals and other necessities. Standard fixtures include an open bathroom area, viewscreen, tablet computer, bed, open shelves, desk and chair. Cell privileges include windows in door and/or wall, a closet with doors, a minifridge, and a privacy screen around the bathroom area. Most inmates are housed in pairs per room. Better behaved ones can choose larger suites with bunkrooms connecting to a common room and an ensuite bathroom complete with shower stall. Less behaved ones wind up in private confinement from which they have to earn back desired privileges. Other privileges include access to the function rooms including the cafeteria, community kitchen, commissary, library, classrooms, social hall, shop room, craft room, laundromat, gym, outdoor exercise yard, garden, etc. The clinic remains open to everyone, but the handling ranges from lenient to strict depending on inmate behavior. Higher-security prisons use uniforms, often striped with reflective colors; lower-security ones often allow street clothes. Inmates in private confinement are largely separated from other people for safety's sake, but they still get regular human interaction through the viewscreen and tablet which they can use to play games, take classes, chat with counselors, and so forth. Compare the features between hostile and hospitable quarters.  Coming in from the door, Shiv's room has the bathroom and bed along the right side, shelving and large viewscreen on the left, desk and chair at the far end.

T-American prisons often use a point-reward system for positive reinforcement of good behavior.  In L-America, these are common with children, but occasionally appear with inmates too.  A key aspect involves offering the inmates more options than they could afford without exerting serious effort toward personal improvement.  Quite often they misbehave because they were never taught or rewarded for anything better.  The goal is to ensure that departing inmates have at least a basic set of life skills (cooking, cleaning, socializing, etc.) and job skills (literacy, computer use, repairs, etc.) to succeed in the outside community.  Learn how to set up a point-reward system at home or in school.  There are online trackers available too.

Many factors contribute to criminal behavior.  These include family tension, child abuse, poverty, and poor literacy -- all of which also overlap with low social skills.  There are some programs to address poverty, improve literacy, and teach social skills as means of preventing crime.

The Mob is a type of organized crime, with branches including the Italian-American Mafia and the Sicilian Mafia.  In Terramagne the quality ranges from crude street thugs through tough-but-fair mobsters on up to the gentlemen of the underworld.  The Marionettes are the dominant Family in Italy, belonging to the second rank of supervillains under Dr. Infanta.  A young crook who shows promise can work his way upward and inward.  Most lack the necessary qualities, get into trouble.and tend to die young.

Scoot -- a cigarette cut down to, or rolled at, a very short length such as one inch so that it can be smoked very quickly, before anyone can take it away.

Commodity money creates an economy based on things people actually use.  Cigarettes are popular currency in prisons.

People have argued a lot over the connection between video games and violence.  T-American jails favor games with abstract or positive themes, instead of violent ones.  Video games help inmates stay alert and involved, even if it's not safe for them to be around other people for a while.

Tagging Maggie is an educational video game in T-America with several modes for capturing birds in nets to band them, or tagging them with tracer gel using a gizmotronic launcher. Successfully nabbing a bird brings up information on its species. Maggie the Magpie is the game's mascot, who flies by at random intervals and is very difficult to tag but worth a lot of points.

CarGo is a weirdly compelling 3D video game in T-America about packing groceries into various handbaskets, carts, vehicles, and kitchen storage. The more of the groceries you can cram into the space -- without damaging fragile ones like eggs -- the more points you get.

Coping skills come in positive and negative flavors.  There are basic, intermediate, and advanced activities.  Here is a list of 99 coping techniques to try.  Know how to improve your coping skills.

A chaplain provides spiritual support through an institution, and should be able to accommodate any religion regardless of their own.  Consequently Terramagne recruits more heavily from the tolerant and syncretic faiths than more rigid denominations; they have a lot of Quaker and Unitarian-Universalist chaplains.  Training for chaplains and for pastoral counselors gives them tools for helping people to solve spiritual problems.

Quaker silence is a very distinctive practice.  Most people pray by talking to God.  Quakers pray by listening to God.  Sometimes they get amazingly useful advice that way, hence T-America's much saner penal system.  But it can be very disconcerting if you are not used to it.

When coping with stress, it helps to make an emotional first aid kit.

Microfyne is a relatively new "very smart" material retro-engineered from gizmology, foomp, which was itself derived from the super-gizmotronic ArgoFoam. It has unique thermal retention properties, in that it stores heat as well as insulating against heat loss, while responding to changes in body temperature to prevent overheating. It is thermotaxic, buffering toward standard human body temperature, so that it fluffs in response to lower temperatures and flattens at higher ones. Microfyne also provides a subtle yet definite boost to emotional state, higher than that from other materials used in comfort objects. Not many people have noticed yet, but it's resistant to many superpowers; some may get through the holes, but the material itself usually can't be affected. Microfyne retains the hypoallergenic nature of the original gizmology but is cheaper to produce.

Microfiber pillows often use microfiber both for the cover and the filling.  You can buy microfiber pillows or pillowcases.  Local ones are not quite as good as Microfyne, but they are very cuddly.

Comfort objects can help both children and adults in stressful circumstances.

Psychological dependence is related to but distinct from physical dependence.  A positive addition is a strong habit that has negative symptoms if withheld, but the subject improves rather than diminishes quality of life.  Shiv simply can't tell the difference between positive and negative drives.

Boxing benefits from careful training.  Usually people prepare for it with hand wraps, which are cheaper; gauze and tape provide more protection, but also cost more.  Wacker wraps Shiv in gauze this time because it's clear that Shiv is wound up enough to need that extra buffer -- and of course, Shiv doesn't know about proper stance or punching form yet.  You can make a home boxing gym for practice.  The penitentiary has combo equipment along with assorted bags such as a heavy punching bag.  Know how to choose a heavy bag.

A post-workout routine is essential for maintaining health and safety.  Know how to recover and refuel after exercise.

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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 27th, 2015 07:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

>> I never thought of an educational game based on ornithology, but it sounds like it could work. <<

I think it would. Terramagne runs far more to educational games than violent games. Many of the underlying mechanics are the same -- find the thing, shoot the thing, catch the thing, jump over the thing, run down the path, duck from the danger, etc. It's the context that differs. They also appeal to very different types of people. A person who likes to hit targets will be gratified by a shooting game, and may not care if it's a bloody sniper game or a carnival balloon-popping game, as long as the mechanics are good -- in fact, would prefer an accurate carnival game to a less accurate sniper game. The pleasure is in holing the crosshairs. But for someone who's not into shooting per se, a target game is all work and no reward. The ornithology interests kids who like birds and like stories. For them, the science tidbits that pop up after catching or tagging a bird are the reward. For Shiv, they're just an annoying distraction.

In our world, over 90% of the games run on some kind of violent premise. Most of the rest are pure abstracts. There isn't much for other types of gamers. :( So I watch for more diverse games that do different things with the basic mechanics, and when I'm writing, I watch for examples of different playing options.

>> CarGo seems like one of those things that sounds simple, until you actually try to do it <<

Exactly! It's in the same category as Tetris, a game where you try to fit things together. But it's more complicated than even 3D Tetris because some of the containers are irregular. The cabinet is a rectangular hollow, sure -- that you have to put round soup cans in! -- but the car trunk is based on real ones so it's all lumpy at the edges. The boxes and cans are different sizes. The fruits and veggies are irregular. The other major difference is that the packing components are not abstract geometrics but are also based on real products. If you put anything on top of your eggs, they will break. If you put too much on top of your fruit, it will mash. So the game is fun and challenging, but it also teaches you the extremely useful life skill of how to put your stuff away.

It's very engrossing. And like Tetris, it helps prevent or treat PTSD by putting the brain into "sort this" mode. PTSD is, at heart, a sorting error where the brain gets stuck in a data loop that causes kernel panic and crashes the system. So if you can engage the sorting function, then it helps break that loop. Hence why CarGo is in the prison game archive: it's engaging, useful, and healing. The staff don't mind if someone spends six hours playing CarGo, because it's doing something.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: June 27th, 2015 07:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am hoping to see Shiv angle somewhat toward being a better human being.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 27th, 2015 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

He is. The whole prison arc bends that way. He's just bad at it, so he spends most of his time sideways to the current paddling like mad trying not to get bashed on rocks he can't see coming. Shiv refuses to improve himself on purpose. But he's in a context now where some of that happens obliquely. Also he makes a few choices that reveal him as not being an utter whackjob.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: June 28th, 2015 01:16 am (UTC) (Link)
• He has superpernal constitution
?→ supernal
> Or...? Like, better than a dragon against Thread?


I like that last ¶ in your reply to lone_cat, about sorting. It might be useful with ADD as well.

Edited at 2015-06-28 01:20 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 28th, 2015 01:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>• He has superpernal constitution
?→ supernal <<

Fixed, thanks.

>> I like that last ¶ in your reply to lone_cat, about sorting. It might be useful with ADD as well. <<

Yes, that might be helpful there too.
From: technoshaman Date: July 30th, 2015 11:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Unfortunately, he still looks like a criminal, which gets him hassled fairly often.

Does he now? From behind these eyes, your average criminal wears an expensive business suit, has fair skin, a perfect manicure, and the most notorious of them wear toupees.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 30th, 2015 11:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well...

>>Unfortunately, he still looks like a criminal, which gets him hassled fairly often.

Does he now? <<

... he looks like a certain STYLE of criminal, the kind who works in back alleys. Built like a fireplug, marks from previous fights, gruff bearing.

>>From behind these eyes, your average criminal wears an expensive business suit, has fair skin, a perfect manicure, and the most notorious of them wear toupees.<<

For debonair criminals, see Contretemps and his ilk. For business express, Shigeru Fukui of Lucky Frog. I don't think either of my fireball preachers wear a toupee, and they think of themselves as heroes, but I'd file them here too.

Guess who gets picked on by police who don't already know him from work.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 31st, 2015 12:00 am (UTC) (Link)

Glad to see this finished

I sympathize so much with Shiv that I surprised myself! He's damaged in ways I understand-- his reactions to that pillow, especially!

Funny, when I picture his cell, I picture the ones for Finnish inmates in maximum security, minimum outside contact, NOT an American prison. The Quakers wanted time for reflection, but that only works in a BALANCE of other activities. Taking away everything else is a downward spiral with no brakes on the coaster car.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 31st, 2015 06:23 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Glad to see this finished

>> I sympathize so much with Shiv that I surprised myself! <<

Aww! He is gaining fans, now that he is slightly less complete of a prick. I think you'll like the next poem when it opens.

>>He's damaged in ways I understand-- his reactions to that pillow, especially!<<

Poor Shiv, he doesn't know what to do with something that simultaneously makes him feel better and less in control. Which tells you how familiar anything purely pleasant is. Most of his pleasures are all mixed up with pain, which causes some problems.

>> Funny, when I picture his cell, I picture the ones for Finnish inmates in maximum security, minimum outside contact, NOT an American prison. <<

Pretty much, yes. I should add a note about that.

>> The Quakers wanted time for reflection, but that only works in a BALANCE of other activities. Taking away everything else is a downward spiral with no brakes on the coaster car. <<

Which is why solitary confinement is abusive; it causes brain damage. The Quakers originally thought it was a good idea, and found out it was a disaster. In our world, they largely scrambled out of the penal system because of that. In Terramagne, they sat their butts down in Silence and listened to God until better ideas started percolating through. The result is a prison system which physically separates people who can't stop hurting others, but maintains positive social interaction in hope of teaching them better.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 1st, 2015 12:50 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Glad to see this finished

Absolutely.

The thing is, everyone in prison has boundary issues. They wouldn't be there if they didn't have a serious inability to distinguish between their freedom and someone else's rights, their desire and someone else's property, etc. You are not going to teach anyone appropriate boundary behavior by violating theirs all the time. You have to say, "These are healthy boundaries, here is how you navigate them," and then demonstrate that. Very patiently because most inmates are slow learners. The adept criminals almost never land in jail; they rarely even get caught. But there are plenty of chumps.

So the penitentiary is designed to provide both private and public space, and teach people how to balance those. In theory, the prison staff have access to all the space, in case of emergency. In practice, the doors lock both ways and the staff have overrides which they can use but must justify. Optional activities require the inmate's willing participation. Staff knock on the door or ping the communication system, they don't just barge in. Contrast that with how Ambrose activated the viewscreen from his end after Shiv threw the tablet against the wall: that's a (minor) crisis intervention. They have the option of using more forceful methods if absolutely necessary, but they try to avoid that, because it lowers the quality of outcomes. It makes people either fight back or withdraw.

The whole system is designed to entice inmates to engage with it, because once they're moving and talking, it's a lot easier to teach them how to be productive citizens instead of problems. Even with someone as broken and stubborn as Shiv, they can make a little practice, because they give him concrete rewards. They're less likely to trigger him into lashing out, because he's got quiet space and a choice between staying there or going out. Shiv may think it's bunk, but it still helps. It would be more useful if he'd quit dragging his damn feet, but it's better than nothing and a LOT better than compounding the problem with further abuse.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 17th, 2015 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

>>Wow. I'd avoided this one for a while (because, yeah, Shiv is best approached when one is not feeling delicate).<<

Shiv is seriously messed up inside. That's not a place to be unless you're secure yourself. But for people who like bungee-jumping into caves full of ooky things, he is very appealing. :D

>> I'm surprised at how positive it is (and now feeling a little silly, because - it's you, of course it's packed full of positive techniques and healing methods). <<

It took a while, but he finally got somewhere that has resources he can use, once he gets desperate enough to start poking at them. So he's starting to see a little improvement. You'll see more of that in subsequent poems too, although there are some bumpy parts. Shiv may be a self-centered, sadistic little prick but he's not a whackjob like Haboob.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 10th, 2016 03:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh that damn pillow. Thank goodness for it. --alatefeline.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 10th, 2016 03:31 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

Microfyne is an awesome discovery. It greatly helps people to relax and temper their moods. For someone like Shiv, it's more useful than most psychotropic medication would be. And much safer.
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