Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "What I Can Ethically Read Aloud"

This poem came out of the November 2015 [community profile] crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] capriuni. It also fills the "limiting the damage" square in my 11-3-15 card for the Disaster Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] technoshaman. This poem belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. It takes place immediately after the story "Workshop Progress" by [personal profile] dialecticdreamer.

Warning: Ambrose hangs back from the group a little, approaching Tolliver to talk about Shiv. So some of the conversation is a bit angsty, but they are trying to find ways of making improvements.

"What I Can Ethically Read Aloud"

It had been a good session,
Tolliver believed, at least enough
to give Shiv a taste for metalworking
beyond grabbing the nearest solid object
and fashioning it into a weapon
as swiftly as possible.

The same guard who had walked him in
also came when it was time to change rooms.
Mr. Vanburen kept sneaking glances at Tolliver
along the way, and they hung back from
Shiv and Ambrose to talk a bit.

"So ... a metallurgy book?"
said the guard. "You really
think that'll do some good?
Shiv isn't much of a reader."

Tolliver made a mental note
to discuss that with Graham.
Maybe they could figure out
whether that lack stemmed from
personal preference, vision problems,
poor reading skill, or something else.

"The book I brought has a number
of labeled diagrams in addition
to plain text," Tolliver said. "Even
if Shiv only looks at the pictures,
he should get something out of it.
Then it's easier to control an ability
if you know more about what it does."

"If he uses it for control, rather
than figuring out whole new ways
to make trouble," said Mr. Vanburen.

"Well, that's what you're for,"
Tolliver said. "Someone that broken
usually needs help finding and setting
appropriate boundaries."

"Jesus, don't ever say that to Shiv!"
the guard whispered as he locked
a barred gate behind them again.
"He hates people noticing any sign
of weakness. Besides, he's not ...
really broken. Messed up, sure, but
most guys in here got problems,
it's why they're here."

Tolliver sighed. "There are limits
to what I can see, just from the glimpses
I've gotten so far, and limits to what I can
ethically read aloud," he said. "But that boy
is limping so bad inside, it's a wonder he can
walk on it at all. I don't know exactly what
happened to tear him up like that, but I do
know that the list of things which can
do that much damage is ... short."

"Shit. What can I do?" asked Mr. Vanburen.
"I gotta keep him in line, but I don't want to make
matters worse than they already are."

"The job of a guard or a policeman
is different than the job of a soldier,"
Tolliver said thoughtfully. "But an MP
I used to know said something to me once --
it's all about getting someone's self-control back
in place after he has totally lost his shit.
You're trying to limit the damage."

"That's a different way of looking at it,"
said the guard. "I'm not sure how I
can apply that to this situation."

"Ask Ambrose," said Tolliver.
"He seems to know what he's doing,
and he definitely knows this institution.
I think that he also knows Shiv
a lot better than you or I do."

"Thanks," said Mr. Vanburen.
"I'll give that a try." Then he
quickened the pace to catch up
with Shiv and Ambrose.

* * *


Travis Vanburen -- He has pinkish-fair skin, brown eyes, and dark brown hair buzzed short. He has a large frame and a layer of padding over his muscles. Travis has a little sister born when he was two and a little brother, Joey, born when he was five. Smarter than he looks, Travis does best with emotional intelligence and also excels at convincing people to do what he wants. He is fair and honest. He works as a guard at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. On the downside, Travis often jumps into situations before he has all the information needed to make the right decision. He's serious about making amends for his mistakes, though. After beating up Shiv, he makes a point of apologizing.
Qualities: Good (+2) Conscience, Good (+2) Convincing People, Good (+2) Model Train Collector, Good (+2) Smarter Than He Looks, Good (+2) Strength, Good (+2) Wrestling
Poor (-2) Jumps to Conclusions

* * *

Reading problems come in various types, but all of them contribute to functional illiteracy which is heavily implicated in crime. I've seen this in person: when I was grading coursework for prison classes, most of our students could barely read. Well, if you can't read then it's almost impossible to get a job, a place to stay, or anything else. T-America offers better support than here, but the correlation remains the same in nature though not in size.

Dysfunctional families make it difficult to develop healthy boundaries. Shiv has gone through some truly crappy placements, and others that were decent but didn't have the resources to fix the damage he already had. Nobody really knew how to handle a small child who expressed his trauma by hitting people, hurting himself, and peeing on the carpet.

Prison inmates have an overwhelming tendency to come from troubled families marked by various types of dysfunction. That means there are usually warning signs, and if those are not attended, this is where it often ends up. The dysfunctional childhood leaves distinctive traits even after they have grown up. There are ways to overcome a dysfunctional background and to help young people stuck in a bad situation. Ironically for Shiv the prison is a bit of both: full of people from similar crappy backgrounds who can be a bad influence, but also with some who've overcome that and some supportive staff. Navigating through mix is up to him.
Tags: creative jam, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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