"The More Difficult Boundaries"
After the visit, Ambrose
was not surprised when Travis
tracked him down, wanting to talk.
"What's on your mind?" he asked.
"I could use a hand with Shiv,"
said Travis. He shifted from one foot
to the other. "Mr. Finn -- Tolliver -- told me
that I could help by being predictable and
setting boundaries. I've been trying to make up
for my mistakes earlier, but I still don't
know if that's doing any good."
"Well, there's a lot to unpack there,"
Ambrose said, leaning back in his chair.
"First, I can confirm that consistency and
healthy limits are things that all of the inmates
need from us here, because most of them
haven't gotten that elsewhere."
Travis nodded. "It's why some guys
cut up so much, like they can't even
see the lines they're crossing."
"Travis, some of them can't," Ambrose said.
He'd seen it often enough, like blind people
fumbling around in search of a painted line.
"The more dysfunctional your childhood,
the more difficult boundaries are
to understand, let alone respect."
"I just want to do my job without
making things worse," Travis said.
"Okay, let's think about it," Ambrose said.
"If I say 'boundaries' then what comes to mind?"
Travis chuckled. "Ah, it's silly," he said.
"When my kid brother Joey was little, he'd
run up to the baby gate and bash into it.
Got bruises all over his front doing that."
"What did your parents do?" Ambrose asked.
"Dad got the duct tape and covered the gate in
bubble wrap," Travis said. "So Joey still charged
the gate, he just couldn't hurt himself with it anymore."
"That's exactly what we're trying
to do here," Ambrose said. "Inmates
need someone to set limits for them firmly,
but in a way they can't hurt themselves.
When they push you, that is just like
your baby brother ramming the gate."
Travis sighed, leaning against the wall
of Ambrose's office. "I don't think that
grating Shiv's face against the floor
is really in the same category as
a bubble-wrapped baby gate."
"So you have room for improvement,"
Ambrose said. "Travis, that incident was
alarming for everyone, and I doubt that
anyone responded to it perfectly."
"I know, I know," said Travis. "I just ...
worry about something else going wrong."
Ambrose leaned forward. "Shiv has been
behaving better lately, and with him, that means
he'll probably swing back soon and start acting up."
It was a worrisome pattern, but his boundary-testing
was ... at least less-unhealthy than some other things
that Shiv had been prone to doing in the past.
"That's what I'm afraid of," Travis said. "I can
deal with it as long as he's just sassing me, but
if he starts roughhousing again and then I have
to put hands on him, well --" His shoulders slumped.
"If I go overboard again, especially with
the same inmate, I'm cooked."
"Shiv pushes because he needs to feel out
the more difficult boundaries, he can't just glance
and spot them like we can," said Ambrose. "Plus he's
pushing at you in particular as his way of working
through the incident. He needs you to respond
to that calmly and appropriately this time."
"Yeah, I kind of ... thought that might
be it," Travis said glumly. One heel
kicked against the base of the wall.
"Shiv may need you to take him all the way
down to the floor," Ambrose warned, watching
the guard's body language. "Can you do that?
Because if you can't, then you need to stick close
to someone else you trust who can do it for you."
"Martinez is a di--" Travis stopped,
then regrouped. "A decent employee,
but I don't trust the two of them together.
Shiv's got a smart mouth and Martinez
has a chip on his shoulder. It's
a bad combination."
"Someone else then, if you can't,"
Ambrose said. "Think ahead."
"I'm trying, it's just -- I don't know if
I can do it or not," Travis said,
his shoulders slumping.
"You know, Travis, you're entitled
to take some time off after an incident
like that," Ambrose reminded him,
concerned about the reaction.
"It's encouraged, even."
"I love my job," Travis said.
"I don't want to leave, or even
take a vacation. I'm a bit rattled,
is all, and not sure how to get my feet
back under me. That's part of why
I wanted to talk with you, because
you're so good at this stuff."
"You mentioned that you did
some wrestling in high school,
right?" Ambrose asked.
"Yeah, I wasn't good enough for
a scholarship, but it was fun,"
Travis said with a smile.
"Why don't you look up Wacker and
ask him to help you brush up some of
your de-escalation skills?" Ambrose said.
"What, like the physical stuff?"
Travis said. "He does that?"
"Yes, he's very flexible," said Ambrose.
"I think it might be easier for you deal with
the possibility of a physical confrontation if you
freshen your skills and can relate them
to something more familiar."
"Okay, I'll give it a try,"
Travis said, lifting his chin.
"As for what I can do for you --"
Ambrose reached up to pull
two books down from his shelf.
"I recommend reading these."
"Down the Mountain Volume Two:
Physical De-escalation Techniques,"
Travis read as he turned the books over in
his hands, and then, "Throwing the Rope:
How to Help Troubled Youth. Okay,
these sound really useful. Thanks."
"There's actually another one I'd suggest,
an aikido book called Assisting Your Opponent,
but I don't have a copy," said Ambrose.
Travis pulled out his phone and made a note.
"Thanks again, I'll look it up," he said. "I hope
this helps. Sometimes I wonder if we're
really doing any good here, other than
just keeping the inmates contained."
"Most people grow out of misbehavior,
even the most egregious kinds,"
Ambrose said. "Whether or not
they choose to take advantage
of opportunities that we offer
along the way is up to them."
"Really?" Travis asked.
"I mean, I'd like to believe that, but
maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part."
"Where is your little brother now?" Ambrose asked.
"Joey? He's in college, on a football scholarship,"
said Travis. "He's doing really well, and yeah,
he still likes running head-first into things."
Ambrose chuckled. "See, he found
an appropriate outlet for his urges.
Now think about the older inmates
you know here, and what they're like."
"You mean the steadies?"
Travis said, tilting his head.
"Yes, and you've just answered
your own question," Ambrose said.
"Even the most violent ones tend
to settle down some as they age.
It's why we have a program for
encouraging the steadies to help
the wild young things learn control."
Some of them had even taken an interest
in Shiv, which was a hopeful sign -- and
he was more inclined to respect them
than he was the prison staff.
"That helps," Travis said.
"I really appreciate you taking
the time to talk me through this.
I'm going to go see if Wacker can
fit me into his schedule for
some mat practice."
"I'm sure you two will make
great progress together," Ambrose said.
* * *
"The more severe the dysfunction you experienced growing up, the more difficult boundaries are for you."
– David W. Earle
Talking about problems may make them better or worse, depending on your personality and the quality of your listener. Here are some therapeutic tips for talking about yourself.
Troubled youth need consistency, structure, and sensible limits. Abuse survivors have an impaired sense of boundaries and thus need help managing healthy ones.
Boundaries are necessary for good relationships. Understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries.
Restraint is a technique occasionally useful for guards or police. Terramagne-American prisons allow it, but prefer to keep the practice to a minimum. There are tips for doing it safely.
Confidence can be shaken by mistakes, but everyone needs to move on after it happens. This is harder in cases of traumatic stress. Understand how to cope with confusion and restore your calm.
Regrettably the three books that Ambrose recommends are not available in this world. I just couldn't find anything suitable here, so I borrowed.
Physical de-escalation includes ways of avoiding, blocking, and controlling violence.
There are strategies for helping troubled youth for parents and others.
Aikido is a martial art that takes a nonviolent approach to things like "assisting your opponent to the ground" and "assisting your opponent to calm." In the hands of a master, it is a great deal more powerful than most people realize.
Behavioral development may include serious problems in youth, but most people outgrow that -- even in prison.
Furthermore the prison has its own pecking order and a tendency to keep a lid on the mayhem to avoid making life even more unpleasant. Generally speaking, gang officers outrank mooks, people with allies outrank loners, longer sentences outrank shorter ones, older inmates outrank younger ones, soups outrank naries, and so on. Some crimes earn more respect than others, such as fighting; whereas others are despised, such as child molestation. In between are a lot of things like theft and murder where the details matter; even criminals often frown on "punching down" but may admire a bold or cunning move. Ratting on people to the authorities is loathed even though it is legal. The head honchos tend to be older, well connected, and/or serving a longer sentence for something impressive.