Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Responsibility of Tomorrow"

This poem is spillover from the July 5, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] technoshaman and [personal profile] ari_the_dodecahedron. It also fills "The Shrink" square in my 4-1-16 card for the Archetypal Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"The Responsibility of Tomorrow"

Shiv watched glumly as Dr. G
took out a stack of worksheets
about education. Again.

He sighed. "Do we have to
keep doing this crud?" Shiv said.
"I have enough on my plate already
with the reading and the metalwork
and ... when you keep pushing
the school stuff, it just makes
everything else even harder."

To his amazement, Dr. G actually
stopped putting pages on the table.
"This really isn't working for you, is it?"

"Well, duh," Shiv said, rolling his eyes.
He'd only said so a million times.

"All right," Dr. G said quietly. "I wanted
to give you a chance to try thinking about
educational topics in a supportive context.
If it's not working any better for you than what
you've had in the past, then maybe it's time
to table that for now and try something else."

There was no comparison between
Shiv's shitty schools and Dr. G's art pages
or Tolliver's craft lessons or even Mr. Howard
trying to find at least one library book that
Shiv wouldn't turn up his nose at.

"It's not like it was, but ... it's still
too much for me," he said. "I get
all turned around in my head and
then I can't focus on what I'm
already supposed to be doing."

"Definitely not helpful," said Dr. G.
He put away the educational worksheets.

"Wow," Shiv said. "I guess that
I didn't expect you to listen to me."

"Then I haven't been doing
a very good job," said Dr. G.
He brought out the pastel pencils
and a fresh stack of worksheets
about the past and the future.
"If you give me some hints about
where you've been and where you
want to go, maybe I can help."

Shiv grabbed the worksheets,
not because he was interested
but because they weren't class.

There were brainstorming pages
about ideas and questions, where
Shiv sketched life in prison, but he
wasn't sure where to go from there.

Dr. G snagged a teamwork page
and began adding his own ideas
to Shiv's in pathetic stick figures.

There was a timeline that Shiv
filled with what he could recall of
his foster care placements and
previous prison terms, because
he sure didn't have vacations and
trophies like other people put on these.

They were just dates and doodles,
but it made Dr. G light up like
a Christmas tree. "I would
very much like to have that, if
you'll trust me with it," he said.

Shiv shrugged and pushed the page
across the table. "Most of that stuff
is in public records," he said. "It's not
like I get much privacy, you know."

"I'm still asking instead of demanding,"
Dr. G said, not reaching for the paper
even though his fingers drummed on
the table. "I would just find it useful in
my hunt for people who have hurt you."

Shiv thought about the scene from
the warden's office, and how much fun
it would be to set his personal guard dog
on ... well, most of the folks he remembered.

"Take it," he said, flicking the page
hard enough to land in Dr. G's lap.

"Thank you," said Dr. G.

Then there were worksheets of
clouds and crystal balls where Shiv
drew his future, and another on dreams.

He knew that he wanted out, of course --
early release was like grabbing the gold ring --
but he didn't know how to get there from here.

"Let's try putting the past and the future
together," Dr. G suggested. Then he
brought out some pages about art and
the anatomy of hands, with a blank page
that said, My Past and Future Hands Hold ...
"Draw or trace your hands here. Then put
your memories on the left hand and
your hopes on the right hand."

Shiv loved the idea. He always
thought better when he could
actually use his hands for it.

So he drew the street fight with
Stalwart Stan and Antimatter that
got him injured and locked up, then
doubled back to meeting Antimatter and
what he'd said about his butthead boyfriend.

There too were the chayne incident
and the metal lessons in the craft room
and the warden's removal march.

On the right he drew snippets of his life
outside the prison, his favorite park in Omaha
with the big oak tree growing through the rubble,
Boss White's saxophone, and a butterfly knife.

Shiv ran out of ideas before he ran out
of paper on the right side, though.

"Well done," Dr. G. said anyway.
"It's important to leave room for
unexpected opportunities. Now,
let's do one more." He gave Shiv
a worksheet on personal progress.

Shiv had no trouble drawing
the problem at its worst -- himself
conked out over a pile of bricks,
thanks a lot Antimatter you asshole --
and even managed to sketch out some
points of progress, like the Microfyne
and the feelie bins and the Legos.

He stalled out where it asked
for one little step forward, though.

That happened to Shiv a lot.

"Would you like a hint?"
Dr. G asked, spreading a hand.

Shiv picked at a corner of the page
with his thumbnail. "I know what they
want, I'm supposed to do the stupid plan
for education, but I just ... can't."

"They'll have to be satisfied with
what lessons you're already taking.
Leave that to me, I'll take care of it,"
Dr. G said firmly. "Have you thought
about moving to the standard wing?"

Shiv had more than enough points
for that, and he knew that he would
have to do it eventually, but he hated
the idea of giving up what little peace
and quiet he'd found -- especially since
it made keeping his temper a lot easier.

"I'm happy where I am," he said.

"And that's a problem," Dr. G said.
"It doesn't support your goals."
He tapped the right-hand picture.

"It's just ... if I move, then I need
a roommate, and nobody wants
to live with me, I'm a jerk," said Shiv.
"I can't get along with people very well."

"Maybe I can help," said Dr. G,
passing Shiv his tablet, which showed
the prison's social network on it.

Shiv groaned. "I hate this thing."

"You understand how it works,
though?" Dr. G persisted.

"Yeah, it's like Joggle for finding
workout partners or Friendship Bench
for meeting new people," Shiv said.
"You put in your picture and stuff you
like to do, and it tries to match users.
It's stupid. I never use it."

"I'm just using it to illustrate a point,"
Dr. G said, calling up a profile. "I think
Largo would make you a good cellmate."

"Are you kidding?" Shiv said.
"Nobody wants to bunk with him!"

"Why is that?" Dr. G wondered.

"Well, he just sits there like a bump
on a log," Shiv said. "People want
somebody who's ... good company ..."

Dr. G gave him a bright smile.
"That's it," he said. "Most people
find Largo dissatisfying for exactly
the reasons I think you two suit.
He likes to sit on his couch and
watch movies. You like not being
bothered, and you also like movies."

"Yeah, maybe," Shiv said, giving it
some thought. There sure were
worse possibilities ... especially
if Largo was paying for the movies.
Still, he shifted uneasily in his seat.

"If you're not feeling good, remember
that a checkup is recommended but
not required when switching wings,"
the counselor said, "and Dr. Bloch
usually gives you treats, doesn't he?"

"When I can behave," Shiv said.
"My record is ..." He waffled a hand.

"Then it's good practice, when it's
not an emergency," Dr. G said.

"Point," Shiv muttered.

"Shiv, you need to accept
the responsibility of tomorrow,"
said Dr. G. "Dodging that will
just leave you unprepared for
the opportunities that come."

"That happens to me a lot,"
Shiv said. "Sucks, but there it is."

He had to stop for a minute and
do the breathing thing that Rosie
had shown him when Shiv had
started panicking in front of him.

"You know why the prison system
encourages people to move through
the wings," Dr. G said. "Going from
private confinement right out the door
would be like falling off of a cliff."

"I know, I know," Shiv said.
He rubbed a hand over his face.
"I just hate losing what little privacy
I have left. I need it. Otherwise ..."
He shrugged. "I'll lose my shit,
and then I'm right back in private."

Dr. G flicked to a new image
on his tablet. It looked kind of
like a giant, faceted egg with
a tall oval door in each side.

"While the previous warden was
not receptive to improvements,
Acting Warden Lincoln and I
have been exploring options,"
Dr. G said. "This is one of them."

"What is that thing?" Shiv said,
leaning over to see. The egg
had a bench inside that curved
around a round table. The walls
held multicolored lights and
several small touchpads.

"This is a Privo Pod," said Dr. G.
"They can be set up anywhere.
People use them for everything
from counseling to nursing babies."

"Or like a spare quiet room,"
Shiv said. "That's nifty."

"I figure if we put two of these in
each hall -- one at either end --
that would offer more options for
private time to people in standard
and privileged wings," said Dr. G.

"If they can afford it," Shiv said.

"We planned to make them free,"
Dr. G said. "You're right that people
need privacy, and if they can't get it,
then stress and violence both go up."

"Wow," Shiv said softly. "That's
really great of you guys."

"Ambrose is in on the planning,
too," said Dr. G. "Some of
the best ideas are his."

Shiv nodded. "Yeah, he's good."

"But you're still hesitating," said Dr. G.
"Have you seen the double rooms?"
He showed some pictures on his tablet.

"I was in one briefly, back when I
first got here," Shiv said. "It didn't
last very long, never does for me."

"Hmm ... let me sweeten the pot,"
said Dr. G. "This one has an ensuite
with a door that locks. It's magnetic,
so the staff can open it in case of
emergency, but your cellmate can't."

"I'll take it," Shiv said abruptly.

He'd busted his hump just to get
the measly folding screen that he
had around his can right now.
For a locking door, he'd jump
through a lot of hoops.

He had thought those only came
with suites in the private wing;
his first room in the standard wing
had only provided a folding screen,
but at least that hadn't cost extra
like it did in the private wing.

Almost everything cost more in
private confinement, and some things
weren't available at all. Shiv did look
forward to shedding those limitations.

"Excellent," said Dr. G.
"I'll put my recommendation
for the move on the paperwork."
He brought it up and filled out
almost the whole crazy form,
then offered it to Shiv to finish
the last few details and cosign.

Shiv scrawled his name on it.

"All right, that is enough hard work
for today," Dr. G said. "I don't know
about you, but I want to draw
something relaxing now."

He put away the worksheets,
replacing them with plain paper
and the creme pastels.

Shiv nodded and took a sheet.

He covered most of it with
streaks of cream and lilac
and light icy blue, then
a band of yellow-gray
along the upper edge.

Black bars rose up
from purple shadows
to become tree trunks
filling in a hazy forest.

A layer of snow covered
the ground with silky ripples.

Remembering the last time
he'd seen an alley cat that
he used to feed, Shiv added
a row of round pawprints
disappearing into the trees.

It was inviting, he realized,
as he put the finishing touches
on the trail of pawprints.

It was a picture of morning,
of winter yet to come with
the sun spilling gold over
the snow, an image of ...

... possibilities.

* * *


Largo (Gregorio Bedson) -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and dark hair spiked short. His heritage includes Hispanic and British. He worked as a gang lookout until he got arrested and sent to the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. He spends a lot of time in the visiting rooms, mostly watching movies with whichever family member has shown up that time. A serious couch potato, he is fat and lazy. He even has a couch in his cell, a foam one that he bought with funds from his family and pays for the privilege of keeping via points. Largo doesn't move or speak much, but has a terrific knowledge of movies and television. He is not very popular as a cellmate because he provides so little companionship, but he is a good match for an introvert. He becomes Shiv's cellmate in the standard wing.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Film Lore, Good (+2) Iron Stomach, Good (+2) Large Loyal Family, Good (+2) Lookout, Good (+2) Phlegmatic
Poor (-2) Couch Potato

* * *

"You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today."
-- Abraham Lincoln

Developmental school trauma comes from forcing children into a system which does not meet their educational needs, especially when adults tell the students that they are stupid or broken because they learn a different way. Similarly, Prolonged Adaptation Stress Syndrome comes from pretending to be something you're not, always pressured to use your less fluent skills that require more work while being discouraged from doing things you actually do well. These and other adverse childhood experiences tend to build up triggers. The foster care system, supposedly established as a refuge for abused or neglected children, consistently makes matters worse instead of better. So no wonder Shiv is a mess.

There are worksheets for brainstorming, elaboration, questions, timelines, the crystal ball, future thinking, and dreams.

Hand resources include anatomy, movement of the digits, some different digital movements, and movement of the whole hand. This makes it easier to do artistic exercises such as Past and Future Hands.

Here is Shiv's favorite park in Omaha.

This worksheet shows progress.

The VINA app is a simplistic local-American friendship service. See the profile and quiz screens. Terramagne-America has the more flexible Friendship Bench.

Whistle is a decent L-American analog of the T-American Joggle, for meeting new exercise buddies. Your profile picture shows what you're into. Choose your activities and schedule, then find partners with similar ones.

Privo Pods are the T-American equivalent of L-American Seeds. These egg-shaped modules have soft lighting and curved lines to create a soothing atmosphere. A removable table offers more flexibility.

This is the two-person cell with a locking ensuite bathroom. Having a variety of styles lets inmates choose which things they value enough to earn and spend points for them -- a private bathroom, larger bed, bookcase, etc.

See Shiv's winter picture.
Tags: art, cyberfunded creativity, education, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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