"To Feel Safe in This World"
The thing about people was,
Shiv didn't actually like them much.
Living in the standard wing and
moving through the general population
meant that he spent most of his time
in public now, rather than private,
constantly rubbing shoulders with
people who drove him bonkers.
He hated it when people
interrupted or talked over him,
and he didn't have the social rank
to make them quit doing it.
He hated that the public toilets
got filthy fast, no matter how often
or how carefully they were cleaned.
He hated the jostling when it wasn't
his idea to bump into someone.
Shiv learned more about
his new cellmate than he
really wanted to -- like how
Largo hated people who
talked during movies -- but
at least the fat man was
quiet most of the time.
Mr. Howard still asked Shiv
about the Life Skills classes
that inmates were encouraged
(read: nagged) to complete before
their release, if they couldn't pass
a test showing that they already
already knew their stuff.
Shiv hated tests as much
as he hated sitting in class,
and had no interest whatsoever
in "pursuing his new opportunities."
The constant friction made Shiv
anxious, always alert, so that
he had a hard time relaxing
even at night in his own bunk.
Dr. G noticed it, of course,
because he noticed everything.
Now that Shiv was in general population,
they had access to actual therapy rooms,
and this one looked like a cozy living room
with a couch and a chair and a bookcase
made out of real wood, not plastic.
Shiv kept wanting to mess with
the knickknacks on the end table,
but fortunately he had brought
something of his own instead.
Dr. G watched Shiv fiddling with
the nifty blue-and-silver fidget toy
that Tolliver had given him in celebration
of returning to the standard wing, its rings
flipping over and over in Shiv's fingers.
"You seem tense today," Dr. G said.
"Would you like to talk about it?"
"People drive me nuts," Shiv grumbled.
"I know you talked to Mr. Howard, but
all he did was switch from nagging me
about reading to nagging me about
the stupid Life Skills classes."
"Not as much of an improvement
as you hoped for?" Dr. G said.
Shiv hunched his head between
his shoulders. "I hate school."
"Consider that the Life Skills classes
aren't like the academic ones. They cover
mostly hands-on material," Dr. G said.
"For example, I've been working
with someone on parenting skills
such as changing diapers."
Shiv frowned. "You mean like
the blowup in the social room when
you had the guys help you clean up
the mess?" he asked. "I heard about that."
"Exactly," Dr. G said with a smile.
"Most of the Life Skills classes focus
on practical exercises instead of
lectures or reading assignments."
"So?" Shiv said, flicking the rings
around and around his palm.
"So, I think you'd do a lot better with
hands-on work than you do sitting
at a desk," Dr. G said, "and it counts
toward the educational activities
that the prison likes to see."
"Thought you could get me
out of that stuff," Shiv said.
"I know, school has left you
with a whole minefield of triggers,"
Dr. G said. "I can get you out of
the obligations, but that doesn't
give you actual skills. Can you cook?
Balance a checkbook? Fix a flat tire?
Do laundry without turning all of
your t-shirts pink in the process?"
Well, no, but Shiv wasn't
about to admit that.
"I can get by," he hedged.
"I'd like to see you do better
than just getting by," Dr. G said.
"Look at how much progress you've
already made -- making an exercise plan
with Wacker, exploring nutritious foods
with Dr. Bloch, relaxation with Ambrose --"
"But those aren't classes," Shiv protested.
"No, but you're learning things in them
and you don't hate them," Dr. G said.
"Here, let's look at the Life Skills options
and see if any of these seem promising.
Start by crossing off the ones that suck."
"Like the fidget bin," Shiv said. "Dr. Bloch
said I could pick one thing to keep, and
that I should start by putting away
the ones I definitely didn't like."
"Exactly," said Dr. G, handing him
a tablet computer. "Hop to it."
Shiv quickly crossed off
Personal Hygiene, Budgeting,
Parenting, Telephone Skills, and
then hesitated over Transportation.
"I know the bus system backwards
and forwards," he said. "I have to,
it's how I get around without a car."
"You get credit if you can proficiency
out of a subject -- if you can pass the test
without taking the class," Dr. G said. "We can
accommodate your learning mode. It doesn't
matter how you do the work, only that you can
get to where you need to go. I bet that if I
showed you a color-coded transit map,
you'd have no trouble reading it."
"Well, duh," said Shiv. "The grids
are harder, but the map's easy.
I dunno why people keep getting
lost on it, everything's right there."
"Then it should be easy points,"
Dr. G said, waggling his eyebrows.
Shiv snorted. On the one hand,
he still hated tests; but on the other,
easy points were not to be sneezed at.
"Yeah, okay," he said, and let Dr. G
set up a time for the testing.
"What about Cleaning and Laundry?"
asked Dr. G. "Those are things that
everyone needs to do, or else hire out
and I think you're more frugal than that."
Brokeass broke was more like it,
although Shiv didn't say that aloud.
He knew that Laundry paid, even if it
was only minimum wage; and he'd done
well enough cleaning up his own messes
for the janitors here to praise his efforts.
"Yeah, maybe," Shiv said. "But if
it turns out like class, I am so quitting."
"That's fair," Dr. G said, and it was
weird to have anyone take him seriously.
"It's important to have an exit plan when
attempting something potentially risky."
Usually people just called Shiv paranoid
and told him to stop being stupid. "I guess."
"Did you know that the shop room offers
some Life Skills, too?" Dr. G said. "They
list Home Repairs and Car Maintenance."
"I can fix some stuff," Shiv said.
"I don't have a car, and I don't
really want one either."
"Still useful to know, but given
our time constraints, you're right
to skip it," Dr. G said. "What do
you think about household repairs?"
"Make it do or do without," Shiv recited.
"Guess it wouldn't suck to get more ideas
on how to fix stuff when it breaks, if that's
really working with my hands like you said."
"Programs vary, so try this one and
find out," Dr. G said, making a note.
"You seem a little calmer, now,
so that's a good thing."
"Yeah, walking through the halls
makes me antsy sometimes," Shiv said.
"It's easier in a room with the door closed
and only one or two people there."
Mr. Vanburen had walked them here
but hadn't come into the counseling room,
just waved and closed the door behind them.
"Hypervigilance is a common symptom
of traumatic stress," Dr. G said.
That put Shiv's hackles right up.
"Didn't ask you to come here and
shrink my head," he snapped.
"I know," Dr. G said mildly. "I just
thought you might like to explore
some ways of turning hypervigilance
into situational awareness. If you keep it
cranked too high, then you're wasting energy,
and it's not like you to tolerate extra work."
"Huh," Shiv said. "Like what?"
"Well, that depends," Dr. G said.
"What kind of things help you
to feel safe in this world?"
"Rest of my gang, and weapons,"
Shiv said. "Not stuff I can get in here."
Which they both knew was bull,
but it had to be said for the sake
of making it seem like Shiv was
properly under control and not
capable of whittling knives
out of anyone's ribs.
"What else?" Dr. G said.
"I know you're helping Dr. Bloch
with the Microfyne study, which
improves sleep. Some of the guys
are working on emergency preparedness
in prison, just in case of another attack."
Shiv had heard all about that from Kincade
and Sanquez, who were heading up the effort.
They had ideas on how to alert the inmates
and even the guards in case someone tried
to sic another terror weapon on them, and
how to get everyone safely out of the way.
"No," he said shortly. "I'm not
coming to your little bitchfest."
"All right, you don't have to,"
Dr. G said. "I think you might
like one of Mr. Vanburen's ideas,
though -- he's taken up playing
Blink. It's a game that improves
your observational skills."
One of Shiv's earliest jobs
had been as a lookout, and
he'd done it damn well. "What
kind of game is it?" he asked.
"You look at a picture briefly
and then try to identify details
about it," Dr. G explained. "It's
fun, especially with petty bets.
I'm sure Warden Lincoln wouldn't
mind you two playing for candy."
"Could be worth a try,"
Shiv allowed. "It doesn't
sound very soothing, though."
"You need different coping skills
for different aspects of a challenge,"
Dr. G said, tilting his hand. "For
relaxation, just think about what
bothers you and what might help
you deal with the added stress."
"People suck," Shiv said. "I wish
I didn't have to deal with them."
"They can prove frustrating,"
Dr. G agreed. His fingers combed
through the fringe of the blanket that
draped over his fuzzy white chair.
"What bothers you about people?"
"They cut in line and stop in
the middle of a crowded hallway
and complain about everything,"
Shiv said, throwing up his hands.
"Everyone has their pet peeves,"
said Dr. G. "Mine include parking
a car across two spaces, people who
don't respect differing opinions, and when
someone says they'll take care of things
but then doesn't keep their promise."
"That's why I hate putting up with
people, they're hardly ever worth
the hassle," Shiv said. Then he
sighed. "There's no getting around
that, though, not unless I go
back to the private wing."
"Not the best solution," Dr. G said.
"Maybe we can find some ways for
you to feel more comfortable even with
other people around. I bet Ambrose
would help you. He's so easygoing
that he's practically a liquid."
Shiv laughed. "Yeah, Rosie
sleeps like a cat," he said. "I
haven't seen it, but the guards
say in the break room he goes
like this --" Shiv sprawled over
the couch in an ungainly pose.
"Useful credentials if you want
to learn how to unwind," Dr. G said.
"How do I know if it's even working?"
Shiv said, folding himself back
into his usual position.
"First you can just estimate
the effects when you do it,
if you feel better or the same
or even worse," Dr. G said.
"Yeah, that shouldn't be too hard
for me to figure out," Shiv said.
"Dr. Bloch showed me some tricks
for gauging how I feel about stuff."
"Oh, that reminds me --
another way is biofeedback.
You measure how your pulse
speeds or slows, and so forth,"
Dr. G said. "I'm sure Dr. Bloch
would be happy to help you with it.
He mentioned that he's been looking
into some new video games that might
appeal to you, so drop by and see him."
"I can do that," Shiv said as he
leaned forward. He always got
something good out of visiting
the infirmary. "I may feel antsy
in the public parts, but at least
his place is pretty secure."
"That brings us to the issue
of feeling safe versus being safe,"
Dr. G said, passing some pages to Shiv.
"Hah," Shiv said. "I knew that you
couldn't make it through a whole session
without bringing out the worksheets."
"I can," Dr. G said mildly.
"I just thought you might find
this one useful. It's a safety tracker."
"How's it work?" Shiv said. It had
a lot more words on it than usual.
"You tally up your observances
about good and bad things happening,
and your feelings, to see how well
they match," said Dr. G.
There was a scale on it,
Shiv realized. That much
of it made sense to him.
Another page held a chart that he'd
seen before, with curving lines which
marked areas of trust and distrust.
"That one shows you areas of
correct trust and correct distrust,
along with both over-trusting and
under-trusting ones," Dr. G explained.
"The idea is to suit your responses
to the level of reliability you find."
Shiv traced his finger along
the S-curve of the chart. "I think
I remember you showing me
this one before," he said.
"I have," Dr. G confirmed. "It's
something that you should try to keep
in mind over time, as your circumstances
change. Think about what people do and
how you respond to that, and how often
your predictions prove accurate."
It drove Shiv nuts when he couldn't
guess what people would do, because
that was a good way to get your ass kicked.
Maybe Dr. G was onto something here.
"I'll work on it," he said.
"Can you name one thing you like about
the standard wing?" Dr. G asked.
"Not having to pay extra for everything,"
Shiv said. "That's pretty smooth."
"Excellent," said Dr. G. "Then let's
call it a day and go get lunch. I think
we've made some good progress."
Startled, Shiv looked up at the clock over
the bookcase. It was nearly lunchtime.
Funny how time seemed to fly,
sitting in a living room instead of
a plain meeting room. The couch
seemed determined to swallow
him whole, and the lamps gave
everything a warm, cozy glow.
Shiv flicked his fidget into the air,
his superpower spinning it lazily
in place as he stood up. Then he
snagged it and put it in his pocket.
"Lead the way," he said.
* * *
“To have our needs met, to love, to be loved, to feel safe in this world and to each know our purpose, is a simple matter of creating those blessings for others.”
― Bryant McGill, Voice of Reason
This a small, private counseling room in the prison. One of the perks for good behavior is getting to use nicer facilities that are stocked for comfort, not just safety. That helps inmates readjust to everyday, outside life -- especially useful if what they learned outside mostly consisted of bad habits.
Disliking people is most often described in negative terms such as misanthropy, asociality, or antisociality. However, it can also be introversion, which is not a bad thing, even though it is widely disrespected. A key reason for disliking people is simply that one's experiences with them may be overwhelmingly unpleasant and/or the surrounding people may be obnoxious. It's easy to wind up feeling that hell is other people. This has been Shiv's experience throughout most of his life: buried in people, most of who suck and dislike him. It is therefore perfectly sensible for him to dislike them back. Even now, prison isn't exactly filled with the best possible people, although some of the staff are very helpful and somewhat tolerable for Shiv. There are tips for being sociable when you don't feel like it and dealing with people you dislike. It is much better if you can learn to like people, though.
Pet peeves are things that irritate you out of proportion. Understand how to cope with pet peeves.
Tolliver gave Shiv a Rizzle Fidget in blue and silver. Another perk of good behavior is being trusted with small, and then larger, amounts of rigid material such as metal. While not quite as compelling as food treats, this sort of thing still hooks Shiv's attention very effectively.
Life skills are the techniques and strategies of everyday activity. Here is a list sorted by age. Ideally, prisons teach life skills to prevent future crimes due to ignorance or ineptitude. Shiv's are patchy at best. This test helps to assess skill development in children, and this guidebook lists a lot of what people need to know. This manual presents a little instruction in how to acquire life skills. There are other ways to improve your life, too.
Schools and related institutions can leave children traumatized. Naturally, traumatized children have a harder time learning. This background then undermines their ability to learn as adults too. Trauma-aware schools can help by providing psychological first aid as needed, instead of punishing children for being hurt. By the time of his second foster placement as a toddler, Shiv was already considered a problem instead of a victim because his symptoms manifested prevailingly as misbehavior, which then set him up to fail in school. What he needs is people to help him regain control when he loses it.
"Always have an exit plan" is good advice for risky situations which appears in business, abuse, and PTSD. It is also essential to layer solutions: have a plan, and at least one backup plan, then practice them. Here's a list of tips for staying safe.
Poorskills are techniques for surviving poverty. One of these is frugality, sometimes expressed as "Eat it all, use it up, wear it out; make it do, or do without." T-America has retained more of these frugal skills, partly thanks to Granny Whammy, and Shiv excels at them. Regrettably most of the things he's good at are either illegal or overlooked. Here are some ideas for making do.
Hypervigilance is a symptom of traumatic stress. It can also come from too much emphasis on situational awareness, but really, unless you are in a very safe controlled space, you do need to pay attention to your surroundings. Otherwise you will bump into people or objects, wander into traffic, etc. Watch people who are wearing headphones or playing on the phone while walking: they are clumsy and hurt themselves, and it's a bad idea. Cultivate mindfulness instead, and aim for moderation under ordinary circumstances. Police and other authorities should understand how conditions like PTSD and traumatic brain injury can cause hypervigilance, and they should know how to handle that safely. You can learn about situational awareness and feeling safe.
This image illustrates appropriate levels of trust and distrust. Shiv's wariness has kept him alive, and was accurate for most of his life; it's just out of phase with his current support network. Trauma fucks up your ability to adapt to changing circumstances. This is the safety tracker I wrote when I couldn't find what I needed elsewhere. It considers both objective and subjective factors in security, which helps people analyze what is going on even if their perceptions are skewed.
Coping skills can be positive or negative. Until recently, most of Shiv's were negative, and he still relies on those a lot. He's learning more positive skills, though. Understand how to reduce maladaptive strategies and develop better ones.
Blink is a T-American game used to hone observation skills and reflex speed. It's fun, free, and you can play it here.
There are ways to know if your therapy is working, and they generalize well to other forms of self-improvement. Conversely, watch out for signs that you're feeling worse. It's okay if trying to fix things makes you uncomfortable or temporarily destabilizes some stuff, but it should not make you miserable or wreck your life; that is the opposite of helpful. Shiv is feeling very shaken up in ways that suggest he's getting a lot more out of therapy than he necessarily expected or even wanted.
Dr. G and Shiv are comparing Ambrose to cats, in terms of their fluid motion and peculiar sleeping positions. It's just that Ambrose would be a therapy cat to Shiv's alley cat.
Schools are designed for verbal/linguistic intelligence. Shiv is far more visual and tactile. As a result, he routinely defaults to "show and tell" mode when he can't think of the right words, switching from description to illustration or gesture. Schools routinely fail visual learners and tactile learners. Interestingly, Shiv's learning styles overlap strongly with those prevalent among black males, which helps explain why he fits so smoothly into that culture.
Biofeedback appears in various types and devices, but generally designed to reveal information about the body which makes it easier to change things. It is easier and more effective to work with a professional, but you can also do it yourself. Here are some basic exercises.