Lately, I’ve been thinking about a man I worked with many years ago. Back then I used to wander a prison cellblock. Just to be clear, I was one of the ones with the keys, on the right side of the bars. That’s how long ago this was. They don’t use keys anymore. Not in the newer institutions anyway.
The man was one of several supervisors who reported to me. At over six feet, he was the beefy type with an easy smile for his boss. I liked him just fine, and in situations (rare as they were) that called for brawn, he was the guy you wanted beside you. Still there was something about him that made me think his smile hid a frightening sort of rage, the kind that goes off without much warning, let alone reason.
I don’t know why I felt this way. I just did. I get a sense about people sometimes. Let me apologize for sounding arrogant, but I don’t think I’ve ever been wrong in my assessments. The only time I screw up is when I don’t listen to these feelings. But that’s another story.
I used to watch how this man interacted with his staff and clients. I know the right word is inmate, but I could never call the people behind bars inmates. Social work background I suppose, plus inmate to me denotes monkey or another animal in a zoo and the people I dealt with were people, most who were in these places because they’d simply made a bad choice. Sorry, I’m getting off on a tangent.
He was always pleasant and personable in front of me and aggressive with everyone else. I’d had complaints. I took an even closer look. It became pretty clear. He incited situations and typically made things worse. As I said before, those circumstances that occur in prisons where you need to use force are rare. Or at least it used to be.
I called him out on his actions several times. I recorded various events, talked to him about getting some anger management help. He nodded and grinned vacantly as though to placate me. I continued to watch. I had no choice, but to record some of the events in his performance appraisal with a suggestion for remedial action.
During that meeting, he stood up and lunged at me, fist at the ready, yelling that I was being unfair. What did I know? No one had ever said these things to him before. Judging from his performance that day, I could see why they hadn’t.
As terrified as I was, I was also angry. I stood up to my full height, the laughable 5 foot 4 inches, pushed my shoulders back as a bird might fluff its feathers to make itself look bigger. I told him to get out of my office and not to bother coming back until he’d calmed down. Thankfully, he left. Defending myself against this hulk of a man might have been a challenge. One I didn’t consider at the time.
I think about him now I suppose because of our own prime minister’s tendencies toward aggression. He spews rhetoric about the situation in Gaza supporting one side over the other and he points a finger at Russia before we know what happened to the ill-fated Malaysian flight MH 17. These are situations where a calm, methodical approach is absolutely essential, where true leadership shows its mettle.
The man I used to work with would enter an already enflamed situation, make a show of taking off his rings, rolling up his sleeves and tightening his fists. He didn’t take the time to assess anything or figure out what had happened. His reaction was to be on the offensive. And that sort of stance always provokes further unnecessary violence.
Our prime minister has a lot in common with the man I once worked with. I suppose that’s why I’ve thought about that employee of mine so many years later.
I don’t know where he is. He was suspended, and then later fired. It wasn’t easy to do in a tough union-backed environment, but it was done because it was the right thing to do for those he worked with.
One day I expect we’ll show our prime minister the door. In the meantime, I can only hope that we will not further aggravate these already volatile regions of the world.
© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey