When on emotional overload, paperwork looks like a good thing. Specifically, recording the religious preference(s) of newly admitted offenders. Most are fairly mundane. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic (or "Chatolic"). The Protestants occasionally spell out Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian. Okay, I'm lying about the last one. The guys can't spell Presbyterian. And want to guess what "Progispant" is connected to?
And these are all the normal ones, the single religion guys. I may have to squint, cross my eyes, pull out the secret decoder ring, but usually I can interpret what I read.
Today, however, I went to the Religious Preference Forms after:
--playing referee between the kitchen and the men who are fasting during Ramadan. (Note to religious policy people: Starting a major fast on a weekend is a bad idea.)
--doing the marathon Open Chapel sessions from 9-11am and 12:30-3pm where the line outside my office stretched to 25 and people were asking for rosaries (need to fill out a special form for that), Qu'rans (another special form), address of a discipleship ministry that might take someone coming out of prison, zip code for "the last business where I worked so I can fill out my tax return," five phone calls to a single family all with the same result: "The number you have dialed has been disconnected," and a few prayers with some very humble people.
--trying to find that one piece of paper in that chaos-pile on my desk, the one that had the information about two new volunteers coming into the prison on Saturday who have to be put on the Authorized Visitor list.
--realizing I forgot to bring anything for lunch, but there was popcorn.
--sorting the mail, some 75+ pieces today, into piles: tasks for the chapel workers, completed forms for the Transitioning Offenders Program, requests for the Lutheran Pastor, mail for the former Volunteer Coordinator who is now a Mental Health Counselor and in another building, returned mail, and mine. Guess whose pile was the largest?
--double-checking the cell assignments of 30+ offenders on the "Ramadan Dailies" list. Since we're a receiving prison with a mobile population, the names and locations shift. Every day. Sometimes they change cells or buildings. Other times, they've moved to a new institution.
Mind-numbing idiot work is a part-time craving when the interactions with live people have been too numerous. It's routine, satisfying because the stack of papers get done. It's mind-numbing when I have to enter the number and then click on another screen, scroll down, and 50% of the time discoverthat someone has already entered the religion. But then again, I often find the Wiccans have been classified as "Other" even though the correct path is "Pagan" and then "Wiccan." But even idiot work has its benefits because I don't have to think too hard.
It was while working through 150+ forms that I came across "I am a Bootist." I stopped. I looked. I frowned. I sounded it out. Oooooooooohhhhhhhh.
I entered his number, clicked on the next page, scrolled down to "Religion," clicked on "Edit," and then clicked on "Buddhist" and the date and the prison name. Then I saved it.
I answered the phone twice.
And then I went over to Unit 6 to tell one man that his girlfriend had the baby, but the baby died right away. And to tell another man that his fiancee jumped from a bridge over the main freeway in Bellingham last Friday. She was hit by several vehicles. "Is she okay?" Of course he asked that. And of course she wasn't.
The supervisor of Unit 6 put the grieving father on the phone with his wife. He sat in the office and sobbed, his tears a puddle on the floor.
At the opposite end of the hall I was with the man who sobbed on the phone with his father, "It's all my fault. I talked to her Friday morning and told her I couldn't be with her if she kept doing drugs."
When they were ready to return to their cells, I gave them both a packet of Kleenex and told them to come see me in the morning. I went back to my office, looking for some idiot work.
I read my email and went on the hunt for yet another man from yet another unit. He turned out to be sitting in the chapel next door. His 21-year-old stepson had been shot nine times by the police. He's in the hospital in critical condition, but he's going to make it. I put the dad on the phone to his wife and they talked a long time.
That's when I did the paperwork, punching in numbers, turning over forms, passing the Kleenex when it was needed.
I am a "Bootist." Boy, I could use one of those about now.