15 January 2011

Into the Rhythm at Jail

There's a certain rhythm to the comings and goings at jail. From my office near the main entrance, I can almost always tell when a batch of offenders are being released and headed out, or when the lawyers have arrived for afternoon court sessions, or when some officer has cycled in for a spot of relief duty. The sound level rises and falls, the chatter shifts, the scanner beeps more insistently.

I try to be upstairs visiting with people during most of the morning. I go with a stack of visit requests in my hand, organizing them into common floors or in order of urgency. Sometimes the name on top is the one who will be most challenging. More than once, that name gets put on the bottom of the pile.

There are people I will see once, giving them a name and a face. Others I see more often, every week if there's time, every two weeks if things are busy. There's a woman to see in the hospital who has a great view of the street below but spends most of her time with the TV on. Winter days in Seattle can be grey and wet, not particularly inspiring or restful to view.

When I head upstairs, I give myself a two-hour block to see people. That gives me time to check in, locate an offender who has been moved, stand aside while medicines are delivered, wait for the call-out for court, make wisecracks with the kitchen folks delivering sack lunches. Checking in with staff, being flexible with whatever is going on at the moment, all this makes for good relations. In the long run, it means that staff gets to know that I know what they're dealing with--and that goes a very long way.

As it gets close to 2pm, I start winding things up. The upstairs floors shut down about 2, offenders returning to their dorms or individual cells, officers getting ready for shift change. Those on duty have been there since 6:30am, dealing with all the morning craziness. A new shift begins at 2:30 and information will have to be passed from one group to the next. Clearing extraneous people off the floor makes it easier to concentrate on the essentials. There are no classes and no religious services going on between 2 and 3pm.

The other day, one of my interviews went a little long and it was after 2:15 when I finally joined a small group at the elevator to go back to my office. The Elevator God told us it was Shift Change and the elevators were locked. The group of us nodded our heads. We understood this. We exchanged names and job titles because we don't often see each other in this configuration.

A few minutes later, the bell dinged, and the elevator door slid open. We civilians stood to one side as the next shift of officers came out of the elevator. And we laughed.

It was like watching a clown car. More and more officers poured out of the elevator. There must have been more than twenty. Someone asked if the back doors of the elevator were open and were they funneling people through there? They weren't. The officers were all in good humor and we wished them well.

They had half an hour before all the activity picked up again: med lines, dinner to be distributed, afternoon visits, people returning from court.

I went back to my office to log in my visits and answer the mail.

(photo courtesy of mikewehde.wordpress.com)


Fran said...

Thought provoking as always...

Sherry Peyton said...

I like the rhythm you describe. There is some comfort I find in sameness, though too much, well that gets a bit boring. Still I saw the peacefulness of your day, though I know it is anything but. Blessings for your work Shannon.

claire said...

Fascinating to discover your chaplain's life. So glad you are there for the prisoners.