Tuesday, January 22, 2008

If the Dogs Had Been There

An alternate title for this post might be, "East Meets West" or maybe "Whose Work Site Is This Anyway?" Back in December, I had opportunity to go inside the jail where Mark spends much of his time. Oh -- but I went in with a guarantee that I'd be able to leave at the end of the day. And, I was being paid to be there. My library system has a contract to provide services at the Regional Justice Center, and it was a privilege to do a short job-shadow with the women who work there.

If the dogs had been there, they would have had their tails between their legs much of the time. The hallways are wide, Spartan, and loud. Cement block walls and linoleum floors don't make for gentle acoustics. No decoration, no moving parts (except the doors), nothing to soften the experience. On top of that, you can't help but constantly monitor your personal boundaries.

One section of wall had a horizontal metal tube attached to it. It looked like a restroom grab bar, except it was at shoulder height. Next to it was a sign reminding the officers how many inmates should be chained to the bar. There were no windows, except in the library itself. And the view from there? An enclosed parking area -- and blessed sky above. Stark, eh?

If the dogs had been there, Rufus would have tried to run. Away, away, out from that echoing, harsh place. Blackie would have pushed her way into a warm corner, if she could. Staying in the library might have been fine for her, and forget that call of nature.

But in the library, vigilance was not so necessary. Officers were invited to share Christmas goodies and conversation during a break. The library employees efficiently process the inmates' requests, discerning from brief descriptions just what kinds of materials are being sought. In the cafeteria, more conversation flowed, and there was relaxation and even laughter. There are times when all vigilance is required, and there are times when one must loosen up. These are real people with hearts and lives outside of their jobs.

That night, I told Mark I wouldn't have the energy to work in that place every day like he does. "It's not that bad," he argued. No, not bad, just different. Sure, there are boundaries in my community library. And there are people who argue vehemently over 40-cent fines. But I'm used to that. And the dogs could find enough peace that they'd be okay there, most of the time. Except when those 40-cent voices are raised.

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