Friday, February 17, 2017

Those Aren't Bees You're Hearing

First thing Monday morning --

(Has anything good ever come from a story that begins that way?  Probably not.)

First thing Monday morning, I got a text message from my boss.

(Again.  Nothing good ever comes of this. Nothing.)

The message was as follows:

"What is the highest criminogenic domain for each of our counties?"

See what I mean?  Not good.

I work for a state district judge.  Sort of.  He's technically only the boss in that he can hire or fire me. Other than that, I am the boss of me.

(A bit of trivia for you:  District Judges used to have day to day oversight of probation departments.  Until one day when one of them got named in a law suit against a department.  The Judge pleaded Judicial Immunity, but the Court said it didn't apply when it comes to oversight of the probation department operations.  At their next policy meeting, they immediately drafted legislation resigning all control over their probation departments, other than hiring the directors.)

Like all government agencies, probation loves jargon.  Loves it.  We feast on buzzwords and live and die by acronyms.  I hate jargon, yet there is no way to escape it and my conversation is often sprinkled with terms that make no sense to anyone else.  For example, we don't call it probation any longer.  Too self-explanatory, I guess.  The correct term is Community Supervision and Corrections Departments, which is always shortened to CSCD.  See what I mean?

Criminogenic is the latest buzzword in probation circles.  Most especially "criminogenic risk factors".  I'm sure there's an acronym for that, too.  It means "reasons people do bad stuff".  Your tax dollars are being funneled into research on identifying and treating these factors.  That's not a bad thing.

It's also not a new thing.  Buzzwords come and go. Policy changes and stratagems are devised.  When I took over this department, five(ish) years ago, I had a part-time officer.  She was older than my mother.  By at least one decade.  During a discussion of the buzzword of the week and it's accompanying requirements, she told me something she'd heard from another veteran officer years earlier.

"All you need to be an effective probation officer is a legal pad and a good pen."

It's absolutely true.  Good probation officers are about people.  Learning about people, educating people, understanding people's situations.  You need to be able to listen.  And then point people in the right direction.  It's really very simple.

But we have to justify our funding.  So we rock along with the latest research, the latest scheme for reducing recidivism and -- oh, sorry.  See?  I can't help it!

I'm not opposed to research.  Or new ideas.  And I could certainly stand to learn a few new tricks along the way.  But when the Judge texts you first thing Monday morning to ask about how the current state policy-speak applies to our local jurisdiction you know that means more work, more data collection, more strategic planning and more, more, more documentation.

I looked at my phone and sighed before typing a reply:

"Anecdotally speaking, employment, or the lack thereof, is probably our highest risk factor locally."

I was staring accusingly at the huge binder labeled "2017-18 Strategic Plan and Grant Application" when he texted me back.

"Oh.  I'm in a class.  I have no idea what the instructor is saying.  Just threw that question out there to show that I'm obviously in class."

My reply was swift:

"You SUCK!"

He laughed.  I'm still employed.  And I have plenty of legal pads and one very good pen.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Friday, February 03, 2017

Well, that was fun.

Last night Mindy and I both drove an hour, coming from opposite directions, and met up in the big city where we participated in our very first ever in-person-with-a-sign protest. It was a No Ban/No Wall protest.  (Check out Mindy's take on this here.)

The travel ban, temporary or not, is a travesty and the wall is idiocy with a checkbook.  That being said, I'm conflicted about how we are reacting to our government and these sorts of polices. Every time I see a post or a comment or hear someone talk about how horrible the current situation makes them feel, I am reminded of people I know who felt the exact same way, eight years ago. Those people believed that Obama was some sort of Islamic infiltrator and he would take their guns, take their freedoms, take their paychecks, and then force their mamas to participate in orgies and stuff. They were, of course, wrong. And frequently stupid.  But that doesn't mean they didn't feel the exact same frustration and fear that so many of my liberal friends feel now.

And the way they reacted eight years ago? I see that mirrored again and again in progressives.

Remember when we shouted about how George W. was "Not My President"? Then we were appalled when the right wing yelled that Obama was not theirs.

Remember when the Democrats instituted the 'nuclear option' when in control of the Senate and there were some controversial Bush appointments up for confirmation? Remember when the constitutional scholars hemmed and hawed and told us that was a bad, bad idea? Remember? Now the Republicans are replicating that same behavior and more.

We started a lot of this. Not all of it, by any means, but we sure did our part. I don't want to be a part of continuing the reactionary one-upmanship. But I also don't want to be one of those people Bonhoeffer talked about; the ones who said nothing and did nothing until nothing was all that remained.

I work for Republican politicians. I also have many conservative friends whom I value and care for. Despite our political differences, they are good people and we agree much more than we disagree. So I don't wear my political opinions on my t-shirt. Most of the time.

I was at the 'gym' Tuesday morning when a news story about the planned protest aired and it piqued my interest. There I was, on a treadmill in the dingy physical therapy department of a small country hospital, (That's an anachronism, isn't it? Small country hospital? There are, like, twelve of those left in America.) in front of a 13 inch color TV that was telling me about an opportunity to be a part of something good.

No matter how good an opportunity, I wasn't remotely excited about showing up on my own. I texted Mindy at that ungodly hour of the morning and told her what I wanted to do. I asked her to come. At first she said she'd like to, and she'd see what she could move around on her schedule and let me know in a few hours. I totally understood that.

Then she texted me back and said, basically, 'screw it'. She wanted to do it, needed to do it, and she would make it happen. Rest of the world be damned. (Do not ever stand in front of Mindy when she makes up her mind to do something. She will throw glitter into your unprotected eyes and while you're clawing at it, she'll sidestep you and do what she wants.) By lunch time she'd acquired a change of clothes, walking shoes, and poster board for signs.

We met in the parking lot of an Episcopal student ministry building near the protest site. Mindy brought me not only a foam board (yay!) but the MAGNUM Sharpie Marker. Oh HELL yeah! I love those things. I love them more than the brain cells I've threatened by inhaling deeply and purposefully the Magnums' awesome ethylene-glycolic aroma whenever I've used them.

As the sun set behind us, we bent over the hood of my pick-up, scrawling slogans on pristine poster board. We'd each picked a pithy phrase for our signs. Hers protested for freedom; mine, against fear. And then we wrote on the backs of the signs.

The wildest part of the whole evening was crossing the street. Turns out, they hold protests at major intersections. During rush hour. Who wouldda guessed? (Y'all remember we don't even have stoplights in my town, right?  More on stoplights later...)

The group wasn't especially large, but a couple hundred of us filled the small memorial park on a corner of the intersection. This is West Texas, so it was a very friendly protest. Even the counter protesters were content to merely drive by and shout suggestions, punctuated with a few aggressive horn honks. For the most part they confined their remarks to subject matter that wouldn't make their mamas blush.

We tried real hard to chant, but I'm pretty sure some of the folks were Baptist and they were on a totally different rhythm than the Presbyterians. At least, that's what I'm assuming the problem was. We got better as the evening wore on, but not a lot better.

It was a fantastic spot for people watching. Grey hair next to dreadlocks next to bald babies and tow-headed toddlers. The t-shirts and tattoos were especially entertaining. And of course the signs.

Given the small size of the space, the protest was mostly stationary, to our mutual chagrin. Mindy was miffed that there wasn't actual marching, what with her having worn comfortable shoes and all. And there are two things I've not been able to do since my back broke. Standing still is one of those.

The other is holding my hands up over my head, which is why I haven't robbed a bank or fixed my garage door opener. It's also why I will make sure my sign has a dang stick to hold it up with next time.  We noticed people behind us pointing to our signs and grinning or sneaking photos. Finally, someone asked permission to take our picture, We said sure, as long as she'd snap one for us as well!

While wandering back and forth among the stationary marchers, we saw a space open up at the center of the crowd. A dozen or so men, women and children spread rugs on the ground and bowed, face down, again and again, to pray.

It was beautiful.

The sun had long set when we left the park. We recruited a college girl to help us cross the street. Since we were in the self-styled 'Friendliest City in America', she didn't flinch or run when accosted by two butch, trucker-looking dames making demands on her jay-walking skills. Instead she grinned and played along.

The city lights brightened the night sky unnaturally, but the moon and Venus (or was that Mars?) shined down on us. When we got back to the parking lot, we sat on the tailgate of my truck, waiting on a friend to join us for dinner. "I am so glad we did this," Mindy said, gazing up at the sky. Or maybe I said it. Or, more likely, we both said it. Several times. 
Mindy and I will be out there again. And we will call our legislators. And we will love the people we encounter every day. And that lady in the burka? We sure don't see her every day. We love her, too.

Silence is complicity.

But vengefulness eats away at our humanity.

I hope, for the next four years and beyond. that life inspires us to do an insane amount of good for each other. I see people stepping out of their comfort zones and being the voice and the hands of hospitality and generosity.  I see people who've otherwise been silent speaking up for what's right.  If it weren't for the shitty state of affairs in our country, I would never drive an hour out of my way, on a school night, to stand around with a bunch of strangers and demand something better.  It was good for me.

A couple of weeks ago the lectionary reading included Psalm 27. (I wish I could remember what the priest said about it in her sermon. What I do remember was thinking "How cool. I really like that. I'm gonna remember what she said!") The 27th Psalm is one that reminds us that God is light, God is salvation, and it is ridiculous for us to be afraid with that kind of protection.

I hope I don't forget that.