365 Days Handmade

Making life a better place, one day at a time


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No Knitting Allowed

This week at work I had to attend an in-service training that was interrupted by a possible gas leak. We had to vacate the building, a wooden 1950s structure that you can see there in my car’s rearview mirror. Our facility has its own fire truck and firefighters, so they came right away. We had to wait for about forty-five minutes in the parking lot (I sat in my car), hoping to be told that training was cancelled and to go home– but no such luck. We just had to relocate to another building.

In previous years, I didn’t mind attending these trainings because I could bring my knitting and finish a sock while the instructor talked about staff assaults and prison gangs and other really disturbing stuff that most people don’t deal with at work. This time, though, I had to leave my knitting at home. We’d been sent a memo reminding us that all cell phones, unauthorized reading material, and knitting items were not allowed in the classrooms.

I was really bummed out about this, particular since the training itself was so boring and the material could have been covered in less than two hours, not seven. I really had to practice my mindfulness skills to manage my restlessness.  I missed having the ability to do something creative with my hands– to knit or crochet, or even color in a coloring book. It pained me to have to sit there and look at a PowerPoint presentation about interdisciplinary treatment planning and case summaries, theoretical orientations and case formulations– stuff I already know and implement regularly.  It was a beautiful day outside and I wanted to be enjoying it, or at least be able to enjoy some knitting.

Which brings me to something that I have been struggling with, more and more each day that I go to work at the prison. On one hand, I know I do good work. I’m making a difference in people’s lives. I’m paid a hefty salary, I get holidays and vacation and sick leave, and I only go to work four days a week. On the other hand, my work environment is a prison.  I’m there for ten hours a day.  I interact with some decent people, but I also work with criminals. You know that toxic person who so clearly has problems and whom you’d much rather avoid? That’s my patient, and I have to sit in a room with him for an hour. There are others, with all kinds of baggage and issues and problems and complaints, and even though I’m (maybe) helping that person with my knowledge and experience and education and training, at the end of the day I’m wiped out.  Multiply this by however many times that I go in to work, and the end result is not good for my own mental health.

My father and my oldest brother both died at the end of 2013, within three weeks of each other.  My brother actually died on Christmas Eve.  That was a really bad year for me.  By the time the new year rolled around, I was ready to start over.  Truthfully, what I really wanted to do was stop going to work, stay home, and grieve.  But I had a mortgage and student loans, and I wasn’t in any kind of financial position to take a leave of absence.  So that’s when I started looking at my options, and that’s how I got to thinking about financial independence, early retirement, and me.

So lately I have been thinking more and more about leaving my job, quitting the prison, or at least getting to early retirement.  Really, I want time.  I want the freedom to enjoy that time.  I want to be able to wake up without an alarm clock and fill the day with exactly the things that I want to be doing.  I want the time to read and write, to knit and crochet, to sew, quilt, and cross-stitch.  I want the ability to go out and have experiences, or to stay home and do nothing but sit on my couch and read or even indulge in a Netflix streaming marathon.  I want to make things and be creative.  I want to hang out with my husband, my friends, my family.  I want to keep going out to really good restaurants and eating the best meals, and I also want to stay fit and healthy and complete a couple of half marathons a year.

Sitting at that training with no knitting allowed, I was reminding myself of my 5-figure monthly salary and how nicely I was being compensated just for showing up to work that morning.  Six more years to fifty, I thought, and then I can stop working altogether and collect a pension for the rest of my life.

The problem is that I don’t know if I’ll be able to wait that long.


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Day 356/365: Holiday Treat Bags

Every year that I have worked at the prison, I’ve always made sure to give a card or homemade treat or a small gift of candy to the correctional officers who work in our yard.  It’s my way of showing how much I appreciate them and their assistance in making sure that I get my own job done.

It also ensures that I’m well-liked by custody and that they’ll certainly run to my office if I ever have to hit my personal alarm device.

Tonight I put together these gift bags of candy canes and assorted Lindor and Ghirardelli chocolates.  This year I’m also adding a holiday scratch-off lottery ticket.

I think these bags will be well-received among the officers.  Especially if those tickets turn out to be lucky.

12.22.2015


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Day 345/365: A Rainbow in Prison

It rained all morning, and then the sky cleared up around noon.  I usually take a break from my office in the middle of the day and walk out to the parking lot, where I sit in my car for a few minutes.  This afternoon when I left our yard and cut across the plaza, I heard an inmate saying to one of the correctional officers, “Wow.  I’m glad I stopped to take a look.”  I glanced over my shoulder to see what they were looking at.  It was an amazingly bright and full rainbow that stretched across the sky over the prison.

I wished I could take a photo right then and there, but of course cell phones aren’t allowed inside the facility.  I hurried through the corridor, stopped and waited for two sallyports, showed my ID at the gatehouse, and made my way out to the parking lot.  By the time I reached my car, the rainbow already appeared to be fading.  I popped the trunk, got my phone out of my purse, and surreptitiously tried to take a photo before anyone saw me.

I managed to get this shot, which doesn’t do the rainbow any justice, but I think it gives you enough of an idea of just how impressive a sight that must have been for someone standing underneath it.

12.11.2015


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Day 344/365: The Things We Don’t Say

12.10.2015

These are my favorite patent leather flats.  I wore them to work today, and then it rained all day.  I would have been better off with rain boots.

My Lifers Group was scheduled this afternoon, and I had to leave our building to get to the group room.  I didn’t have an umbrella, and I had to carefully step around puddles to keep from getting my feet soaked.  The lifers were waiting outside the door, watching as I approached.

One of them commented, “All of them days you come to group wearing Converse or closed shoes, and today when it’s raining, you got on those open shoes.”

To some people, that may have sounded like a criticism.  What I heard underneath that gruff, convicted murderer/formerly active gang member’s comment, though, was, “It’s raining, and I’m concerned that your feet will get wet and you could catch a cold.”  He may not have articulated those words, but I knew the sentiment was there.

“Yeah,” I said.  “When I put these on this morning, I didn’t think it was going to rain.”

What I meant and didn’t say was, “Thanks.  I know you care about my welfare.”


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Day 337/365: There Still Are Superheroes

I was feeling really disillusioned with the world yesterday.  I had to remind myself that there still are good people out there and that happy, positive things happen, too.  But it was tough.  Today was a lot better.  It was fairly uneventful at work, anyway.  Or at least on our yard.  There was about an hour this morning when the entire facility was recalled because of two separate staff assaults that happened within a matter of minutes from each other, in two different locations.  I heard that one of the assaults involved an inmate biting a correctional officer.  Fortunately, there were no fatalities.

Anyway, so as I was saying…  I wanted to have a more positive outlook today.  I wanted to think less about the awful things that happen every day and remember good moments in my life.  I looked through the photo gallery stored in my phone over the past year and found a few that made me smile.

Sometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying.

12.3.2015a

My superhero.  And my husband.

 


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Day 336/365: A Bad Day

12.2.2015

One of the occupational hazards of working in a prison is that you will inevitably encounter an individual so criminal and disordered in his thinking, so entitled, confrontational and combative, that you will have to terminate the interview and order him to get out of your office before you activate your alarm to summon custody.  Depending on your nature and character, you will experience any number of emotions as a result of this interaction, and then you will have to deal with it.  For me, there was mainly the feeling of being straight up pissed off.

I took a break and went out to the parking lot, where I sat in my car and scrolled through my phone and checked Facebook.  And that is where I first saw the news about the San Bernardino shootings at the Inland Regional Center.  The Inland Regional Center, in case you don’t know, is a state agency that provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities.

There are a handful of Regional Centers throughout the state of California, and I know people who have either provided or received services at these facilities.  I also know people who are capable of murder and people who have committed murder.  I don’t know all of them.  We don’t know all of them.  There are those who are locked up now, and others who are still out there.  These days, when I learn about a new shooting incident, I can’t help thinking that there will inevitably be another one.  It’s only a matter of time.

I sat in my car for a few more minutes and tried not to let things bother me, but eventually I had to get out and start walking back to the prison.