Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Pedal, Pedal, Breathe

Back in the 1980’s movies like Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket” were released and I read several books on the Vietnam war from both historical and eye witness accounts. I can not imagine the hardships endured by all parties in the midst of such horror and brutality, and was amazed when I read of U.S. servicemen not wanting to leave Vietnam. The idea of desiring to remain put in a war zone versus life Stateside was beyond me. This phenomena was explained in terms of the fact that while in the combat zone, soldiers reverted to a more or less animal state and there was a certain perverse satisfaction found in such an existence, especially when contrasted to an orderly existence back home. Essentially, it was a sort of mental conditioning that those of us who haven’t been there could never understand.

I have never experienced anything remotely similar to what the Vietnam Vets have lived through. I spent a few years in the Naval Reserve, in an attempt to lessen the impact of university tuition on my wallet. The closest I have ever come to what those servicemen, as well as our present day men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq (though Canada is not involved directly in the latter), have been the past half decade working as a Correctional Officer in a federal maximum security prison. Over these past five years I’ve seen plenty of violence and viewed situations over the sites of an AR-15, been in a couple of riots as a tactical team member, a high risk take-down involving city Police and helicopter, fought fires, waded through bloodied water up to my ankles and been in a couple of physical confrontations. Now, as I prepare to leave the prison and return to becoming a school teacher, there is a big part of me that is sorry to be walking out of the razor wired fences.

You might say that I am “institutionalised”, and would be largely correct in stating this. I’d by lying if I didn’t say that there are reasons of adrenalin and machismo also at play within my thoughts – let’s face it: you are at a cocktail party and reply “I’m a teacher” and most folks will smile politely. Reply “I’m a Guard in a maximum security prison” and people can’t get enough of your stories. No, that is not the real difficulty of departing. The fact is, when you are in the whole microcosm that is Corrections, you walk in a completely different world. You are with people who at any given time can place their lives in your hands or vice versa. There’s that whole paramilitary aspect which breeds a particular mindset that one needs to acquire if they want to survive and do their job in a professional manner. It is a big, nasty, horribly negative place in prison, and dealing with people outside of that environment is oftentimes difficult as the definition of “stress” is vastly different.

So, why then have I decided to leave the big house for the school house? I suppose, at the end of the day, the essence of my being is not “authoritarian” nor do I aspire to have “control” over others; I much prefer to empower individuals by assisting them to develop critical thinking skills. Secondly, I really want to contribute to my community, and I believe that I am passionate enough about life to inspire impressionable junior high students to want more from life. I love creativity, seeing others grow and a challenge. This is who and what I am. In spite of all this – knowing all of this – there is still that portion of me that wishes he wasn’t “getting out”. So true about the caged bird who, when offered its freedom, decides to remain in his cage.

I don’t believe that I remained in one place for more than a year for the duration of the 1990’s, save for when I moved to Edmonton to attend the University of Alberta. Never did I fathom such conservative leanings could develop in my bohemian spirit that had taken me all over the world with extended stays in a variety of Canadian provinces, Slovakia, Ireland, and England. Introspection reveals a lot about one’s self if you take the time to peer through the window. Likewise, it is a shock to look in the mirror with my 21 year old mind to see the reflection of a man who is too near 40 for his tastes.

In closing, I am facing my fears and, even by writing this entry, have a clearer view of where I want to be. Just like when lactic acid is annihilating you legs and your lungs have inflated to the point of bulging your eyes from your skull when climbing a long, steep hill on your bicycle, you know that you don’t want to quick and, though walking isn’t nearly as painful, it’s also not nearly as worthwhile.


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