How Do I Know You?
Late one December afternoon while walking back from an NFL game, I took a shortcut to the parking garage through an alley. My friend and I were later than most of the crowd because we stopped for a celebratory drink after our hometown team made the playoffs. We weren’t 20′ into the side street when someone hurried up behind us. The light was bad and my senses were immediately on alert.
I’ve been working in the system too long not to be aware when someone approaches me from behind and I’m vulnerable. The man rushed past as I turned toward him, but then he slowed and stepped back to my flank. I recognized this man from inside, but couldn’t remember the details of his confinement. My friend made a “great game” comment to him because, well, you know, ignorance is bliss. His comment and presence seemed to diffuse the situation. He’s a pretty fit guy and it would’ve been two on one. Of course we weren’t armed returning from an NFL stadium and a weapon on the other guy would’ve been more than an equalizer. The man directed a knowing smirk, said “how ya doin’” and kept walking. He clearly remembered and wasn’t afraid of me. In retrospect, I believe this could’ve been a bad scene and I also believe this was the ex-con’s hidden message in his greeting.
Haven’t We Met?
Every time I run into someone who seems familiar, my brain starts a search engine. Is that the guy from the grocery store or someone from the school? Often it’s someone from inside the joint. These encounters can be particularly stressful when you’re out in public with your family; now the guy knows you have kids and far and away this is everyone’s Achilles heel.
How do you react if you’re walking back from a football game with your 8-year-old son, rather than the “ready to rumble” friend? Or, your infant son is in your arms as you walk back to your car from the grocery store — not an ideal situation for a shoot-out.
Most officers know the risk of confrontation outside the fence is low if they do their job inside the fence with a fair and consistent approach. Inmates realize officers have a job to do and aren’t the ones responsible for putting them inside. For professional officers, chance meetings with ex-cons usually end without incident, but there’s always the potential for these encounters to go badly. Prison employees need to prepare themselves and their families by learning to identify, avoid and escape these situations.
By D. M. Chamberlain
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