Just recently, within days of each other I've attended two very interesting training sessions in the jails. The first was about how to watch out for being conditioned and manipulated by prisoners. (It is undoubtedly the case that many a prisoner would sell his granny, and lie his head off, to achieve his own ends, and all staff are fair game). The second was about how to manage prisoners who are in a frame of mind where they are tempted to self-harm or attempt suicide, with some consideration of the types of prisoner and the types of circumstances that can lead to such a state of affairs (anyone, any time would be a slight exaggeration, but not much).
It's interesting that in a way these two courses highlighted almost opposing attitudes which prison staff must hold in tension at all times. First of all we need to be suspicious and never to forget that we are staff and they are prisoners and they may be manipulating us (of course staff may also be manipulated by staff, prisoners by staff, and prisoners by prisoners but let's keep this simple). But secondly, and at the same time, we need to be caring, respectful and observant, picking up on signals about how the prisoner is feeling.
A challenge? Indeed.
Life's like that, though, isn't it? People that don't hold opposing things in tension and swing to one extreme position are not usually right to do so, in my opinion. The older I get the more I haunt the middle ground. When I was a young hothead divinity student I had such ready opinions and was way too judgemental. Now I feel like some kind of chameleon. Whoever's company I'm in, I'm thinking about stuff from their angle, if I'm able. I've recently started to read and enjoy blogs by police, ambulance crew and others who're so often dealing with the same section of society I run into every day at work. When I'm reading their blog I'm totally into their perspective. If I were reading a victim's story, or was with a victim I'd be right into their story. But if I'm talking to a perpetrator, then notwithstanding I'm on the lookout for whether he's trying to manipulate me, I'm standing with him too. Not liking what he's done. Not offering mindless support of the, "Yeh, yeh, yeh, poor you" variety, but nonetheless seeing, when I can, how he got to where he got to, and seeing, when I can, how he might make the rest of his life better than the bit so far.
Sometimes I worry about this chameleon brain thing that's befallen me (I didn't do it on purpose) but lo and behold I'm in kinda good company. Paul, one of the most important leaders of the early church said this: "I am a free man, nobody's slave (clearly he'd done the SPS course about not being manipulated) ; but I make myself everybody's slave in order to win as many people as possible. While working with the Jews, I live like a Jew in order to win them.... when working with Gentiles, I live like a Gentile... in order to win Gentiles.... Among the weak in faith I become weak like one of them, in order to win them. So I become all things to all men, that may save some of them by whatever means are possible".