ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was inspired by discussions with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer, arranged as barter, and posting now because it sets up for some later poetry. It also fills the "prisoners" square in my 1-1-16 card for the Spies, Secret Agents, and Noir Bingo fest. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem shows the first group therapy session that Graham leads at the prison, so it deals with a lot of intense topics. Highlight to read the spoilery warnings. It features complex responses to traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, mixed feelings about therapy, references to assorted crappy experiences in past therapy, difficulty with authority, hostility against superpowers, poor sense of self-worth, self-blame, communal trauma, voluntary abuse of illegal and harmful drugs, bad drug trip, feelings of abandonment and isolation, graphic description of a bad drug reaction, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Renewing a Sense of Community"

When Graham reached the multipurpose room
that he had reserved for the group therapy session,
he found that guards had already removed the tables and
were currently arranging the comfortable chairs
and couches into a long, loose oval.

The quiet room next door had a "Reserved" magnet
stuck just below the "Vacant/Occupied" slider sign,
providing an outlet in case anyone got overloaded.

One of the guards had already installed himself
at a small table and chair between the two rooms,
complete with a stack of magazines borrowed from inside
and another stack of paper handouts to give the inmates.
He was tall and thin, and his nametag said, "Hatrack."

"Go ahead and laugh," he invited with a smile
and a wave at his nametag. "Everyone does."

"Far be it from me to laugh at truth in advertising,"
Graham said. "You're our door guard today?"

"Yes, the incident happened on my day off," said Hatrack.
"I volunteered so that the guys on duty then could join
the session if they want. Vanburen's already in there
setting up. If anyone causes trouble, just make sure
somebody walks them to the door, and I'll take it from
there. For more controlled departures, let me know if
they need the quiet room, infirmary, gym, or whatever.
I can get them an escort to where they need to go."

"Excellent plan," said Graham. "I was told
to synchronize my vidwatch with yours for
a panic button. How does that work?"

"I have the program on mine, just connect
them and the button should come up on
your screen," said Hatrack, suiting action
to words. "Now if anything goes wrong, simply
press your thumb over that button to call me."

"Thank you, Mr. Hatrack, that's very helpful,"
Graham said as the guard ushered him inside.

The room was actually quite nice, with a bank of
windows along the outside wall -- currently cracked
open to let the fresh air in -- while another was covered
by a colorful mural of a mountain meadow with a river
running through it. A potted palm sat in one corner.

Graham chose a spot that gave him a good view
of the room, and dragged the flip chart there
to stand beside his selected chair.

He made a point of testing the markers
by writing Standard text in black ink,
Good things in green with a smiling face,
Bad things in red with a frowning face, and
Pay extra attention in blue with a star.

Simon rolled in and said, "Place looks great.
Hatrack says the guys should arrive shortly."

"Where do you want to sit?" Graham asked.

"Next to you," Simon said with a wink. "I might
as well ride on your coattails while I can."

So Graham shuffled the seating to make room
for Simon to park on the far side of the flip chart.

Travis finished with the furniture and said,
"Mind if I take the other side of you? It would
cut down on the opportunities for mischief."

"Go ahead," Graham said, and Travis sat down.
The other guards scattered themselves around
the room instead of clustering, a hopeful sign.

Soon the inmates filed through the door.
Some of them held folders full of paper, while
others had brought their tablet computers.

"Thank you all for coming," said Graham.
"Everyone choose a seat and we'll get started."

Kincade, Verne, and Sanquez commandeered
a couch just as they had in the social room.

Wade settled not far from them, dark and
elegant as he folded himself into a chair.

Most of the other inmates were new
to Graham, and he just glanced over
the milling bodies to see who stood out.

One young man of mixed race was
so nervous that he was sweating and
kept rubbing his hands over his face.

A Hispanic fellow moved slower than
the rest, his faced lined by sorrow or
perhaps worry, which had Sanquez
beckoning him into a nearby chair.

Ragno filtered out of the small crowd,
and Simon called to him, patting the seat
that stood beside his wheelchair.

"I'm so glad you decided to come today,"
Graham said to Ragno. "It's good
to see you out and about."

"I need to deal with ... what happened,"
Ragno said quietly, shifting what remained of
his left arm in its protective sling. "Besides, with
so many people here, nothing's likely to go wrong."

Simon kept a sharp eye on him, and Graham
knew that if someone did try starting trouble,
then Simon would probably put a stop to it
before the guards could even get there.

"All right, everyone, basics first," said Graham.
"I'm Dr. G and I'll be running the group sessions
that offer counseling for collective trauma after
the chayne incident. I can teach you techniques
for coping with the stress and help you to patch up
the damage to your community. My friend Simon
will be leading some sessions in peer counseling with
a more casual focus on validation, role modeling,
relationships, and building a support network."

"Can we skip to the other session with
less rules?" someone muttered.

"You may attend either or both types of
group therapy," said Graham. "Let's talk
about rules, though. First, I can't tamper with
the facility rules. The ones I care about the most
are: don't hurt yourself or anyone else, and
don't break laws. That's a minimum level.
Now how many of you have tried therapy
only to get hit with a long list of fancy rules,
right up front, that made you uncomfortable?"

Over a third of the men raised a hand, and
others shuffled in ways that made Graham
suspect they had similar experiences.

"If we was any good at following rules,
we wouldn't be in here," Verne said wryly,
which made the guards chuckle.

"It's like they wanted us to be all fixed,
on our own, before they'd agree to help us,"
Wade said, shaking his head. "That's not
a fair contract, and not one I'd sign, so
then they got mad at me for it."

"That's why I'm not setting more rules,"
Graham said. "What I have instead is
a list of ideals -- things we can aim for
that make group therapy work well.
The more of those we can reach,
the better results we'll get here."

A thoughtful rumble passed around
the room as people considered that.
"What kind of ideals?" Ragno asked.

"The first is presence," Graham said,
writing it on the flip chart in black.
"The more sessions you attend,
the more you'll learn, but don't push
yourself if you're not up to coming."

"I, I'm Jimar," said the nervous man.
"Last group I was in, outside, they said
we had to come to all the sessions."

"That's a good goal, but not everyone
can reach it," Graham said. "This group
is an opportunity, not an obligation. However,
you do earn points for attending, which gives you
access to other options like the shop room, gym,
or social room that help you stay healthy."

Then Graham wrote Safety on the chart.
"This is our next rule," he said. "Stay safe.
That means no yelling, hitting, threatening, or
other destructive behavior. If you feel your control
starting to slip, then please step out before you
lose your grip. We've reserved the quiet room
next door in case anyone needs a breather.
You can take a break and even come back
here if you get yourself settled down."

"There's a goal gone begging,"
Ragno muttered, shifting in his seat.

"Quite the opposite, the purpose of
any trauma recovery group is to restore
that missing sense of security," Graham said.
"Right now everyone in here must feel lost,
shaken, and unsafe after the incident.
Start thinking about what would need
to happen in order to change that."

"Get them freaks out of here,"
another man suggested,
glaring from under a fringe
of greasy, dark blond hair.

"And you are ...?" Graham said.

The speaker did not respond, but
Kincade filled in, "That's Bain Callaway.
He runs with the Peckerwoods."

"Well, Mr. Callaway, it sounds like you feel
threatened by soups," Graham said, recalling
Verne's summary of the gang dynamics here.
"That's a common reaction after an incident
like this, but remember that the attack came
from a zetetic terror weapon that was stopped
by the prompt and appropriate use of superpowers."

Bain crossed his arms and looked away,
clearly offended by the implication
that anything frightened him.

"I believe you were listing ideals
for us, Dr. G," said Wade, his stylus
clicking against his tablet.

"Thank you, Wade," said Graham
as he added a line to the flip chart.
"The next one is discretion. It means
that what happens here, stays here.
You guys know that nobody likes a rat.
That said, it's your call whether to talk
about things with a groupmate outside
of a session, if you believe it would help --
or to tell a trusted staff member if you think
someone might be in danger otherwise."

"We can talk with each other?" said Jimar.
His stiff, interlaced fingers signaled distress.
"Last time I done that, we both got kicked out
of the group. It's just ... we was so lonesome."

"You have a closed community here, so yes,
you may talk and hang out the same as always.
Just try not to get in over your heads discussing
the incident without having an experienced spotter --
think of it like lifting something heavy in the gym,"
said Graham. "Loneliness can do a lot of damage,
too, so it's good for you to form connections. Part of
the purpose to group therapy is that social support."

"More on that in my peer counseling group, for
anyone who shows up next week," Simon added.
"If the attack has left you feeling isolated, come and
talk about it with other guys who feel the same.
Then you won't be alone anymore."

Graham had gotten the impression from Ragno,
and later some of the other inmates, that life
in prison relied a great deal on who you knew
and could turn to for help if threatened.

Fine, he could build on that.
To reach people, you had to speak
their language and relate to their experiences.

"Another ideal we have is respect," he said,
writing it on the flip chart. "This includes
listening to other people, minding boundaries,
and practicing tolerance. It means self-respect
as well, so try to avoid putting yourselves down."

"But we're losers," said the young man who sat
beside Ragno, his tawny-fair skin and black curls
a hint about his mixed, ambiguous ancestry.

"Having lost something does not make you
a loser," Graham said firmly. "If you're struggling
with self-worth, that's something we can work on.
Does anyone else feel disappointed in themselves
or their responses after the incident?"

Heads nodded around the room.

"Okay, let me just skip ahead a bit,"
Graham said. He flipped to the third page
and wrote Goals at the top in blue, then
below it Improve self-worth in green.
Then he returned to the first page.

Wade raised a hand. "Dr. G, can we
get copies of your notes after this?"

"Yes, I'll be taking pictures of each page
and posting those images to the folder
of resources for this group," said Graham.

Then he wrote Honesty on the first sheet.
"This is our fifth and final ideal," Graham said.
"Come to each session as clear-headed as you can,
and speak your truth. If you don't want to share
something, keep it to yourself, don't fib. Be honest
with yourself as well as others in the group."

Finally he doodled a hand in black and added
Presence, Safety, Discretion, Respect, and Honesty
in blue counting along the thumb and fingers.

"So these are our five ideals to help us get
the most out this process," Graham said,
spreading his hand. "If you flub one, just
apologize and try to do better next time."

"That sounds too easy," said the sad man.

"Apologizing comes easy to you?"
Graham said, leaning forward.

"You're screwed on that one, Alejándro,"
said Verne with a chuckle. Then he looked
at Graham. "You'd need a crowbar
to pry a grudge out of his grip, Dr. G."

"We'll consider it a work in progress,"
Graham said. "It won't be easy, but
if you put sincere effort into this, then
you should see some valuable results."

"How do we even know if this is working?"
Alejándro said, staring down at his hands.
"I've been ... pretty low, since the cafeteria."

"There's a whole handout in your folder
on that topic, with points like feeling better
or finding answers to your questions,"
Graham assured him. The man's
despondent body language raised
concerns. "Conversely, there's a page
on how to tell if this therapy is not working
or is even making matters worse for you,
like if you start wanting to hurt yourself."

Several of the inmates busied themselves
taking notes, or riffling through the handouts
in search of the relevant material.

"Now that we've discussed our ideals,
I'd like to go around the room for introductions,
and you can mention some of your challenges
if you want," said Graham. "You already know
who I am, so I'll just add that my father was killed
in a stupid religious conflict when I was very young,
I've survived some serious injuries, and my family
has gone through major episodes of bigotry."

"But you're white," Verne blurted.

"Irish and proud," Graham agreed.
"There are other kinds of bigotry
besides racism, though, and sadly
we've run into some. Simon?"

One hand tugged his trouser leg
high enough to reveal the scars
that cut deep furrows into his calf.
"I lost a fight with some explosives,"
Simon said. "Also I'm gay, which has
made my life more complicated, although
gay-bashing has generally proven to be
more traumatic for the bashers than for me."

Dark chuckles went around the room.
The inmates could appreciate such fortitude.

"I'm Ragno," said the next in line. "I was ...
the primary target of the attack." He had to pause
and take a deep breath before lifting the stump
of his left arm in its sling. "My friend Shiv
saved my life, but it cost me a hand."

"Dustin," said the young man sitting
beside Ragno. "I was in the cafeteria
when it happened, and I'm pretty freaked."

So it went around the room.
A majority of the men had been
present for the original attack.

Alejándro was among the closest
to Ragno, and badly shaken by it.
Bain and Wade hadn't been there,
but were responding to the impact
on the community of the prison.

Most of the guards had participated
in the actual scuffle, although Kenneth
hadn't been there for it. He was one of
the older guards whose quiet presence
helped buffer the fractious energy.

"I'm mostly here for moral support," he said.
"I want to find ways of holding people together."

A few seats further down sat
a big black guard with tattoos
sleeving both arms. "I'm Craig,"
he said. "I responded to the incident,
and I am not proud of how I did that."

"That was my fault, not yours,"
Travis said, resting his face in his hands.
"I was the one who flew off the handle
and got everyone else following me."

"Introductions and context first,
concerns and interpretations later,"
Graham reminded him.

The opening disclosures traveled on
around the circle, and when it reached
Travis he introduced himself in a low tone.
"Like Craig, I was in the cafeteria when it
happened, and I misinterpreted some things
very badly," Travis said. "That's been bothering
me a lot, and I'm trying to make up for it."

"Good job, everyone," said Graham.
He turned to the second page and
wrote Concerns at the top of it in blue.
"Next, we're going to look at issues.
What brings you to this therapy?
What problems are you having
that you hope we can help fix?"

They started with Ragno this time,
who said, "I'm having a hard time sleeping.
I feel a lot more nervous, and I worry
that maybe they'll try again."

"That's a good start," Graham said as
he started making the list in red with
Troubled sleep and Anxiety.

"What do we do if it happens again?"
someone called, and heads nodded.

"Give me a minute to double that," Graham said.
He put Further attacks on page two, doodled
a picture of a jail on fire beside it, then put
Emergency preparedness on page three.

Then Dustin said, "I'm with Ragno,
every little thing makes me jumpy now.
I already had one panic attack so bad,
it landed me in the bumper room."

"Hypervigilance and panic attacks
are common symptoms of stress,"
Graham said as he wrote them down.

Alejándro and several others passed
on the grounds that their issues
were already on the board.

Jimar stuttered and stalled and
wiped his sweaty hands on his pants.
"I just -- I can't deal with this,"
he finally managed.

"You feel overwhelmed," Graham said,
and Jimar nodded so he put that on the page.
"That's natural when a crisis exceeds
your coping skills. I can help you
learn some new ones."

Wade leaned forward and said,
"I'm worried about the prison --
all us guys, I mean, and how we
get on together. Ever since
the attack, it's harder to talk
and team up for anything."

"That's communal trauma, Wade,
thank you for bringing it up,"
Graham said, writing it down.

"What does that mean?" Wade asked.

"When a major incident like this happens,
it affects everyone in the area, including
people who weren't there if they know
someone who was," Graham said.

"So it spreads, like -- like if the guys
in the cafeteria had caught a cold, and
they gave it to me," Wade reasoned.

"That's the main reason why I wanted to offer
group therapy," said Graham, "because you can't
solve a collective problem with individual counseling.
You have to work together to understand and then
repair the damage done to your community."

"That's what I want to work on," Kenneth said.
"I'm seeing a lot of the same warning signs,
and I want to patch up the holes."

"I'll put community repair on the goal list,"
Graham promised, flipping the page.
"I'm pleased to see that people
want to work on that one."

"Since Ragno didn't say this, I will,"
Kincade rumbled. "I'm worried about
him and Shiv both, 'cause shit like this
can make people want to hit back. I ain't
spent all this time workin' out how to keep
my guys and Sanquez' guys from killin'
each other just to have this nonsense
come and blow up in our faces instead."

"Discrimination against soups is
a serious problem, and something
that I have a lot of experience handling --
it's part of my dayjob," Graham said.
He added that to the list, scribbling
a blue halo around it. "Especially in
cases like this, it's prone to happen,
so let's all work on quashing it."

"But how do we do that?" Sanquez asked.

"How many of you guys know a soup
other than Shiv or Ragno?" asked Graham.

Only a few hands went up, and
one of those was Ragno himself,
which didn't help very much.

"Well then, I'll see if I can find someone
to broaden your horizons," Graham said.
"I know some people with superpowers
who do presentations on tolerance. Now,
let's get back to listing concerns ..."

Some other inmates added nightmares,
difficulty with controlling their temper, flashbacks,
feeling numb, and other symptoms to the concerns.

"I made mistakes," Travis said quietly.
"I'm trying to make amends for that."

Graham put those on the respective pages.
"We can support that too," he said. Then
he waved a hand at the almost-full sheet.
"Can everyone here relate to at least
one thing that you see on this list?"

The whole circle nodded agreement.

"Now let's pick up something Alejándro
said about how we can tell if therapy
is working, and what Dustin said about
our objectives," Graham declared.

He turned to the third page on goals
and wrote in black under the title, What do
we want to achieve in group therapy?

Then Graham said, "Before we can
decide whether this therapy is working,
we need to figure out what kinds of things
you'd like to get out of this. What did you
come here for? What do you want?
We'll pass the questions around
in the other direction this time."

"I want to find things I can do to avoid
screwing up in the same ways again,"
Travis said. "Plus I want help cleaning up
after the mess I already made. I'm carrying
some guilt, and that's baggage I don't need,
but I can't just --" He waved a hand in the air.
"-- pretend that nothing went wrong."

Graham wrote Release guilt in green.
"Closely related to this, is anyone here
seeking forgiveness, either for something
you've done or exploring how to forgive
other people?" he asked.

Hands went up, heads nodded,
and Graham added a line for that.

The next several requests all clustered
around self-help techniques, so he drew
a line down the middle of the page.

Then he added the subheader
Learn Coping Skills To ... and beneath
that he wrote Calm down, Relax, Sleep better,
Reduce aggression, and Reconnect with people.

It was Sanquez who said, "Maybe
help people keep their hands
out of the candy jar," and
Bain scoffed at him.

Jimar shuffled in place,
looking guilty and also
increasingly unwell.

Travis gave a heavy sigh
and muttered, "Not again."

It took a moment for Graham
to piece together 'candy' as
slang for 'drugs' and realize
that Jimar's symptoms might
come from something more
than simple nervousness.

Graham wrote Reduce substance abuse
and then cast a glance at Travis.

The guard gave him a little nod
that might have meant either
Yes, I think Jimar is high or
Yes, I'll wait for the end of
the session to confront him

Travis leaned back in his seat,
stretched his legs out in front,
and crossed the ankles.

When the discussion reached Ragno,
he sighed and said, "The main thing I'm
having trouble with that's not already
listed is adjusting to this." He shifted
his truncated arm. "But that's on me,
it's not really a group matter."

"It concerns the group," Graham said,
tapping the Reconnect with people line.
Then he added Heal the damage.

"My ball," Simon said, and
Graham nodded encouragement.
"I can tell you that rehabilitation after
a major injury is difficult, even with
a lot of support from friends and family.
So Ragno, think about who you can trust,
or at least tolerate. The rest of you guys,
think about what you could do to help."

"Percy's a dick," someone muttered.

"Could you elaborate on that, please?"
Graham asked, leaning forward.

No further details were forthcoming.

Then Ragno sighed and said,
"My old cellmate kind of ... bailed
on me, because I need help with
just everything now, and he's ...
not really into helping people."

"In that case, I second Simon's advice,"
said Graham. "Look for other people
whom you consider more reliable to help
you when you need it. That not only gets
you assistance, it gives your friends a way
to repair some of the harm this incident
has done to the social structure here."

"I'll try," Ragno said. "I just ... have
a harder time with people now, and
I'm afraid of putting everyone in
even more danger simply by
being around me. I'm a target."

"That's a credible threat," Graham said
with a solemn nod. "We'll address safety
and emergency preparedness later."

"Yeah, but not everyone wants
to deal with all of my special baggage
either," Ragno said, bitterness
seeping into his voice.

"That's what we're here for,"
Graham said. "Group therapy
is for the people who can see
the community damage and
seek ways of fixing it. Look
around and think if any of
these folks are people
you'd trust to help you."

"You mean ... ask someone
in the group, because they came
looking for things to do," Ragno said.

"It's better to find volunteers who
want to help," Graham agreed.

"That brings me to my goal,"
Simon said. "I'd enjoy finding
a few guys who'd like to learn how
to run a peer counseling session."

"Don't you need a degree for that?"
Wade asked, tilting his head.

"No, quite the opposite, it works
better with informal teaching,"
said Simon. "This is how I
learned, on the job, and it's
a useful skill for anyone who
doesn't like official stuff much."

"I'm in," Wade said. "I like school,
and I've already taken some of
the psych classes offered here.
I wasn't in the cafeteria, so this
would be a way for me to help
the folks who got caught in it."

Craig raised a hand. "I'd like
to hear more about the offer later.
I'm good at influencing people and
handling emotions, so it'd be great
to get some training related to that,"
he said. "I'm not sure if the guys
would feel comfortable with me
as a peer counselor, though."

"You play it straight," Alejándro said.
"As long as you keep doing that,
then we can live with it."

"All right then," said Simon,
writing down their names.
"I'll give you both some
preliminary info later."

Graham turned to a new page
on the flipchart and then wrote Plans
at the top in blue ink. Underneath in black
he put Discuss peer counseling leadership
(Simon, Wade & Craig)
with a blue star.

"Simon raised a good point about
goals," said Graham. "What needs
to happen today so that you'll know
group therapy has been useful to you?
What will you remember and tell others
about that made this session worth
your effort to come here?"

"Oh, so now you want all of us
shilling for you," Bain said sourly.

"No," Graham said. "I only want
you to recommend this to your friends
if you find it useful and think they would too.
How are we doing on that score so far?"

Bain snorted at him and waved a hand
as if clearing smoke from the air. "Forget it."

"I've already gotten some helpful ideas
out of today's meeting," Ragno said.

"Yeah, I'm good," said Dustin.
He looked a little better too.
"My brain's getting full, though."

"We're winding down," Graham said.
"Anyone else want to add something?"

"I think it would help if we picked
one concrete thing to work on," Wade said.
"I'm still worried that we're going to get hit again ...
and maybe some other folks feel the same."

"All right, you'll find some goal worksheets
among your handouts," Graham said. "If you like,
you can write down a personal goal, with one step
to take toward it and one resource to help you."

Simon leaned forward. "Let's talk defense,"
he said seriously. "For a collective goal,
we can look over our position and resources.
First, does the prison have an action plan
for handling terrorist attacks in general
or cape fights in particular?"

"That was just a hit, not terrorism,"
Bain protested. "They only wanted
to kill Ragno, not blow up the building."

"Terrorism is anyone using fear
to get what they want," Simon said.
"I ought to know, I fought it in the army."

"Chayne is classified as a terror weapon
and banned pretty much everywhere except
a few bottom-ten countries," Graham said.
"Whoever made that attack definitely aimed
it at the whole community, because of the way
that chayne can spread. It could have
killed everyone here, horribly."

Even Bain blanched at that,
and Jimar's warm toffee skin was
taking on a distinct greenish tint.

Kenneth raised a hand. "The prison has
a whole file of emergency response plans,"
he said. "The ones available to inmates
pay a heap of points for reading them.
Trouble is, they're all dry as dirt, and
I'm not sure how current they are."

"Division of labor," Graham proposed.
"You check the prison's plans and
mark anything out-of-date for OSHA
or your staff union to refresh as needed.
I'll look up resources from Soup to Nuts
and SPOON about handling cape fights,
then see how much of that material
would fit the rules for sharing here."

"What about the rest of us?"
Kincade asked, looking around.

Graham thought for a moment, then said,
"Inmates make the rules for the social room.
Compare your list to the official list, and see
if you've remembered to cover safety steps
in case a problem breaks out in there."

"Again," Verne said, chuckling.

"Well, if our casualties are no worse
than a blender of wasted smoothie and
a stained sweater, I'll be happy," Graham said.

He updated the Plans page with the new entries:
Check prison guidelines for emergencies (Kenneth)
Check StN & SPOON resources for cape fights (Dr. G)
Check emergency rules in social room (Kincade).

Simon shifted in place, stretching his legs.
"We have about ten minutes left," he warned.
"Best start looking for a stopping point."

"All right, we've covered ground rules, concerns,
goals, and specific plans for the week," Graham said.
"Let's talk about boundaries and goodbyes."

"What's to talk about?" Verne said.

"Greetings and farewells vary a lot between
cultures," Graham said. "Kincade, Sanquez,
I know you're friends but do your gangs use
exactly the same handshakes or other gestures?"

"No," the two leaders chorused.

"So there are options. People may use a bow,
wave, fist bump, handshake, kiss -- all kinds
of things," Graham said. "Those change
based on social boundaries, how close
people are to each other, and their culture."

"And rules," Kenneth added. "We don't
allow intimate greetings here, it's not safe."

"Which brings me to my final point," Graham said.
"I'd like to propose the rock and water salute
as our standard gesture for this group."

"Like from the school program?" Wade said.
"I thought that was all self-defense and stuff."

"Yes, it covers self-defense, self-awareness,
self-control, and a variety of other useful things,"
Graham said. "If that appeals, I have materials.
But let's start with the salute. He demonstrated,
touching his left fist to his chest, covering it
with his right hand, and then bowing a little.
"It's polite, distinct, and requires no contact."

About half the group promptly returned
the salute, which was more than
Graham had really hoped for.

"Well done," he said. "I'll see you next time.

Papers shuffled and chairs squeaked as
most of the inmates hurried to leave the room.

Simon rolled out with Wade and Craig,
already discussing possibilities for
the peer counseling later.

Jimar hadn't budged, though,
and his grip on his own knees
bleached his brown knuckles tan.

Kincade leaned down to ask something,
and Jimar mumbled a reply that
Graham could not make out.

Travis pushed himself to his feet.
"Come on, Jimar, let's not make this
any harder than it has to be," he said,
walking over to reach for the young man.

Jimar bolted to the corner of the room
and vomited noisily into the potted palm tree.

"Hell, he's sick," Travis said.

"I can see that," Graham said. "Could you
hold off on the security for a while, please?
And Kincade, go see if Jimar will let you
take care of him for now -- he doesn't
know me well enough for that yet.
I need to notify Dr. Bloch."

Travis sat back down, evidently
content to monitor from a distance.

Kincade patted Jimar on the shoulder
and eventually got him settled on the floor,
although Jimar's shivering, rocking motion
made Graham worry as he watched.

The call to the infirmary went through,
and Graham described Jimar's symptoms
to Dr. Bloch, who sounded just as concerned.

Then Graham went to the door and told Hatrack
what had happened so that he would know
to expect someone from the infirmary,
keeping an eye on Jimar all the while.

Within minutes, a team of nurses arrived
to scoop Jimar onto a gurney.

"You gonna make any trouble?"
Travis asked, leaning over him.

"No," Jimar said. "Couldn't if I
wanted to, I feel like crap."

"Then there's no point cuffing you,"
Travis said, and turned to the nurses.
"Get him up, and I'll come along for security."

Graham was pleased that someone was
following the guidelines for use of restraints,
and reserving them for emergencies.

Shiv had gotten himself cuffed more than once,
but his damage often expressed itself with
physical misbehavior. Jimar seemed
more prone to implode than explode.

"Do you still feel sick?" one nurse asked Jimar.

"Oh yeah," he said. "Fuckin' awful trip."

"Okay, then we'll put you on your side
and make sure the safety webbing doesn't
dig into your belly," said the nurse.

After they wheeled Jimar away,
Graham heaved a noisy sigh.
"Well, that did not go as smoothly
as I hoped it would," he said.

Kincade gave a dry chuckle.
"Nobody picked a fight, and
nobody's bleedin' or dyin' either,"
he said. "One bad trip ain't the end
of the world or your little circus here.
You done good enough for me
to pass the word about it."

"Thank you," Graham said.
"That means a great deal to me."

Kincade wrapped one hand over
the other and bowed a little.
"You earned it, doc," he said.

Okay, maybe this first session
had been a success after all.

* * *


Matthew Hatrack
-- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short wavy brown hair. He is 6'6" tall and slender. A drawback of his height is that it makes everything cost more -- he doesn't fit most standard sizes of clothing or furniture. Hatrack serves as a security guard at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. Instead of relying on brute force, he uses the physics of reach and leverage to maintain control in a conflict -- and his psychological tactics follow similar lines. He practices mixed martial arts, drawing on Taekwondo for kicks that capitalize on his long legs, plus Aikido and Jiu-Jitsu for leverage techniques. He's always happy to lend a hand, and it's difficult to provoke him.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Tall, Good (+2) Helpful, Good (+2) Mixed Martial Arts, Good (+2) Physics, Good (+2) Security Guard
Poor (-2) Shopping Tall Costs More

Jimar Alvarez -- He has toffee skin, brown eyes, and black hair buzzed short in an attempt to make its loose nap less obvious. There are scars from defensive wounds all over his hands and forearms, including a particularly large machete scar on the outside of his left forearm and a horizonal slice clear across his left palm. His heritage is black and Hispanic. Because of that, he doesn't belong directly to Kincade or Sanquez, they kind of share him. Both of the senior gangsters feel a bit protective of Jimar because he's so vulnerable. He is currently serving time along with them in the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.
Jimar has an addictive personality. He has had problems with alcohol, various narcotics, softer drugs, food, and oxygen. Yes, really, he caught a bad chest infection once and it took the hospital weeks to wean him off the supplemental oxygen. He cannot seem to stay sober for very long, no matter what the penalties. Jimar uses whatever he can get to self-medicate for some serious emotional problems left over from childhood abuse -- his father attacked his mother, Jimar intervened, and both of them almost died. That's how Jimar wound up spending the rest of his childhood in the foster care system. He is actively terrified of his father, and his relationship with his mother is not good because she still loves the man despite all that violence. A Microfyne blanket might help.
Qualities: Good (+2) Friends in the 'Hood, Good (+2) Gangster, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Addictive Personality

Alejándro Duran -- He has fair skin that tans dark, green eyes, and dark brown hair cut short with a short beard and mustache. His parents are Puerto Rican but they moved to Nebraska in 1975. His heritage includes Spanish, Greek, and a little American. Alejándro has a Ñeta gang tattoo and shares their loathing of abusers. He has a serious tendency to hold grudges, too. He is currently serving time in the Nebraska State penitentiary in Lincoln, where he allies with other Hispanic inmates. He is one of Ragno's contacts for trading contraband.
Qualities: Good (+2) Loyal, Good (+2) Observant, Good (+2) Smuggler, Good (+2) Subtle, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Unforgiving

In T-America, the Ñeta gang specializes in "mellow" drugs, primarily hallucinogens and downers. Ñeta means "worm" in Spanish but also is an acronym for Never Ever Tolerate Abuse -- a reference to their violent vendetta against pedophiles, sex offenders, and other abusers.

Bain Callaway -- He has hair skin, brown eyes, and wavy dark blond hair. His skin is so oily that it breaks out in red blotches, and his hair looks greasy an hour after it's been washed. His unkempt appearance makes some people want to avoid him. He is currently serving time in the Nebraska State penitentiary in Lincoln, where he belongs to the Peckerwood gang. He has a woodpecker tattoo on his left leg. He is disrespectful and rude to most people.
Qualities: Good (+2) Drug Dealer, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Ingenuity, Good (+2) Networking
Poor (-2) Oily Skin

Dustin Hall -- He has tawny-fair skin, brown eyes, and curly black hair to his shoulders. His heritage includes Winnebago Omaha, Mexican, Nepalese, and American. He's been called everything from "spic" to "prairie nigger" -- also "spoon-licker" because he likes people with superpowers -- and is heartily sick of all of it. He is 21 years old.
Dustin used to handle supplies for Boss Batir in Lincoln, Nebraska until he was captured in a police raid on a weapons cache. He is currently in the Nebraska state penitentiary in Lincoln. There he networks with Ragno and some other inmates run the shadow economy of the prison. He's happy to deal in light contraband, doesn't really want to deal in weapons anymore, but feels conflicted about whether or not to return to his old boss. Who has done bupkis to help him in prison.
As a quartermaster, Dustin can find just about anything, anywhere, and enjoys the challenge of getting the goods. He is a people person, but until recently he hasn't been around very good people. He's very good friends with Ragno, and completely freaked by the chayne incident. Shiv made Dustin uneasy before the incident, and downright frightened after it.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Quartermaster Skills, Good (+2) Loyal, Good (+2) Supervillain Henchman, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Internalized Oppression

Craig Raybourne
-- He has brown skin, brown eyes, and black body hair. He is bald. He has tribal tattoos sleeving both arms from wrist to shoulder. The one on the right combines Maori designs and Celtic knotwork, which he got on a trip to New Zealand just after graduating from college. He serves as a security guard at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. While he excels at bringing people together, he is also easily swayed by his peers.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Strength, Good (+2) Emotional Intelligence, Good (+2) Influencing People, Good (+2) Prison Guard, Good (+2) Teamwork
Poor (-2) Prone to Groupthink

Kenneth Newberry -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and thinning brown hair. He serves as a security guard at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. He provides a mellow, balancing influence both on the inmates and the younger guards. He was not present during the chayne incident, but its impact on the prison community has upset him.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Buffering Skills, Expert (+4) Prison Guard, Good (+2) Alert, Good (+2) Equanimity
Poor (-2) No Longer Speedy

Percivale "Percy" Druckenmiller -- He has fair skin, hazel eyes, and short brown hair. He is in jail for embezzling massive amounts of money from charities, because the shortfall of funds contributed to a number of deaths. He is not sorry and not popular. However, he remains an expert observer of people, and that makes him useful in networking within the prison system. He is currently serving time in the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. He was Ragno's cellmate until the chayne incident, after which he bailed because Ragno needed more extra help than Percy was willing to provide. Percy tends to avoid people who ask him to do things for them.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Businessman, Expert (+4) Observant, Good (+2) Charming When He Wants To Be, Good (+2) Collectible Cards, Good (+2) Networking
Poor (-2) Unhelpful

* * *

Page One
Standard text in black ink
Good things in green with a smiling face
Bad things in red with a frowning face
Pay extra attention in blue with a star

In black:

A hand in black with Presence, Safety, Discretion, Respect, and Honesty in blue counting along the thumb and fingers.

Page Two
Concerns at the top in blue

Below in red:
Troubled sleep
Further attacks
(with a picture of a jail on fire)
Panic attacks
Feeling overwhelmed
Communal trauma
Discrimination against soups
(with a blue halo around it)
Difficulty controlling temper
Feeling numb
I made mistakes

Page Three
Goals at the top in blue

What do we want to achieve in group therapy? in black
In green Improve self-worth ___ Learn Coping Skills To ...
Emergency preparedness
___ * Calm down
Community repair ___ * Relax
Making amends ___ * Sleep better
Release guilt ___ * Reduce aggression
Forgiveness ___ * Reconnect with people
Reduce substance abuse
Learn peer counseling
Heal the damage

Page Four
Plans at the top in blue

Underneath in black with blue stars:
* Discuss peer counseling leadership (Simon, Wade & Craig)
* Check prison guidelines for emergencies (Kenneth)
* Check StN & SPOON resources for cape fights (Dr. G)
* Check emergency rules in social room (Kincade)

* * *

"We can learn the art of fierce compassion -- redefining strength, deconstructing isolation and renewing a sense of community, practicing letting go of rigid us-vs.-them thinking -- while cultivating power and clarity in response to difficult situations."
-- Sharon Salzberg

This is one of several small multipurpose rooms that can be used for visiting, classes, group therapy, games, and so forth.

This quiet room is near the multipurpose room shown above, in the central hub. It has indoor-outdoor carpeting, a couple of chairs, sturdy foam footstools, and a foam windowseat. This is one of the most popular overflow rooms for stressful therapy or other group activities when someone gets overloaded and needs a break. It uses a sliding sign to designate occupancy, an advantage of which is being able to set the thing halfway to indicate "someone is already inside, but more people are welcome."

Flip charts are giant notebooks used in meetings to display text or images for everyone to see, typically supported by an easel. Understand how to use a flip chart to create a visual language through illustrations and words.

Group therapy offers many benefits, among them the opportunity to address communal issues that cannot be resolved through individual sessions alone. This type of therapy is led by counselors with relevant credentials; Graham has plenty of relevant experience. Here are answers to some questions people raise about the usefulness and practice of group therapy, and a typical handout for a first session.

Peer counseling is a type of self-help group, popular with folks who don't feel comfortable with more formally trained counselors. It has the advantage of passing on practical experience from people who know what it's like to deal with this kind of problem. In this case, Simon is leaning on his background in dealing with terrorism and traumatic stress. Learn about how to lead a peer counseling group.

Trauma-informed care makes allowances for the needs and challenges of people who have survived something horrible, instead of demanding that they be okay already before allowing them any help. This approach improves both safety and outcomes.

Communal trauma covers the range of stress responses following a large incident which affects a community as a whole. Local examples include war and natural disasters; in Terramagne, soup fights are a leading category. Group counseling has proven helpful in treating collective trauma, and can also serve as a support for individual therapy.

Some keys to effective group therapy include leadership skills and having two leaders. There are simple and more complicated rules commonly used in group therapy. Regrettably, these often function as barriers which discourage people from seeking help because they cannot or are unwilling to meet those demands, or they try and fail. Framing desired behavior as ideals instead of obligations lowers the bar so that damaged people feel more willing to make the attempt, and normalizes mistakes as part of the healing process. Practice guidelines cover the processes and useful questions to ask. There are tips on how to get the most out of group therapy and exercises for therapy groups.

An emotional spotter is someone who provides support during difficult intrapersonal or interpersonal work, much like a spotter in a gym helps people lifting weights or doing acrobatics.

Loneliness is a devastating condition which causes health problems as severe as those caused by obesity, smoking, or alcohol. It can come from isolation, or just social distance. Understand how to fight loneliness.

Self-worth comes from a realistic awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses and the inherent worth of your personhood. Here is a handout on self-worth. There are ways to build self-worth and increase your sense of it.

It's important to assess the effectiveness of therapy and not just assume it's working because it's supposed to work. Sometimes people have difficulties with it. Consider whether therapy is doing more good or doing more harm overall.

Handouts can help people understand more about triggers, trauma, boundaries, and self-respect. They can help identify thought distortions, find alternative thoughts, and stop intrusive thoughts. Self-assessment can support individual therapy, personal goals, and group goals. Notice that Graham is choosing a lot of handouts that use plenty of visual aids along with the text, because on average prison inmates have poor reading skills.

Body language can signal trouble through such signs as stiff interlaced fingers, rocking, and curling. Anxiety often leads to fretful, jittery motions. Depression may include mumbling and looking away, slow movements and lack of expression. Aggression appears in harsh poses and forceful movements.

In group therapy, there are helpful questions to ask and suggestions on setting goals. Here is a worksheet with three goals and several steps under each. This two-goal worksheet includes people who can support the goals. A single goal worksheet may focus on deadline, steps, and signs of completion.

Symptoms of drug use overlap into signs of overdose, such as shaking, sweating, and vomiting. Contamination can occur through improper production in the lab and/or introduction of unsafe ingredients later. Here the prison's increased security has blocked some of the earlier, less-risky routes and driven the supply line into places where the product picks up contaminants in transit. The Peckerwoods don't really have high professional standards.

Group dynamics in prison tend to involve a lot of gangs. In this setting, Kincade heads up the biggest group of blacks, Sanquez heads up the biggest group of Hispanics, and the two of them are now allies so that minimizes conflicts between those two groups as long as people stay alert and sort out disputes as soon as they start. The white gangs are smaller but more troublesome, and the main advantage is simply that they aren't a unified cohort. The Skinheads are the largest in that set, followed by the Peckerwoods, and then the Dirty White Boys. The Peckerwoods are the ones smuggling in the hard drugs. In this particular prison, the Dirty White Boys have the smaller gang, so the Skinheads and Peckerwoods don't allow them to smuggle drugs; and as a result, it's mostly a sport-team gang banding together for mutual support rather than having a criminal focus. Below that it's "cars" or small groups of people who form up for support, not really a gang. Whites are a minority in this prison, and there are handfuls of other races including Italian, various Asian, and the local tribes of Native American.

Trauma often causes acute stress reaction shortly after the event. It is normal for bad things to upset people, and some individuals get a lot more upset than others. Prompt support can help reduce the percentage of ASR that congeals into chronic problems such as PTSD.

The Bumper Room
is a space with colorful padding and soft foam shapes, useful for inmates in physical meltdown mode. It gives people a space to calm down, where they can't easily hurt themselves or anything else, but doesn't leave them staring at blank walls. This is one of Dr. Bloch's innovations, and he couldn't find exactly what he wanted, so he cobbled together what he could out of children's therapy catalogs. This one is part of the infirmary section.

Coping skills help people get through challenges, and they have many benefits. Here are some coping skills to try. Know how to learn new ones, help someone else learn some, and measure their effectiveness.

Stress and PTSD can be contagious. Know how to avoid transmitting or catching them.

Leg body language can say a lot. Leaning back and stretching the legs forward is a relaxed signal, while crossing the legs is a closed pose. Taken together they show casual self-restraint, which Travis uses to communicate that he's not planning to make trouble here.

The Rock and Water program teaches a variety of useful skills. See handouts for the salute, self-worth, compliments vs. insults, and sportsmanship.

When teaching about healthy boundaries, it helps to explain personal space, relationship levels, and personal boundaries. Here Graham discusses what actions are appropriate for different levels, aiming to find a greeting/farewell gesture that suits the fairly low intimacy level. There are ways to teach people about respectful boundaries and personal space.

Lovely, thought-provoking... and optimistic.

Date: 2016-02-16 01:08 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I think I needed the signs of optimism most, after spending too much time in DC Comics "storytelling."

I'm still thinking over my reactions and interpretations, even though this isn't the first time I've read the piece, and that's even better than a quick bit of "fun reading."

Re: Lovely, thought-provoking... and optimistic.

Date: 2016-02-16 07:42 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I am at this moment writing the scene which MUST happen before your actual prompt fill, so you and the other prompters will get two sturdy, complete stories instead of the first-draft fill.

The point? It touches upon the exact same issue, from Graham's viewpoint. While it shows an unusual avenue of support (and pressure, sadly!), it also shows how sane people deal with the people who are actively making the problem worse!

(no subject)

Date: 2016-02-16 01:09 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
I find myself liking this bunch of mixed inmates and guards, with the exception of Bain, despite the fact that the majority of the bunch are *in* rather than working at the prison. These guys read like the residents of a sometimes-rough but overall decent neighborhood, rather than a roomful of criminals. Yes, I know at least one of them is in for murder and several are hip deep in organized crime. That does not seem to matter to my brain!

Poor Jimar. :( I can't do much more than pity the guy at this point, post my first full readthrough.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-02-16 08:22 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I was amused by Hatrack -- Russ' online nick is Werehatrack!

Bain has a bad case of thinking the worst of everyone. Are the Peckerwoods the white gang? How much does racism get into the prisoner dynamics?

Percy is a white-collar criminal. I'm not surprised that he's a dick to people he would perceive as his social inferiors.

So Many Poems

Date: 2016-05-28 07:21 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
The wonderful wordsmith has written and posted so much recently that I can't keep up with everything I'd like to offer detailed feedback on ... so I'm starting from the currently-poseted chronological end of some serial poetry threads I find interesting, and commenting on those.

>> were currently arranging the comfortable chairs
and couches into a long, loose oval <<

A key difference between two types of space assigned for people to study, meet, talk or whatever in: the ones where they feel like they can rearrange things usefully and get settled, and the ones where they physically or socially cannot move stuff around or relax. The former are much more useful than the latter. Encouraging people to choose their seats and move things a bit if needed, and having a general set-up tailored to the activity, helps people to feel safer and more connected, and to know that the things or conversation partners that they need are handy. It has some of the same good effects as a full-body “icebreaker” game but is much easier to sell to people and doesn’t have the same risks or requirements as something requiring physical contact. The optional, casual nature of “oh, okay, let’s move the chairs and make a circle, maybe we need one more over here” helps people be a team before they’ve even sat down.

>> providing an outlet in case anyone got overloaded <<

Sensible forward planning for any endeavor involving learning, dealing with stressful occurrences, or bringing a number of probably-twitchy people together in one room - and this is all three.

>> I volunteered so that the guys on duty then could join
the session if they want. <<

I’m amazed and a little concerned that the guards and the inmates are functioning almost as peers for the purpose of attending this meeting. It’s T-America, I believe they can pull it off, but I can’t quite grok it, even though I can see how it will be good if it works.

>> I was told
to synchronize my vidwatch with yours for
a panic button <<

A sensible precaution for Dr. G, and it helps keep us readers in the setting, and balances the friendliness of earlier with a reminder of real concerns. I don’t know very much about prisons, but I can tell this distinctly is a *Terramagne* prison nonetheless.

>> He made a point of testing the markers
by writing Standard text in black ink,
Good things in green with a smiling face,
Bad things in red with a frowning face, and
Pay extra attention in blue with a star <<

Which helps him by making sure his materials are ready, but also gives anyone coming in a clue what to expect. Using colors to organize and a mix of text and pictures add a visual-processor-friendly element to written information; discuss it, and you’ve added audio and social; have people write themselves in multicolor, and you’ve added a bit of kinesthetic mode. That doesn’t mean you can *only* talk and write things down even if you are doing all of it but it does make it a good solid basis for anchoring the thread of information as you move from topic to topic and day to day. (This also is not accessible to people who have an inability to use English text or color-codes or group discussion, rather than simply a strong preference for a certain learning or processing mode. But I trust Dr. G to make arrangements - maybe something that will come up with Ragno or Jimar or a peer further down the line? I bet you’ve got at least one extremely dyslexic person in any given group of inmates, even a self-selected interested-in-therapy group.)


I enjoyed this poem because I related to it from the point of view of Dr. G., but could also imagine being some random guy in the room wincing and hoping people would say the stuff so I didn't have to. The focus on community repair of a community problem is just incrediblely cool. And needs to be replicated.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-07-04 07:16 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
More: <3


ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)

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