BMW is often synonymous with wealth, and sometimes that can be a terrible assumption, and sometimes it can be beneficial.
Driving on the freeway and someone cuts in front of your BMW and then slams their brakes in an attempt to cause you to rear-end them... Well that'd be the terrible assumption.
In my case it was.
The wealth-image was a facade to be sure. My car was a 1981, 2-door model, factory white paint job. It looked nice at a glance.
You couldn't see many of the dings and chips out of the paint, the fading logo on the hood. What you saw was a BMW with the iconic grill, and recognizable logo on the hubcaps.
And me of course; neatly trimmed beard, brown hair tied back in a ponytail, clean clothes but nothing fancy. At a glance, it was wealth on wheels, and some people attempted to take advantage of that (completely inaccurate) perspective.
I was a poor human-services worker, and attempting to get money from me for any reason (bills included) was a futile effort at best.
My finances looked like most American’s finances: paycheck to paycheck.
Ok so it's not very exciting to say nothing ever happened, but there it is: I'm a good driver and I never let anyone do that to me.
My excitement came from the way this image worked to my advantage!
On my way to work one morning, I was planning to test out how well my little car could handle cornering. Driving toward my right turn at 40mph in a 30mph zone, I saw a police car waiting to turn left.
I saw the police officer looking directly at my speeding car. Something defiant in me rose up and stopped my foot from touching the brake.
The cop was still watching me, but that wasn’t enough to make me overcome my defiant urge to see if I could get away with not braking when I made my turn at nearly 40mph.
As I got about 30 feet from the turn I noticed the cop suddenly looked away. Part of me believed I was about to get busted, but she looked away! I was literally speeding right at her, then I took the turn, cornered at almost 40 mph, and she never gave me a second glance! That might not sound like its very fast, but I assure you two things: 1. it’s too fast to make a 90 degree turn safely in most vehicles. So please don’t interpret this as a challenge! 2. Most cops develop the skill of being able to accurately determine a car’s speed just by watching it.
I am positive that my accelerated cornering looked at least a little reckless.
Replaying that scenario repeatedly while at work, I realized that the cop was guilty of the same assumption that all those rear-end scammers were.
Maybe she thought I had enough money (and therefore, influence) that I could make her life hell if she ticketed me.
Maybe she thought I was someone important, or maybe the son of such a person.
Whatever the reason, I felt like I had been handed a get out of jail free card!
I spoke to my coworkers about this concept, however it was met with little interest and less belief.
Fine, but I know what I saw, and I trust my instincts. My instincts were screaming that I had it right on the nose with this idea. Over the time I had that car, I had more than one cop look away as I was speeding at them (yes, I tested the theory repeatedly and was never pulled over in that car).
My coworkers didn't have to believe me, I knew what was up.
Why did I care, or even bother to mention this? Well, things like this were simply little accents that provided temporary amusement from the stress of the job. And what I did for a living required such accents and distractions. What I did to get money to live was something I will never forget, and something I will never stop being effected by.
I used to tell my daughter that my job was to turn monsters into humans.
I used to say that I had to put on my mental battle armor and head into the black snake pit that was the world I worked in.
So, what did I do in the human services field that I would be inclined to refer to as a black snake pit?
I worked at a group home for developmentally disabled sex offenders.
What does that mean?
It’s like this: A for-profit or non-profit company that “specializes” in taking care of developmentally disabled people, owns or rents a house (maybe in your neighborhood), stocks it (like a fish pond, or a zoo) with intellectually disabled adults that have gotten in trouble with the law for being sexually inappropriate with people in the community (children, peer-age men and/or women of every degree of physical and mental fitness, the elderly, or animals), then they hire people with little to no qualifications to follow a support plan written by similarly-qualified people, for very little compensation. These “staff” let’s call them, are expected to learn and follow plans of care such as: media screens, therapy “homework”, contraband searches, missing person plans, community safety plans, behavior support plans, etc. etc.
One would hope a person is qualified to attend to the specific needs of those kinds of individuals as to ensure the safety of people like you and your children. Most companies require only that a hired person have graduated from high school, and that they’ll show up for-and are able to stay awake on their shift. They are often referred to by admin as “warm bodies”.
When I came to the company, I had many years of experience under my belt, however, in a field that changes its goals and shifts its focus so frequently, even long time experience sometimes doesn't help much.
For example; the difference between behavior management and behavior support is a topic so deep and vast that it could easily make the rest of this book be about just that.
And the book would be bigger than it is.
By a lot.
When I was hired at this company, I was told that they were trying something new. Something big, and they wanted to assemble a team of "super staff".
No one with less than 2 years experience would be hired to work at that specific program. I was of course, very flattered that they wanted me to work there, and my head was filled with ideas of the future.
The main idea being that this is an opportunity handed to me that could lead to bigger things like; titles and money and respect.
Things we don't get much of doing the work we do.
Well, upon deeper reflection I realize we have plenty of titles.
Some of the most unique titles you've ever heard actually (try this one out: Program Compliance Officer....ya it's just one of many admin creates to make themselves feel important), but money?
Sometimes, but it's a rare commodity. Mostly you just get told about all the crap you've done wrong, and often without any clear guidance as to how to fix it.
So I was pretty thrilled at first to be asked to work there. Typically what happens when you are a new employee is you get sent to some group home that is the most in need of staffing.
You get "trained" to work there, and until you state that you want to be "trained" at a different program (group home within the same company), you are stuck there. That is what I was expecting.
Being asked to be a part of a special group of "super staff" at a brand new program; one that was something this company had never tried before? Well, that felt pretty special.
I felt like I was special. I bet most of the other staff did too.
Now I'm not saying or even trying to imply that they were lying to us, but at the end, looking back, that's sure how it feels.
I should have realized it immediately since none of us received any specialized training.
We were put to work, caring for the lives of high-functioning developmentally disabled sex offenders, and aside from the mandatory trainings the state dictates we have, there was nothing unique about our program's training.
There it is right there: a unique program, super staff assembled, no unique training.
Hindsight sees all.
We all realized it pretty fast though; the need for specialized training. We asked for it. Several times a year for over five years we asked for it.
Ah, another clue!
No specialized training was given to us during the five-plus years I worked there, and the reason for it is at the heart of why this book exists.
We were told that one of the functions of our job would be to perpetuate the therapy of the clients (let's call the people we were supporting: clients - we used their state-funded money to pay us to care for them, so they were our clients. In this field of work, “client” has become a naughty word to use regularly. It’s deemed to not be in the spirit of the “person-centered” movement).
That's a tall order since none of us were therapists ourselves.
Nor did any of us receive specialized training (have I mentioned that yet?), but we were expected to perpetuate the therapy the clients were undergoing.
How does one do this?
It's really not as complicated as it sounds. I believe most of us "super staff" had studied some psychology in college and had done enough people-watching in our lives that we were able to do little counseling sessions and assist with therapeutic homework assignments.
This was a specialty of mine since I actually had intended to become a therapist when I first set out to college.
My knowledge base was a bit more encompassing than my coworkers, and being able to observe, counsel and ultimately determine what is causing a person to behave in any specific manner, made me a leader among the "super staff".
Often at meetings I would educate the staff (my manager included) as to the reasons behind any given behaviors or incidents.
My insight was valued so much that I was often the one staff to have meetings with the therapists, and ultimately the one to be their voice to the program.
When our county-funded mental health program shut down, my manager and I were the only non-county staff invited to their going away luncheon.
This is a look at the broad picture and not really all that interesting, but it's noteworthy.
I do want to start somewhere close to the beginning before I get to the middle, let alone the end, so let me tell about sleeping on the job!
Less than three months on the job, I kicked off my shoes, laid back on the couch and fell asleep.
Let me tell you why I wasn't fired…
Seems like everyone loves football.
I don't hate it, but I'd much rather play it than watch it. I imagine I'll always feel that way, even when I'm too old to physically do it.
The guys I worked with, as well as one of the sex offenders I was charged with taking care of, loved the game. So when Super Bowl time arrives, it stirs up all those testosterone fueled bursts of excitement that so many men are prone to. It's a rare day I am overcome with excitement to the point of spontaneously exploding with enthusiasm. Uptight much? Yeah, maybe a little. I prefer to think of it as, “appropriately restrained”...
So when other men are sharing "YEAH!"'s and, "WOOOO!"'s, I'm the guy in the back sighing and mumbling under my breath about how silly it all is.
Much of my life as a youth revolved around playing sports and being active.
Skateboarding, softball, football, soccer, and martial arts.
This is the filter through which I process my enthusiasm for sports.
It's difficult for me to watch any sport on tv, but it's my opinion that American football and baseball are boring.
I need to just state this to get it off my chest: fútball is the "world's game". You play it with a ball and you use your feet.
Hence the name.
American football is played with something resembling a ball and is played almost exclusively with your hands.
Fútball is a game with almost no rest periods other than scheduled quarters and the occasional (or frequent depending on the team) penalty.
American football is a stop-and-go process that's always reminded me of those bad driving days where you hit every damn red light in your path.
It's also so formulaic that every game is a predictable version of any other game.
First down is a pass play.
Second down is a running play where the quarterback hands the ball to the running back who then inevitably will run into the pack of guys that are all clumped together.
Once in a great while this will pay off and the running back will break through the group and make some yards.
Most of the time he will make a yard or less of forward progress and it'll be time for third down.
Third down is either a pass or another run attempt.
Fourth down is either a punt, or a field goal attempt (one of the only times in the game that a single player will actually touch the "ball" with their foot).
Repeat until game is eventually over. Yes, sometimes something that appears remarkable happens, such as a player returning a kick off from the one yard line to run the length of the field and make a touchdown, or the quarterback spontaneously altering the play and running the ball himself because no one was open to pass to. Overturning the ruling on a play. An amazing interception or sacking of the quarterback. Maybe blocking a field goal attempt. These things appear to be amazing, however they are actually just inevitable deviations from the formula of the routine strategies commonly employed by all teams from kids league to professional. You see these amazing things happen in all levels of play without fail, and that is because there are only a limited amount of these occurrences that can take place within the parameters of the formula. Essentially making them part of the formula. Seeing it in this light makes them a little less amazing, and creates the idea that these feats are really what we are watching the game for. Ultimately to see someone do something amazing. Break out of the formula and show us it’s possible to be more than we are. I guess that’s not so bad, but it still puts me to sleep when I watch it.
When I think of American football, that's what comes to mind.
That and the unnerving image of a bunch of guys in spandex bending over in front of each other, then grabbing and shoving and tackling each other...
Those thoughts hardly elicit a "WOOOOOO!" response from me. More of a disturbed shudder and thoughts of escape.
So, there I was, a Sunday afternoon, housework was done.
Paperwork was done.
Super Bowl was about to begin.
The guys were hyped and ready to watch! I tried my best to get into it, but it was hard. I wound up sitting on the couch, then laying on the couch.
I clearly remember thinking these words; "who the fuck is making that loud snoring sound?"
That's when it hit me!
I snapped awake and checked the clock. Twenty minutes. That's it.
Only twenty minutes.
I looked at my coworker and my client. They were sunk into the couch they were on (there were two couches), and so into the game that they never noticed me sleeping or snoring.
I felt relieved about that, however I've made a point not to be that guy.
The one that does stupid crap like falling asleep on the job.
My dad raised me better than that.
American football put me to sleep!
Still, no harm done right?
If only that were true!
While I was asleep, the other client came out of his room, saw me sleeping on what he thought of as "his couch", returned to his room, and then returned to the living room with his Polaroid camera in hand.
He did not like me.
None of the clients really liked me. I was ok with that. I wasn’t there to be their pal. I was being paid to do a job, and it wasn’t to be their friend. I’d never allow myself to be a paid friend. Do you pay people to be your friend? Didn’t think so.
Mostly they didn’t like me because I kept them on task with their therapy, and was quickly developing a remarkably accurate internal lie detector. Since most everything that came out of the clients’ mouths were lies, being able to see that and call them on it made me very unpopular.
I'm sure I hold the record for most grievances filed against me by clients.
Again, this was behavior management, not behavior support, so what I did and said while there might, or would be considered abusive by the standards of current person-centered practices, it was therapy when I was doing it.
And I was thanked for my efforts by management.
In this case though, management wanted to have a chat with me since the client with the Polaroid turned in his pic of me sleeping in an attempt to get me fired.
So I talked to my boss about it on Monday. He said he understood what happened, agreed with my opinion/assessment of American football, and somehow through mysterious circumstances, lost (destroyed) the picture/evidence.
Life for you and your crop. Stand and be true. Thankee sai, gunslinger.
You will always have a place of fondness in my heart. That could have been the end of my employment at that company but as I said, I might have the record for most grievances filed against me, and this was the first of those many ugly things.
That meant that it wasn't within my manager’s power to squash.
I needed to meet with the company's "behavior specialist" to discuss what happened and how to proceed. This man started the sex offender program I was working in. He was the one who recruited me into it.
Here it was three months later and he's become a behavior specialist, and our assistant manager was now our manager.
Let's call the behavior specialist, Gordo.
So I sit down at the office with this man I respect.
I thought very highly of him due to his knowledge and insight, so I felt horrible that I was in a position that could be perceived as disappointing. Of course I wanted him to recognize my knowledge and insight as I did his, but something like this can easily make that idea a moot point.
He asked me to explain what happened, so I did.
Even the, "who's making that fucking snoring sound?" part.
He thought the whole thing was very humorous and suggested next time I just try to find something around the house to do to stay occupied.
Even cleaning something that's already been cleaned. I assured him it would never happen again. I worked there for five and a half more years and I stayed true to my word. Just for the record: I’ve never fallen asleep at work since then at any job, and it’s been a great number of years. How many? Don’t make me do math. I was born with a defective math gene...
I also let him know that aside from the manager and my weekend shift partner, falling asleep wasn't anything any of the other staff haven't done. I literally have witnessed all the other staff napping at one time or another. I wanted to see if he would try to punish everyone, or if my theory that it's too many people to punish at once with no evidence would pan out.
He didn't really care that much, nevertheless I wasn't about to go down for something that seemed like an epidemic.
This turned out to be a great meeting and one that I'll never forget because what happened next was so profound that it changed the way I thought about what I was doing.
I’d had tons of experience in the human services field up to that point, but never with high functioning sex offenders. I had a 2 year old daughter at that time, and I couldn't shake the thought that either of these clients would be happy to sexually abuse her given the chance. Both clients had a preference for very young boys, but they'd be ok with a little girl if that's the only thing available.
This thought led to another: they are not people.
They are monsters that look like people.
A thought like that will make you hate your job and that will cause you to make mistakes which leads to being fired.
Here's the scary realization within that; those mistakes that get you fired are caused by your subconscious desire to get fired. I won't go into the psychology of that, but it's true.
So when Gordo asked me if I had anything else I wanted to discuss, I said yes.
I said, "I'm having a hard time not thinking of the clients as monsters. It's making me feel like I can't go to work. These guys would hurt my little daughter if they could and I can't seem to shake the thought that they're monsters that look like people."
What he said next changed everything in a single moment, and despite the unfortunate events that were waiting five years down the road, I will always respect Gordo for how he responded to me in that moment.
He said, "Well Hyuri, the truth is that they are monsters. However, it's not our job to judge them. It's our job to find their humanity and nurture it."
I was stunned. I hadn't even considered such a thing. That realization shamed me because I really thought I was better than I actually was, but more profound was the realization that I could do what he said.
I told him so. Yes, I can do that. I will.
From that moment on, I took it upon myself to understand as well as possible, what made them the way they are, and what could possibly be done to help them be more human than monster. It was a mission, and I was on it!
I went back to work with a new perspective. I felt empowered and ready to do some good in the world.
Little did I know that what I had agreed to do, what I was enthused and geared up to do, was enter a long battle.
A battle that would end, for me, years later. I learned how to create and wear mental battle armor (as previously noted).
I created the philosophy that my mind is a blade so I can cut through the bullcrap.
That's a colorful way to put it, but one of the most important life lessons is all about how your view of the world depends on your perspective.
Watch, Return of the Jedi. Obi Wan Kenobi says it best; "Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view."
With this in mind, I decided that I would lead the super staff in any way I could, perpetuate the client's therapy to the best of my ability, and prove to myself that no problem was beyond my ability to solve.
Too bad for me (and everyone involved) that life/fate/admin had different ideas.
It would take a long time for me to realize what was really going on behind the scenes.
When I learned the ugly truth of what was going on, it was like a dirty bomb (lots of radiation) had exploded in our work space.