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Discomfort can be useful
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 08/16/2010

Bat This story seems too strange to be real. Yet, those who know me are aware of my reputation for telling the truth. When I got home from the ACA conference, there was a small bat trying to stay afloat in the ten gallon fish tank. The goldfish was still there, but the additional creature vexed me.

The bat, clearly out of its element, flapped furiously as I used the net to liberate it from a watery doom. Mindful of the potential of rabies, I maneuvered it into a plastic cup and released it into a dark bush.

Once the task was complete, a flood of questions cascaded through the tendrils of my mind. How did the bat get in the house? Of all of the places in the house, why did it land in the fish tank? How long was it there? Do bats swim when necessary? Could anything make me as uncomfortable as this little, winged rodent?

Let’s face it: Discomfort can be useful. It can come in the form of a lengthy panel interview. Or, we feel it when we see vermin scatter across the floor of what we thought was a pest free home. Discomfort is manifested in many things. Who, for example, prefers extreme temperatures to moderate? It is simple: almost all of us do not want to be uncomfortable.

We in corrections understand what it is to undergo discomfort when compared to the general public. We work in a confined place in which others fear to tread. We deal with a population that is potentially dangerous and does not wish to be there. Everything that we do (or forget to do) can have a profound impact on operations. Quite simply, our daily routine would put those not used to it into a fit of anxiety.

Still, think back to when you walked through the secure perimeter. Before you were used to the routine, the clang of the door sent chills through your body. And even when one acclimates to the nuances of a correctional facility, there arise occasional reminders of the gravity of the situation. For example, if on a normal day a seven inch metal shank is found, discomfort levels will naturally rise.

That anxiety is useful, as we shift into a more vigilant mode. Discomfort tells us that there is danger. When the hair raises on one’s neck, it indicates that there had better be fight or flight. Without discomfort, we would more easily fall prey to other forces. Our senses heighten as we react to the immediate threat. A cavalier attitude towards a dangerous situation simply is not natural.

Discomfort gives us an opportunity to solve problems. When something is particularly uncomfortable, it fuels us with an intellectual energy, perfect for brain storming. Finding a threatening note brings us together to find the author and to look out for each other more.

Discomfort lets us learn about our differing levels of tolerance. We can gauge the strengths and weaknesses of colleagues and offenders when things are not normal and comfortable. An overall feeling of anxiety can tell us volumes about ourselves and others.

To be faced with a water-logged bat upon a return home is really a one in a million occurrence. I do not expect to see this again. However, like any discomfort, it gave me a chance to consider security. It pulled me from my comfort zone and allows us to grow and adapt in an instant. Questions remain about the bat. But the discomfort was useful as an impetus to troubleshoot and reevaluate.

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  2. faye_low on 08/11/2010:

    Thanks Mr. Bouchard. in the same vein as your story, when we invite volunteers and providers into a facility it is important for them to understand that we become responsible for their safety. They need to understand the staff to inmate ration and that the presence of 'outsiders' increases the risk for everyone. They need to know that staff coverage changes are made to accomodate their visit. They need to know the impact of these necessary changes. Families have asked me 'why do you make it so hard to visit and why can't I bring my small child?' and i've explained the above and that on visiting days many other inmates and others that we don't know well are in the facility. Family and friends need to be informed that we are responsible for their safety too. I am sure that there are more considerations I've overlooked. After all, I am working in parole now. F

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