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Absurd Words
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 05/04/2015

Oops The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

This classroom exercise works well with a module on writing for the corrections profession.

Writer rule! There are those who can wrestle unmanageable concepts and put them into a logical and readable order. They transform the nebulous and confusing into sensible ideas that can be put into practice by everyone.

Yet, with the written word, we see so much of what can be labeled as nonsense:

Bigfoot to run for Oregon Senate seat
Martians dog-napped my terrier
France declares national “Jerry Lewis Day”
Tiny aliens prank consumers by making crop circles
in unopened peanut butter
Baby eats cinderblock – and lives!

Headlines of this sort stare at us from the magazine racks in our local retailers. Editors have even been known to compile these “stories” in book form.

What use are these? Perhaps ninety-eight percent of us read them as a silly form of entertainment. The other two percent believe these to be true – which is certainly one’s personal prerogative.

In corrections, we can use these sorts of yarns to emphasize points to corrections staff who wish to write for the profession.

This exercise requires almost no materials. The facilitator needs just to select a tabloid-like tale and read it to the class, then ask a series of questions about its quality. Any trainer with an ounce of creativity (and, perhaps, a sardonic nature) can write their own. I created one and am providing it below as an example. In my experience, it is best to read the “news item” with a straight face and with a serious tone.

“Please listen carefully to the following. This is a news item that I have just come across. It may be of interest to you:

Police in Roseville, Michigan, report a new problem in law enforcement. An older model car, which calls itself ‘Booick’, has enlisted the help of the ACLU to fight the winter parking ban on streets, claiming it is a violation of civil rights.

This all started when twenty-two year old Calvin England, inventor and entrepreneur, programmed intelligence into his rebuilt 1977 Buick Century. England says, “I have tried putting sentience into imports, Dodges and Fords. However, my best luck comes with A-body models from General Motors built before 1984. They seem most receptive to this sort of enhancement.”

England, a student in the technology program at Macomb Community College, was surprised that his creation would take a political stand on certain issues. “Booick is generally easy going – rarely rebellious. He believes that the parking ban would restrict his movement unnecessarily. He indicated to me that an unfair curfew was being imposed on him. This is particularly silly, as Booick is over 30 years old.”

“The car is an intelligent being and deserves equal rights according to the law. It has the ability to think and to talk,” says Lucy Adam, attorney for the 1977 Buick Century. “It is the same as restricting a certain group of people from walking on a certain street at a pre-selected time. This is discrimination, plain and simple!”

Legal bills mount for the perplexed municipality and the populace is divided.

Veteran police Chief Rachel Campbell states that the enforcement of parking bans is crucial in maintaining snow-free roads in Roseville. “Without the ban, our plows could not clear the streets. It is a safety issue and no car should have the right to dictate which statutes we should follow.”

On the advice of attorney Lucy Adam, the Buick refused to comment."

As you conclude, you may look around the classroom to gauge the mood of the participants. Ask them what they thought of the article. Invariably, I have had classrooms tell me things like: “That was horrible!” “That’s stupid!”

This is where the instructor needs to ask questions to show the value of this style of writing:
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Was there a sense of authenticity?
  • Did the author paint a believable background?
  • Were the quotes in the article somewhat believable?
  • Did the author alliterate or use other good writing techniques?
  • Was the imagery descriptive?
  • Is it memorable?
With those questions posed to the class, I have witnessed a collective look below the surface of a seemingly absurd set of words. One of the primary lessons is that there are many components that make great writing, even if the topic is of dubious nature.

Of course, this can be applied to corrections in general. The surface of anything does not represent the full story. So many components comprise the whole account.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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