|By Corporal William Young
You know that one scene in that one movie where the super-sized, highly skilled, and overly aggressive ex-Special Forces guy is holding the under-sized and unassuming main character by the back of his neck, repeatedly plunging his head into an old dirty claw-foot bathtub full of water that is surprisingly clear, because he is looking for some answer to some question that the hero doesn’t have? The ex-Special Forces guy holds our hero’s head under water for several seconds and then yanks him backwards so that his head surfaces for just enough time for him to take a small breath, not a big breath, not like when you are timing yourself in the hotel swimming pool to see how long you can hold your breath, but just a short breath, just enough to keep him alive for the next submerging. And then, once our hero gets his little breath, the ex-Special Forces guy violently pushes our hero’s head back under water for another round of torture.
Our hero can usually maintain his composure for a few rounds of this before his lungs start to burn and he accidentally swallows some water. Then the underwater camera us shows that all too familiar look in his eyes, the change from patience to panic. At this point, our hero either calls upon some balance displacement technique that completely surprises and incapacitates his assailant or he drowns.
Now, I’ve never been attacked and held under water by an ex-Special Forces guy, but this is exactly the way that I feel towards the end of my workweek.
See, I know at the beginning of my workweek, my Monday, that I am going to have to work an overwhelming amount of overtime, and like our hero, I try to prepare myself, to calm myself, so that I can hold my breath for as long as it takes to survive. My uniform is clean and pressed and my lunch is packed and I leave knowing I’m going to get the call, I saw the schedule, I know that we’re understaffed, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
I take a deep breath and I go under.
Seventeen hours later I get home at the same time that my kids get home from school. I greet them and ask how their day was.
This moment, this quick breath doesn’t last long because I have to sleep. Tomorrow’s schedule looks even worse than today’s so I kiss my daughter on the forehead and I tell her to do her homework, and then I shut the bedroom door and I try to go to sleep.
My alarm goes off four hours later and I swing my feet over the bed and I am disoriented and distant. I sit for a minute while I try to get my bearings. What day is it? What time is it?
Then, I get dressed and I grab my lunch and I say goodnight.
Deep breath, I’m going back under.
Halfway through my shift the phone rings, and I get the call, and for the second day in a row I’ll be staying for a double shift. I tell myself that I can do this, it’s not a problem. I try to do the math in my head. I didn’t get to bed until 1700 hours and I slept until 2100 hours, so I should be fine. When I get off, when I am allowed to leave, I will have only been awake for twenty-two hours and that’s well below the thirty-four hours I was awake for last week. Then I start thinking about all of the things that I’m going to miss today because I’m under water. And if there was a camera pointed at my face, if the camera was trained on my eyes, it would capture the transition from patience to panic. Two days are gone, just like that.
I get home at the same time that my kids get home from school. I greet them and ask how their day was. This moment, this quick breath doesn’t last long because I have to sleep. I don’t want to. But, I’ve lost two days and I start to calculate the minimum amount of time that I can sleep and still function. They can’t keep me tomorrow; tomorrow I’ll get off on time. I try to stay awake but I can’t, I’m tired and I’m agitated and I’m starting to get punchy and aggressive. So, I kiss my daughter on the forehead and I tell her to do her homework, and then I shut the door and I try to get some sleep. My alarm goes off four hours later and I swing my feet over the bed and I am disoriented and distant. I sit for a minute while I try to get my bearings. What day is it? What time is it?
This is the point in the movie where our hero either escapes or he doesn’t. Unfortunately, this isn’t a movie, and I am about as far from a young and handsome unassuming secret agent type as you can get. But I know that I’ll survive because I’ve been here before. I’ve been under water before, last week, and the week before that, and the week before that.
Have you ever been held under water? Have you ever gotten that call? Have you ever been up for thirty-four hours?
Nationwide, correctional facilities are dangerously understaffed and the Officers that work inside of them are drowning. We could speculate as to why and what could be done to solve the problem, but doing that would be like standing in a burning building and refusing to leave until we found out who started the fire.
So what do we do?
Try to sleep (or nap) whenever and wherever you can. I like to catch a couple of hours on my Monday, for a couple of hours, right after picking up the kids from school.
Try and have all of your socks and your undershirts and your uniforms washed for the week. The less time you spend hunting for socks the more time you can spend sleeping.
Try to prep your meals in advance. I’ll prepare two or three days’ worth of meals on my Monday and then again on my Wednesday or Thursday (schedule permitting), so I don’t have to worry about them during the week. The less time you spend grilling chicken and portioning out rice the more time you have to sleep.
And finally, to the very best of our ability, we need to be prepared to be disappointed and to disappoint because, unfortunately, at some point, we are going to miss a wedding or a basketball game or a play or a program.
In fact, as I’m typing this last paragraph, I am getting ready to call my wife and let her know that I’m going to miss my son’s musical because I got the call.
This article as been reprinted with permission from the February 2019 Issue of Correctional Oasis, a monthly e-publication of "Desert Waters Correctional Outreach". Corporal William Young has worked as a Correctional Officer in the state of Nebraska since March of 2005. He has worked throughout his facility in various areas ranging from Sanitation to Segregation and is currently assigned to Community Corrections. Corporal Young is a member of the Crisis Intervention Team and the Crisis Negotiation Team. He is a certified Emergency Preparedness (LETRA) instructor and also teaches Motivational Interviewing and the award winning course “From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment” (CF2F).
If you have any questions, comments, or feedback that you would like to share, please contact William at Justcorrections@gmail.com orwww.facebook.com/wllmyoung/.
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 author and not necessarily those of the agency.
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