|I Almost Shot Harry Potter|
|By Corporal William Young|
I remember thinking that this is it. This is how it happens. Small town, middle America, on a Saturday night at a small pizza joint with friends and family and kids all gathered around a projection TV watching the local college football team. It was happening. It was happening, but I was ready. I was ready because I positioned myself perfectly so I could see everybody coming and going.
So, in walks this kid. This seventeen or maybe eighteen-year-old nerdy looking white male with a long black robe on. He came in and he positioned himself against the wall on the same side of the dining room that I was sitting on. I watched as he scanned the room.
The game was terrible. The local team was defeated long before the second half had even started so the majority of the patrons had already boxed up their leftovers and went home. Only about thirty of us remained. I watched as he surveyed his potential targets. I could hear my children playing in the arcade behind me. I could hear a conversation from
across the room about the game and about how much better we’ll be next year. Time began to slow down and I began to formulate a plan to kill this kid before he killed any of us.
He reaches into his robe, and I’m getting ready to react. He pulls out a cellphone. As he’s texting or tweeting or snapchatting, I decide to stand up and reposition myself so I can get behind him and prepare to ambush. Thanks to him having his face buried in his phone, I go unnoticed. I get up slowly from my table and I walk towards the arcade which was about 15 feet behind him and to his left. He put his phone back in his robe and I’m imagining what else is under that stupid thing. I ponder motive and means and I wonder when it would be okay for me to draw on this kid. Should I let him get his weapon out? Should I risk letting him get a shot off before I shoot? What am I going to do? When am I going to pull out my gun and what am I going to do when I do pull out my gun?
The kid, this Harry Potter look-alike makes a quick movement to his left. He starts walking back towards the front door of the restaurant and all I can think about is the security footage of the of the mall shooting that we had back in 2007 where the kid had entered the mall to look around, to scope it out, before leaving and returning with an AK-47. I followed him to the door and I decided that if he went to his car, if he opened his trunk, I was going to shoot him.
So, he goes outside and I am about ten feet behind him, and if he notices that I am following him he doesn’t show it. He doesn’t change his behavior and that makes sense because he is focused on his mission, he is resolute, he is dedicated.
He walks to a vehicle (I assumed it was his) and he stands behind it and he begins fiddling with his robe and as he is fiddling another vehicle pulls up beside him and parks. The door to the vehicle opens and another white teenage nerdylooking robe-wearing school-shooter type gets out and walks to meet his accomplice. He walks over and the first kid pops the trunk of his car, and I have a split second to make a life-and-death decision.
The first kid grabbed something out of his trunk, but I couldn’t see what it was. They closed the trunk and they headed back into the restaurant. They walked right past me with their robes and their unknown object from the trunk towards whatever they were planning to do. But I was behind them now, I had the advantage. If they tried to do what I thought they were planning to do, I would be ready.
They made their way across the dining room to a table on the far side, opposite the table that I had been sitting at, and they sat down. They sat down and they pulled out their phones and I watched. I watched as another group of robewearing teenagers came in the door and sat down with them. And I watched as they ordered a pizza and ate.
My body was shaking like I was wet and standing in the cold. My head and my heart were pounding. They weren’t here to murder anybody, they were here to eat pizza, same as me.
I collected myself and I sat down, and the people at my table didn’t even know that I had left. They were so engrossed in their conversation, so comfortable in their surroundings, so normal. I sat down and I was breathing heavy like I had been running and my buddy asked me what was going on. He asked why I was so out of breath, and I told him about the kid and the robe, and I asked if he had seen him come in, and he said that he hadn’t.
He didn’t know what I was talking about. He hadn’t seen him. In fact, other than me, nobody had seen him.
Of course they hadn’t seen him come in. They were normal people doing normal things on a Saturday night and there I was at the table with them, but not really with them because my institutionalized mind cannot detach. Even when I realize that there isn’t going to be a mass shooting on this particular day in this particular restaurant and that my kids are safe and that I am safe, I still can’t calm down because I almost pulled out my weapon. I almost murdered that kid.
One of the things that is so hard about our profession is that we have a difficult time turning that hyper-vigilant Correctional Officer side of our brain. We have a tough time relaxing because we are always looking for the crimes in progress because to us, the world is one big felony waiting to happen.
So, we never relax and our hearts and our heads and our adrenaline are always pounding and pumping. And we’re usually wrong, but we tell ourselves, we swear that we’ve stopped what could’ve happened. We see the potential danger in everything. Not what probably might happen, but what potentially could happen if we don’t intervene.
We do that because at work, in the facility, that cynical outlook keeps us alive, but at home on a Saturday night in a small pizza joint in the middle of the country, that thought process is damaging.
I can hear your responses. I can see you rolling your eyes. I can hear you say that you sit with your back against the wall in public to be prepared. I can hear you say that you would’ve done the same thing, that you would’ve shot the kid, and I can hear some of you say that if I’m that paranoid I shouldn’t carry a weapon. I get it, and I appreciate the feedback from all of the “Monday morning quarterbacks.”
See, you all think that you got this thing licked and that this job, those walls, don’t affect you. But what you need to remember is that Corrections Fatigue doesn’t not affect us in an all or nothing manner. Just because you’re not sitting in your garage with a revolver counting reasons that you have to not blow your brains out does not mean that this profession does not affect you in a negative manner. Because sometimes it’s the little things that add up. It’s the little cracks, the chips that add up over a long period of time that become too much to handle. Certain behaviors like sitting with your back against the wall in public, staying away from large crowds of people, carrying a gun everywhere you go, and mowing your grass with a bulletproof vest on are side effects of the job. Bankers don’t behave that way. I don’t even know if cops behave that way.
I want you to take a look at yourself and how you behave and how you react to situations now versus before you started your career as a Correctional Officer. And if you have changed at all, if you have become more cynical, if your outlook on life has changed, if anything has changed, then we need to start looking at why.
For those of you out there that don’t see a change, who don’t think that anything has changed, do me a favor. Ask your good buddy or your significant other or your kid if they have noticed any changes in you. Do they think you behave differently? Are you more cynical?
Hopefully you still have those people in your life that you can ask. Hopefully you haven’t completely isolated yourself and burned your bridges, and hopefully you haven’t stopped hanging out, and hopefully you haven’t shunned all of your supporters.
Do me a favor.
If there is even a tiny bit of anything that I've ever said or wrote that makes sense, if you think there is even the slightest possibility that working in a correctional facility has affected you in a negative manner, then please check into this thing called Corrections Fatigue (http://desertwaters.com) and the course “From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment.” Start employing some of the concepts that I write about that Caterina Spinaris talks about in that course.
Start actively combating the symptoms and the side effects so that you can lead a healthy, happy, and productive life.
You deserve it!
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