tradecraft…your voice (part IV)

most of the time, i worked with individuals like dom (see last post), who cared a lot about kids and did the job the right way–with integrity and fairness…when they spoke to kids they did so in a way that conveyed…

basic human dignity and respect

i learned a lot from people who used their voices like that…who spoke from that perspective or point of origin…and i tried to adopt that approach in my own work…

however, there were times when i saw the opposite kind of style, the dark side of the voice…here’s a real-life scenario that exemplifies the dark side

one day, i arrived on shift at cooper village (the juvenile group home i mentioned in the previous post) and there was tension in the air–you could just feel it…then i heard it…a female staff member, speaking to one of the juvenile males in our care…her tone and volume were heightened…i hadn’t been there but a minute, so i didn’t know what had transpired prior to my arrival, but i knew her and i knew how she talked to kids (typically)–there was always a sharpness to her voice, a tone that set the kids and other staff on edge…and it always made a shift with her a little more challenging (most of the women i’ve worked with were very skilled at using their voices to communicate with young people–i always felt that they had an innate advantage over “us guys”, she was the exception to the rule)…

so, i by-passed the commons area and made my way to the office to set my gear down and sign-in for the shift…thinking…great, she’s “teeing up” the kids for our shift…gonna be a fun night…

i dropped off my gear and spoke to another coworker in the office, sounds like things are getting heated? …he rolled his eyes and nodded to the commons area and said, are you surprised?  we had seen it happen before…i took a deep breath and walked back out to the commons area, the female staff member was cleaning up something from snack time, but still jawing with the juvenile– who was sitting on a couch across the room from her (the juvenile’s tone was getting sharp as well)…she whispered something to me like, he didn’t complete his chores and is now out in the commons–he needs to get it done

why don’t you let me give it a try (talking to him), i said quietly, so only she could hear me…

she shrugged and then got on him again to do what she wanted (her tone was edgy and her impatience was showing–her face was red and showed irritation and anger)…i was already done with her…so, i started speaking to him to support her in getting him to do what she wanted him to, but at the same time trying to get him to do it without ‘setting him off’…

my philosophy (and the philosophy of the other people i worked with) was…we can get physical, go ‘hands on’, go ‘all the way’ if we have to…but, it’s not our goal, if we can get things accomplished–confront, redirect, and lead the kids through their daily routines without the use of force–then that’s what we’d prefer to do…

unfortunately, i was late to the party…and by this time, i was just another voice on his case…so, he chirped something at me like, she’s been on me since she got here – his blood was up and rising higher by the minute…

his comment emboldened her and the course she was on…and she went at him pretty hard, telling him what he should’ve done this morning, what he still hadn’t done…it was a mini-tirade…i was thinking, what did i walk into?! i glanced behind me, and saw my other coworker propped up against the wall, we exchanged a knowing look…

this is gonna get ugly

and then it did…the juvenile had had enough…and he launched out of his sitting position, towards the female staffer…i got in his way–and instantly–my partner was at my side and we grabbed his arms and yelled “clear the floor”–the directive commanding the other juveniles to quickly find their rooms (they scattered like mice and the female staffer backed away near the office)–truth be told, the kid went absolutely ballistic–flailing, yelling and swearing…we couldn’t control him in the standing position (he was a big kid…more than six feet tall and about 170 pounds)…trying to control someone standing up is difficult, if not impossible (it’s no surprise that the FBI reports that “more than 70% of use of force scenarios end up on the ground–in a grappling or ground fighting event”)…so, we tried to get him on the ground, but he was twisting and turning and full of juice–so, we called for her to call for backup…while they were en route, he ‘slipped our grip’ several times, but we managed to control him, momentarily, against a wall–though he was still bucking against our “holds” and railing against her…

moments before backup arrived, we got him down to the ground, but it wasn’t pretty…he was continuing to thrash and scream and fight…when the others arrived, we each grabbed a limb and held him tight to the floor in the standard restraint position…my partner spoke to him in a calm voice…eventually (about 20 minutes later), we were able to talk him down and get him under control…not too long after that, we got him to agree to walk down to the “time-out room” where we could continue to process with him…at this point, i looked up and around–i didn’t see the female staffer anywhere…i thought, where is she now–set him off and let the rest of us clean up your mess?!

all the parties involved had to document the incident…

the next day, his social worker came down to address the incident and review the consequences that the female staffer had outlined for his punishment…when she came on the unit and into the office, i was quick to follow–i asked for a moment of her time and closed the door to the office…after a couple of minutes of casual conversation about the incident…i finally said…

yeah, the juvenile bears some responsibility for what ‘went down’, no doubt–he could’ve handled things a lot better, responded differently…but, she could’ve too…i reviewed the earlier logs, talked to other staff members and was there when “it went down”–she “set him off” and his consequences should be tempered on that count…

she agreed…

the point of this story is that you can use your voice negatively–and escalate, insult, disrespect, and anger kids just as easily as you can use your voice in the opposite fashion–positively and professionally…there is always that potential in any human encounter…

have i been sharp, short, impatient, or used negative and disrespectful speech towards juveniles? absolutely…i’m human and i’ve made mistakes–but, i don’t live there

we all have bad moments and bad days…and it definitely happens in this line of work–on occasion–but, those moments and those days don’t define you…hopefully…however, if it happens to you more often than not…or you intentionally ‘go there’, to extremes (like the woman in the above scenario)…this is not the line of work you should be pursuing… because…

we’re looking for a few good voices…

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