Sunday, February 26, 2012
I have always said that the things which will cause me problems as I slide from incarceration into the light are not ones that anybody can predict. Shopping, cars, all the usual canards that fly in debates around resettlement are irrelevant.
Sitting in a Morrison’s restaurant - apologies to all restaurants for using the term - I was struck by a realisation. Whilst I was digesting chips and talking, a small part of my brain was beavering away on automatic pilot conducting a threat assessment of the whole room.
Prison, people may have suggested to you, can be a violent and volatile place. One of the skills quickly acquired, then, is that of gauging the mood, the temperature, of a room or a group of people. Unexplained or discordant noises raise mental alarms, raised voices, tense faces or aggressive stances...these are all being noted by that part of the brain which functions without thought.
Except for rare riots, then the number of social situations and the size of groups of people are quite limited in prison. After thirty years of practice, I can walk into a room and smell Trouble in an instant. Out on the street, I am finding this to be impossible.
I found a part of me was remaining alert, even tense, when out and about and finally realised that it was my poor overworked brain trying and failing to get a real sense of a street full of people. Try it. A shopping avenue with hundreds of people. Quickly look around, attune your ears. Who is acting abnormally? Who is raising their voice, or in a conversation which may take a bad turn? Where on that street are the potential sources of Trouble?
Oh, you will doubtless note the obvious, the people you cross the road to avoid. That's easy. Prison, though, is more subtle, the interactions more fine-grained and it is in reading and foreseeing the small precursors to Trouble that help safely navigate the landings.
It is impossible to grasp these details on a crowded shopping street, leaving me to do the same as everyone else. Swerve the charity collectors, the drunks and the dog shit and limit my attentions to my direct concerns.
Or maybe not. Because having been honed over three decades I find that my brain won't switch off. Quietly in the background, energy is being expended to try to analyse all of the social information, the stances, tones of voice, that flood in from the environment. And it just can't be done, it is impossible.
Doubtless this will pass as I adjust. It is no big deal. I note it because, let’s be honest, who would ever have predicted or foresaw this hiccup to my tranquillity?