Saturday, January 7, 2017

William Myrl; Letters to No One (69)

Dear No One, 

There is a conversation that keeps rewinding, actually, there are a number of them, but one bothers me more than the others. When talking about themselves, about living in prison, offenders often use the word alert. They say you have to be alert, you have to remember where you are, because anything could happen at any time. 


These people do not understand what alert means. Alertness is a state of heightened awareness, which it is not possible to maintain indefinitely without inviting serious physical and mental health concerns. Purse likes to talk about how alert he is, both in group and in the pod, its one of the speeches he keeps tucked in his back pocket along with his address book. An example he uses is not going to sleep with your cell door open, because someone could enter and do you harm while you were helpless. This behaviour is not a sign of alertness, it's a sign of not being an idiot. When the people who work in the prison leave home in the morning, they don't leave their doors open either. They don't leave the doors to their houses open in the middle of night while asleep, just as college students don't leave the door to their dorm rooms open onto the hall, because they are not idiots. 

There are very few offenders that, when pressed, will say they are not alert, do not keep alert. So what do they mean? Purse might say it means being aware of the people around you, aware that you're dealing with criminals. Again, the technical name for being aware of the people around you is called consciousness, or not being an idiot, you don't get kudos for being awake. There is more violence per capita in the prison systems than in the nation at large, but we happen to occupy a very relaxed section of that system. Inmates won't always honor their debts or their promises, but that's also true of humans in general. If to be alert means to remember that you are surrounded by criminals, because they might try to cheat or otherwise take advantage of you, it would do just as well to remember that we are surrounded by humans, who do much the same thing. 

The "alert" comments are a pet peeve, possibly because they remind me of someone describing how self aware they are, or how perceptive. How would they know? The individuals I interact with who are clearly sub par people readers believe themselves monuments to perspicacity. Remember the above average effect? Nearly ninety percent of drivers will aver to being above average navigators of the roads. Those same respondents would call themselves "alert." If anyone can do it, than anyone can think they're good at it. 

I told the students I was not alert. I live here. 

Hearts and stars, 

William Myrl 
Letters to No One

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