christmas in jail with the boozers

christmas often makes me think of the minimum security jail where i worked for a little while. it was a pretty interesting job. once a week i’d migrate to the quaint old farmhouse in new westminster (part of greater vancouver, and british columbia’s oldest city) where that jail was. for a while they even had an organic farm there.

anyways, i was doing some counselling with the “weekenders” – all guys who had weekend jail terms for alcohol related offences. in the beginning i didn’t know what i was doing, and the inmates weren’t really that interested in talking to the “shrink”. but after a while we all started warming up to each other. i think seeing the “shrink” for a little while at least alleviated some of their boredom.

the whole experience was a little bizarre. here i was in that quiet little office in that old farmhouse, overlooking a beautiful property bounded by high poplar trees – it felt very removed from everything. i could take as much time as i wanted with everything. if i would have chosen to do nothing for a whole day, nobody would have said anything.

what i chose to do was to learn a lot. i’d see someone and then i’d keep a journal about what i’ve learned from the exchange. extremely valuable.

i think one of the reasons why christmas makes me think of that place is because the people who chose to do weekends tended to be single people – guys who wouldn’t have too many people complain if they weren’t available over the weekend. they tended to be a pretty lonely lot. so they were particularly lonely on christmas.

one of the things i really learned about there was the concept of harm reduction. there was one guy particularly who drank like a … oh, i don’t know, like a hippopotamus. it seemed pretty hopeless. AA was out of the question. so we spent quite a bit of time talking about when and how much he drank. what was neat was that after a while, we realized that he was not nearly as much under the spell of the booze as he thought. we figured out a whole bunch of situations when he wouldn’t drink, or wouldn’t engage in dangerous activities while drinking. then we figured out situations in which he felt he was able to control how much he was drinking. over a few weekends, he changed his behaviour quite a bit – for example, he wouldn’t drive to the liquor store anymore (because chances were he’d drink as soon as he left the store, leaving him too intoxicated to drive safely); he realized that he was motivated to stop doing things that scared his mother; and he found that there was a particular type of booze (some kind of gin, i think) that he would never drink too, too much of. he had no interest in stopping drinking. but he really wanted to stop the harm that drinking too much caused him and those he cared about.

i wonder what happened to him. he was transferred to another jail one christmas (ah, maybe that’s why i associate working in that jail with christmas) and somehow i was unable to track him down.

wherever he is, i wish him well. and thanks, guy. you taught me a lot.

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