Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Albany Citizen's Police Academy - Week 4 - Crime Analyst & Deputy Medical Examiner

Last night was my fourth class in the Albany Citizen's Police Academy. Community Education Specialist Westfall started by talking to us about our upcoming class on Saturday and encouraging us all to show up for the day.

After she spoke to us a few minutes, Crime Analyst Patrick Hurley spoke to us about analyzing crime. He also does intelligence analysis and phone forensics.

Basically as I understand it, he looks at patterns and trends for crime around the city to help the chief determine how resources can best be allocated to impact criminal activity. His job is to show correlations not to draw cause and effect relationships. Still he works with raw data and often that's not the best indicator for allocating resources.

He showed us a video representation of an actual 24 hour time period at the Albany Police Department that showed the calls and cases. The day he chose had 226 calls resultingin 100 cases with thirteen citations and thirteen arrests. It seemed like a lot for our small town.

He talked quite a bit about drug use and the growing abuse of prescription drugs.

Albany Police Department provides the Albany Drug Drop Box in the lobby of the police station. This is the place to take expired prescrictions, expired Over-the-Counter drugs, and prescriptions one just no longer needs to dispose of them properly. One isn't required to leave identifying information on the bottles even though no one looks at them. If you live in the area and didn't know about this service, now you do. It has been quite effective for people wishing to dispose of old medications properly.

Hurley is also responsible for putting together photo lineups for suspects to view as well as creating charts and matrixes to show links between people, places, and actitivites to aid police in building a case against a suspect.

In phone forensics, he goes through phones to pull data, pictures, and other information to help police officers investigate and draw links between people. At this point, he provided a warning against sexting and the the possible dangers. For one thing, angry people once trusted may use what they have to hurt the other party. For another, even if deleted often these things can be recovered using the right equipment.

People taking pictures of themselves at crime scenes or committing crimes help the police to win convictions. One example he showed was of a guy who photographed himself holding a stolen gun. The police department was able to recover the gun's serial number and use it to arrest the guy who then confessed even though the gun itself wasn't recovered.

Hurley also provided the Albany Police Department's 2010 Annual Crime Report and discussed it as compared to the national crime report provided by the FBI, the Uniform Crime Report (UCR).

Sergeant Stephanie Warren and Sergeant Dan Jones spoke about serving as Deputy Medical Examiners (DME). Deputy Medical Examiners are called out to any unattended or suspcious death to determine whether or not a death is suspcious. Suspicious deaths are turned over to detectives to investigate. The DME fills out a checklist gathering as much information about the person as possible to assist in determining the cause of death. They also fill out another form of all medications the person was on and seize those medications. The DME facilitates arrangements with funeral homes and helps the bereaved through the initial stages of dealing with the details of handling a death. DMEs also make death notifications to locals and contact law enforcement in other areas to arrange for notifications. Sergeant Warren sounded a little like a grief counselor as she described helping people in those initial moments after a loved one dies.

They showed a slide show depicting several types of death including natural deaths, accidents, suicides, and homicides. The pictures also showed various types of decomposition and a variety of wounds inflicted on bodies. They briefly explained each picture and what the various images depicted including a knife wound and a wound that resembled a knife wound but was actually from a chest tube inserted at a hospital. Several pictures of bullet wounds displayed the differences in stipling caused based on the distance from which the shooting occurred.

They also provided a handout called "After-Death Checklist for Survivors" for the class. They explained this approximately two-and-a-half page list will leave survivors all the information needed to help facilitate the deceased wishes and to get through an already tough time. The idea is to make things easier for one's loved ones. It will also help and DMEs who are assisting the survivor through the process.

One other thing they provided was a little form called Personal Medication Information which they suggested everyone fill out and leave on the refrigerator or other obvious place for paramedics to give proper medical care or to assist DMEs who are investigating one's death. While, in theory, I like the idea, I'm not too keen on putting the information in such a public place for any visitor to my home to read. I like my privacy...

As a writer, I wish Crime Analyst Patrick Hurley had spent more time talking about his role in helping solve major crimes like homicides and the racketeering case he mentioned. I also wish Sergeants Warren and Jones had spent more time discussing suspcious deaths instead of focusing so much on nonsuspicious deaths. However, I understand they aren't there to help us writers write better crime fiction but to help the citizen's better understand the role of their police department in the city.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Poem, Redefining Common Ground, Now Available

You can now read my poem, Redefining Common Ground!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Albany Citizens Police Academy - Week Three - DA's Office and Probation and Parole

Tonight was the third week of the Albany Citizens Police Academy. We learned about the role of the District Attorney during the first half of class. The second half focused on probation and parole.
Deputy DA Douglas Marteeny spoke to us about the role of the District Attorney's office in the criminal justice system. In Linn County, prosecutors prosecute everything rather than be divided into departments based on crimes.
He spent a considerable amount of time discussing the role the public plays in preventing and fighting crime. The public often makes law enforcement aware a crime has been committed and act as witnesses during the prosecution of the crime.
He emphasized that the best defense against criminal behavior is for children to be raised in good homes whethere they're encouraged to be law abiding citizens. He gave several examples of fathers and sons who both end up as criminals.
He talked about how cop shows get so much wrong. DAs do not investigate and rarely visit crime scenes though they may arrive on scene for some major crimes. Generally, the case load is too large for crime scene visits and they trust the police to do their jobs.
The DA reviews the evidence and police reports and determines whether or not to prosecute. The police's bar is probable cause - more likely than not the person committed the crime. The DA's standard is "beyond a reasonable doubt" that there person committed the crime. In some instances, the DA chooses simply to not prosecute if the burden isn't met. In other cases, he'll send it back to law enforcement officers to gather more evidence.
People can get arrests and some crimes expunged from their records by filling out a form, paying a fee, and having the case reviewed.
He explained that when criminals know there are empty jail beds, they are less likely to commit crimes. The potential for punishment is a detterent.
Linn County requires domestic violence cases go to trial within 45 days. This helps to get the family back on track and minimizes the opportunity for witness tampering.
After Measure 11, setting mandatory sentences for a host of crimes, was enacted in 1995, violent crime dropped significantly.
Deputy DA Marteeny answered questions and shared anecdotes with the class. Some were heartbreaking. Some were touching. Some were suprising. All illustrated his points well.
Mindy Sprague and natalie Michael discussed their work in parole and probation. They make sure the offender is compliant with the conditions of his/her release. There are standard conditions and specific conditions in each case.
Being a probation/parole officer requires attending the Police Academy where they receive defensive training and firearms training while learning the rules and laws that govern their work.
Probation/Parole Officers carry tasers, OC spray, gun, handcuffs, a badge, and a radio. They wear bulletproof vests and are required to keep their training up-to-date including computer training, firearms training, and CPR certification.
Mindy and Natalie talked about their jobs and shared a few stories. They passed around a bulletproof vest so we could examine it more closely. They also passed around materials used in collecting samples for drug tests.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Forbidden Now Available for Your Reading Pleasure

Please check out my poem, Forbidden! Enjoy!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Creativity Lives in Energy

Since the beginning of 2010, I've written eighty-seven, give or take one or two, poems that I've kept. I've written a few others that I tossed, revised some old poems, and finished a stack of unfinished ones. But, eighty-seven is more than I'd written in the previous ten years combined, possibly longer. For a while I was making my own cards and there's some card verse that I never moved into my poetry files, so I'm not including those. Perhaps I will eventually take the time to dig through all those cards and use what I left behind, but it's unlikely.

As I sorted through my poems recently for my upcoming books of poetry, I began to really notice the years when I wrote more poetry and the years I didn't. I began to analyze the trends. Big surprise, huh? A few possibilities came to mind. I hadn't felt inspired. Life had been too good. Life had been too bad. The card verse I was writing detracted from my poetry writing. My focus was elsewhere. I'd felt too numb to write poetry.

I even considered the possibility that my poetic energy had been drained. See, I believe that we are surrounded by energy. We share that energy. We feed off that energy. We can steal it from others. We can give it to others. We can mutually share it. Some people kill all the positive energy in their vicinity. Other people consume all the positive energy in their vicinity. Some people exude positive energy. Some people exude negative energy. Some people absorb all the energy, positive and negative, around them. Some people leave us feeling so devoid of energy, it would be painful if it wasn't so incredibly numbing. Some people share their energy in a way that benefits all parties involved, giving and taking positive and negative, ebbing with the flow, and supporting each other as the changes in energy come along...

When we're tired, emotionally, physically, and/or mentally, creativity is slow to come. It acts a little like a drunk slurring words, staggering along, trying to pretend like it's whole, stronger than it is, and has all its faculties intact. But, the truth is exhaustion stunts creativity. Think about the last time you tried to write after an extremely stressful day. A day where everything that could go wrong did. Now compare to that to a day when you woke up refreshed and energetic and sat down immediately to write. I'll bet on the extremely stressful day, you struggled to find the words, you weren't happy with them when you did, and you ended up feeling frustrated with your results. Whereas, I'd bet on the refreshed and energetic day, you felt almost as if something outside yourself guided your hand(s), thoughts flowed from your brain to your fingertips with ease, and you were positively bouncing with joy as you finished your writing for the day. Maybe you didn't even want to quit when it was time.

I'm not saying great creativity doesn't come from our struggles in life because it certainly does. The number of poems I've written about heartache is ridiculous, at least to me. The number of poems I've written about the pain of discovering one has lost one's self staggers me but perhaps wouldn't someone else. Yet, through it all what I find is an energy that sees possibility even through longing, that sees potential even in pain, and that sees good even in the worst experiences. I hope that's what others see when they read my words...

So sometimes when our creativity gets stuck, I think what we need is a change of energy. We need to look at the energy sources around us and see what they're creating in our lives.

Do you surround yourself with energy that flows naturally and beautifully? That ebbs and flows? That gives and takes? That has moments of bathing you in its glory? That pushes you to create?

Or

Do you sorround youself with energy that feels stifled and stuck? That pulls you down until you're drowning? That drains you of every last bit of creativity in your soul?

Take a moment. Close your eyes. Feel the energy around you. Feel the energy emanating from you. Feel the energy within you. Now, open your eyes. What did you feel? Look around you. Is there something you need to change to fix the energy in your space? This is where things can get dicey. Sometimes what needs changed is as simple as moving a photo or a vase that stirs up a feeling or memory of constricted energy, but sometimes it means re-evaluating who we spend time with and what they do to our energy reserves. This can be very difficult. I wrote about this last year in Creativity Creators and Drains, so I won't go into a lot of detail here. Just be aware that when someone feeds your creative energy, they are doing you a favor even if they don't know it, so be sure to give something back to them. You don't want to drain the person dry to meet your own needs. You don't want to become an energy drain, or as I've heard it put, an energy vampire, in someone's life, especially someone who so readily gives their energy to you.

Find and nurture the energy you need to keep your creativity flowing. Remember to give back to those who give you energy. And, always, always, be grateful for the creative energy that comes your way.

Creativity lives in energy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fighting My Muse

When people ask me about my poetry, I often tell them that I save poetry for myself. I don't study it. I don't write for an audience, per se. I write what I want, when I want, and how I want. I don't pay attention to form or technique or any of that stuff. This is true.  It is the one thing I never force and only write when inspired.Often my poetry is self-indulgent. I readily admit that. However, I think the themes are universal themes of humanity.

I thought about this yesterday as I finally gave in to my muse - that little voice in my head that nags the crap out of me until I write down what she wants me to write. You men who think you have nagging wives, you don't know nagging, trust me. My muse could give your wives lessons that would make your arm hairs stand on end and possibly try to run away.

Often this nagging begins as a simple phrase such as the one she'd been whispering in my ear for the past two weeks or so. "I Broke My Own Heart." I ignored her. I told her to get over it. I told it was a ridiculous statement. People don't break their own hearts... Come on. But still the words played on an endless loop. They popped up at the most inopportune times. They drove me to tears, well almost. I wrote them down once but nothing else came. I marked them out so ferociously I ripped the paper. Then I tore the paper in half. I scolded my muse and told her to move on to something else. She refused, and so those words, I broke my own heart, remained on their endless loop following me, haunting me, taunting me...

Finally, almost angrily, I wrote them on a piece of paper yesterday and stared at them. I broke my own heart. Again the word ridiculous went through my mind. Then I asked my muse "Now what?" She said "Shhh!" I rolled my eyes and pressed the point of the pen into the legal pad. I held my breath. Then as I exhaled, the words took form on the paper. There they were. It was a poem. Hhmmm! My muse was right again.

This isn't the first time this has happened. It's happened many, many times. And, I always think I can win the fight against my muse. Ha! Ha! Joke's always on me.

Last October, the words "When We Were a We" started playing in my head. I wrote them down. I marked them out. I tore the paper into tiny pieces. I finally wrote a whole poem that had me bawling like a starving baby. I read it again and again. Eventually I decided no one, not even me, would ever see those words again. I sent it through the paper shredder and deleted it from my files. But, those five words were still in my head. I jotted them on another sheet of paper and walked away. In the middle of the night, those words woke me up and refused to let me sleep. When We Were A We. They sang in my head as I did household chores. They interrupted the songs I listened to - songs I used to intentionally drown them out. They invaded other things I wrote. They even tried to come out of my mouth when I was speaking about something totally unrelated. They whispered when I was silent. They screamed when I tried to ignore them.  Finally, I wrote them down once again and a poem poured out of me. This one I kept. This one I will share in one of my forthcoming books of poetry.

This has happened many times with me. I resist what I know I must write. I fight what I don't want to face. I tell myself writing it will be selfish, self-indulgent, needy, whiny, belligerent, etc. What I mean by any of those excuses is that writing it makes me feel vulnerable in some way. There's that word again. Vulnerable. It just keeps cropping up in my life. Well, I guess I've haven't accomplished as much as I thought when it comes to vulnerability.

And, that brings me back to my poetry. In a recent post, I referenced the idea that these books of poetry will show the world the truth of me. It is my hope that by exposing the truth of me, my words help someone else who is struggling with the challenges life brings. If so, then those poems will serve a double purpose. They will have helped me in my journey to find my own truth, and they will help someone else. Then sharing them will be worth it even if they do make me feel vulnerable.

There are certain poems that are almost certain to shock some. There are others that will likely resonate on a deep level with some. There are some that will anger some people. There may even be a few that will make people laugh. There are some that may confuse some people who think they know me particularly well. There are poems that will likely have no impact at all on some.

If you've played a significant role in my life, you just might recognize yourself though I've tried to write most of my poems without true identifiers. It's really not always possible to write a poem in a way that disguises the people involved from everyone. Some events are just too specific for that.

So, I'd like to say I'm writing this post to acknowledge my muse's power and that I'll quit fighting her; however, I think we all know that the next time I don't want to write what she tells me to write, I'll fight her just as hard. I'm stubborn, hardheaded, and prone to willful blindness when I don't want to face something. My muse, however, is the inner voice that forces me to not only face it but deal with it using words. So I guess I have to love her no matter how much she forces me to expose my vulnerabilities.

Here's to my muse always winning... Funny how her wins end up being wins for me too... At least, I think they do...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Albany Citizen's Police Academy - Class Two -The Chief, Recruitment, Field Training

The second week of the Albany Citizens Police Academy started with Community Ed. Specialist Carmen Westfall speaking briefly and getting our t-shirt sizes. We get t-shirts! I don't know about you, but I can always use another t-shirt!

Then Chief Ed Boyd spoke to us. Something about Chief Boyd made me smile. He is definitely comfortable in front of a crowd and exudes confidence. I must admit I was distracted for a second by his purple dress shirt, but he wore it well, to paraphrase Rod Stewart. He encouraged us to interrupt him to ask questions. He talked easily about the department, his career, and what he sees as the challenges faced by the department. He provided statistics about Albany's policing staff as compared to the national average. As I understand it Albany has a force of approximately 1.1 officer per 1000 people, which isn't too bad. Ideally, the force would have approximately 1.3 officers per 1000 people.

Chief Boyd, though, feels the numbers aren't the most important thing. He believes the question to be answered is whether or not the police department is able to do everything that needs to be done to keep the citizens of Albany safe. He believes they are staffed to handle the load for everything except unusual occurrences. Hearkening back to last week, he reiterated the importance of interagency cooperation in the region.

Someone in the class asked if it would be cheaper to hire new officers than to pay overtime. He explained that it wouldn't when all the benefits, training and other costs were factored in.

It takes a full year after someone is hired for them to become a sworn police officer.

One interesting thing that surprised me is that the chief can go to jail if the department goes overbudget because it is illegal to go over budget; however, there are contingency funds in the city's coffers he can request in the case of a catastrophe.

He also talked about crime rates. It was nice to learn that Albany and the surrounding area is below the National, State, and Region crime rates for violent crimes even if property crimes in the same area are higher than the State and Region. He also told us that national crime rates are way down across the country which is surprising given the current economic climate. I have to admit that I wondered if fewer people are bothering to report "small" crimes, since crime rates are based on reported crimes... But that's just my cynical mind coming out to play.

One interesting fact he shared when discussing crime rates concerned meth use. The first shot of meth causes one's dopamine levels to shoot over 1000. Compare this to sex which has dopamine levels of around 250 (I think that's right)! Wow! The problem is that every time after that first time, the dopamine level increases less pushing the meth user to use more and more to go after that first level. Made me glad I've never been interested in trying drugs. He also informed us that meth use in the area is down but herion and cocaine use is up. That surprised me a little.

Next up, Lieutenant Chris Carter talked about Recruitment, Training, Physical Fitness, and Certification. He explained the application process, the testing process, the oral board Interview, and the background investigation. It takes a new employee eighteen months to complete the training period.

Job openings are posted online along with the minimum requirements. Albany Police Department does not require a college degree. Lieutenant Carter explained that in police work street smarts are as important as education.  He showed a few of the videos shown during the ergometrics portion of the testing process. The videos were simple and are used to test the applicant's reaction to look for weak areas and strong points. The videos appear to have been shot sometime in the 1980s, possibly early 1990s, but the scenarios are ones that are universal and timeless, a call about a couple fighting that could potentially escalate to domestic violence and a drinking in public scenario were two of the ones we watched. Afterwards, a set of options is listed for the applicant to choose a response. Interestingly, officers applying from other departments find the test more difficult than new recruits because they tend to overthink the answers. Answers must be given within ten seconds. There's also a written and reading part of the ergometrics process because reading comprehension and writing skills are important for filling out reports and communicating effectively.

The ORPAT, Oregon Physical Abilities Test, looked interesting but difficult. It's an obstacle course that must be completed in 5 minutes and 30 seconds for the applicant to pass to the next stage of the hiring process. Lieutenant Carter provided a handout with the obstacle course laid out and explained how it would be run. All I could think was I'd kind of like to experience that, but I don't want to do it in front of people and I sure don't want to do the course 6 times in 5 minutes and 30 seconds. Okay, I don't want to do the course once in that time frame, but it would be interesting to get a feel for what it is.

The background investigation starts when a conditional job offer is made. It includes a personal history statement, an integrity interview that the applicant fills out while sitting across from someone reading his/her personal history statement. The questionnaires are designed to know the applicant person as much as humanly possible. I'm guessing from the way he described it that it could even put the person in touch with things he/she doesn't even realize about himself/herself. The idea is to make sure the candidate can do the job. Family and friends are interviewed during the background investigation.  All applicants are fingerprinted, so their prints can be run. The prints are then kept on file forever.

Lieutenant Hammersley took over to discuss the Field Training & Evaluation Program that new recruits go through upon joining the department. As he worked through the slide show, I began to imagine what it must feel like to show up at the scene of a domestic violence incident, a murder scene, or even an accident and be expected to know what to do. Granted by the time these officers get to the Field Training & Evaluation Program, they have already been through the police academy, but it still has to be completely unnerving. In this job if you make a mistake, someone could die. That's quite a responsibility.

During the orientation, the new officer is given a training manual and their equipment. They are also given the policy, procedures, and general orers and all those are explained. They observe other agencies and departments and they work theorugh the first section of the Training Manual. Over the next several weeks, they rotate between field training officers to be sure they observe a variety of management styles and learn myriad skills the different FTOs have to offer. They go on calls and continue to complete their Field Training Manual. In Phase 4, they are assigned back to their original FTO, so the FTO can ensure they've met all the requirements to ready them for solo status - to take calls on their own. In Phase 5, the new officer is assigned solo status, but is overseen by the shift Lieutenant for two months.

During the Field Training & Evaluation, the FTO fills out a Daily Observation Report on the new officer's performance each and every day. These are used to determine strengths and weaknesses, so that areas that need strengthened can be addressed.  Scores on each area of the 23 standardized areas are graded on a scale of 1-7. The scores should increase as the training goes on and a minimum of 4 must be maintained during the final few weeks of training.

While in an ideal world, new officers would go on calls that matched their current skill level and increased as their skills grew, in reality they go on the calls that come in because, well, frankly, crimes can't be scheduled to match training. This often mean a new officer is called to a domestic violence call  earlier in training than the FTO would like. Learning happens as the calls present themselves meaning the new officer needs to be ready from the first day to go on any type of call where he/she is needed.

This portion of the class ended with a demonstration of a traffic stop in which two volunteers from the class participated. One volunteer acted as a new recruit and pulled over Lieutenant Hammersly for a traffic violation. Another class member acted as the FTO providing an evaluation. The new recruit volunteer had a little fun with it providing a little jovialty to the evening, and the class noted some of the mistakes made. All in all, it was an entertaining way to end the class.

As Lieutenant Hammersley described report writing, it dawned on me that a major component of fiction writing is also a must in police reports - Show Don't Tell. The reports need to show what happened to make the cases work when it goes to the DA or to court. I hadn't thought about it in those terms before, but it makes perfect sense. Writers need to show instead of tell in order to immerse their readers in the story and keep the events alive.

We covered a lot in this class. I wonder if all the classes are going to cover so much information. It's all interesting and there are definitely tidbits I've picked up that could be beneficial as I write crime fiction! The class gives a bit of an insight into the real life of the cops and the struggles police departments have to be all they need to be to the community.

One thing is certain, these classes are designed to bridge any gaps between the community and the police. It's not really designed for learning to write better fiction... Of course, I knew that going in... That said, it is a worthwhile venture.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Process: Ecstatic or Not So Ecstatic

In the song, X-static Process Madonna sings "I always wish that I could find someone as beautiful as you but in the process I forgot that I was special, too." and she ends the song with " I always wish I could find someone as talented as you but in the process I forgot that I was just as good as you."

The first time I heard this song, I cried. Let me rephrase that; I wept. Okay, perhaps I sobbed. Those words went through my heart like a wooden stake through a vampire's heart. I felt like I was disintegrating just like those vampires on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I didn't understand my reaction at the time. I was happy. My life was nearly perfect. So why did I have such a strong reaction to a simple song about losing one's self in the presence of another person?

This is the power of words. They resonate sometimes with our inner selves in a way we don't understand at the time. And, it's why I love words so very much.

I've been working on compiling my poetry to publish in books, and that means reading those poems. It means getting in touch with emotions and memories that I tend to avoid in my daily life. It means deciding how much of my truth I want you to see. It means risking putting it all out there and having you reject me. It means having people read their own meanings into poetry that comes from a very deep place in my psyche and allowing that to be. It means opening the vein of vulnerability that has scared me since... well, pretty much since I can remember.

It reminds me that honesty and vulnerability are not the same thing. I have no problem being honest but vulnerable is a different story. Give you something that might hurt me? I don't think so. Some of you may remember I spent all of 2010 working on allowing myself to be more vulnerable. See Vulnerability, I Once Considered You a Curse Word. (Oh, it's kind of long, so you might want to finish this before you go check it out.)

So back to the song's effect on me. I listened to it this morning once, twice, thrice... Suddenly something dawned on me. It seems highly likely that the first time I heard Madonna's X-static Process, it hit a vessel that was already bleeding into my poetry and continued until it gushed out in my realization of no longer recognizing myself. I worked on the book of poetry that includes poems on the theme of losing and finding one's self most of yesterday. At some point during the process, X-static Process came to rest in my mind until it wouldn't shut up. It's easy to lose ourselves sometimes when we get caught up in trying to be "better" people or to fit in or to make a relationship of some sort work. The truth of who we are will always bleed through in the end though.

I've found that sometimes I have to use distractions as I work through my poetry. A text conversation with a friend that pulls me out of reading every single poem, watching a football game to keep from getting absorbed in the memories sparked by the poems, or scheduling a mundane task to force me away from my desk for a few minutes. All have worked well.

I know that probably sounds counterproductive. After all, complete concentration should be the way to make quick work of compiling the poems into books, but when the memories begin to drown me I lose that focus anyway.

For many of my writing projects, complete focus is necessary and I shut out, actively avoid, any distractions, but this project isn't like that. The problem is how easily I get sucked into my memories and start feeling exactly how I felt at the time I wrote the poem.

Old memories and emotions stirring can bring us to new truths, expose the lies we told ourselves at the time or maybe even for years afterward, or sometimes trick us into believing the memory even if it has morphed into a fantasy.

When those stirrings occur, whether triggered by something you wrote, something you read, or something you heard, the only thing you can do is pay attention. So often we forget to pay attention to our own lives, to our own hearts, to our own truths. Then we find ourselves floating through life without really feeling or thinking or engaging. When something snaps us out of that float, it's time to pay attention even if we don't like the message coming our way.

And, now back to immersing myself in poetry and memories. Somehow writing this blog wasn't quite the distraction I'd hoped it would be...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Albany Citizens Police Academy - Class One - History and Department Structure

Last night was my first class of the Albany Citizens Police Academy. I arrived on time, actually a couple minutes early. The class was fuller than I expected. I don't know why I expected it to be small, but I did. Okay, I didn't count the number of people, but I was pleasantly surprised. I looked around the room looking for a seat. There were only a few left. A girl on the opposite side of the room smiled at me, so I headed for the empty chair next to her. We struck up a conversation and chatted again later.

Binders were provided for each student along with a stenonotebook and a pen. We also have to wear nametags. Oh, joy!! At least they're the necklace kind instead of clip things that destroy clothes. And, I get it, really I do. After all, I chaired a conference, so I know name tags make it easier to identify one another.

The presentation started with an orientation lead by Community Ed. Specialist Carmen Westfall. She explained what we should expect from the class and what was expected of us. She also told us a little about herself, her relocation from the Midwest, and her job with the Albany Police Department. She took us through the binder explaining what was included and telling us about the ride-a-long form included in case any of us want to schedule a ride-a-long. Oh, yeah, a ride-a-long!! That sounds too tempting. I will be turning that form in at the next class.

Apparently, the Chief, Ed Boyd, is usally there on the first night, but as it was his 31st anniversary and he has a promise to his wife regarding their anniversary, he was spending it with her. I've got to admit I found his keeping his promise both honorable and admirable, especially given his line of work. Captain Eric Carter read a statement from the Chief welcoming the class and expressing that he looks forward to meeting us next week.

Captain Jeff Henrichs and Captain Carter shared duties explaining the history and structure of the department. They discussed the mission statement "Excellence Through Service" and how they use it to stay focused on integrity, impartiality, and respect as they go about problem resolution and communication within the community.

They explained the various roles of those within the department and talked a bit about the mission statement and the Chief's encouragement to the department to always strive for the WOW factor in dealing with the community.

I very much enjoyed hearing how a small department runs since the department in my manuscript, Red, is a very small department in a very small town in Kentucky. They confirmed something I suspected; that in small departments everyone much pitch in where needed regardless of title or rank. Each position in the department has a defined role, but when resources are tight, the important thing is getting the job done.

A common theme throughout the presentation was about interagency cooperation. They explained how all the policing agencies in the area work together and lend a hand for major investigations or even just bad accidents. They also explained that it is important to have these good working relationships with other agencies in the area because their needs overlap and their budgets make it impossible for every department to have every need met. By working together, they can fill one another's gaps and help to keep the citizens safer.

They talked about training and mandatory training hours that carry on throughout an officer's career. They briefly described the state requirements for physical fitness for police officers joining the force. There's no fitness retest for officers once they have the job though.

They mentioned the three K-9s who work with the department. Two are dogs who search for people and one is dedicated to narcotics searches. The dogs live with their handlers and become a part of the family. I smiled at the idea that they are really big teddy bears trained to do a job because I'd bet the criminals they track would highly disagree with that assessment!

They discussed how technology has made the job more efficient  because of the ease in doing research, background checks, and taking reports while in the field. Both captains also mentioned that when they started, everything was done with pen and paper. They kept a notebook and pen in the car to jot down addresses, locations, calls, and the positions of other officers.

The presentation was an overview that touched on the things we'll learn more about in the coming weeks. I went in expecting a dry lecture but was surprised to get a dynamic and informative overview of the Albany Police Department.

Both captains answered all questions asked with honesty. They were thorough yet succinct.

Talking with Captain Carter during the break and after the presentation was interesting and informative. He went so far as to look up a statistic that troubled me enough to approach him during the break to see if I understood it correctly. He later came back and gave me more precise information.

Captain Carter and Captain Henrich left the class, or at least me, anxious for the next class and ready to learn more!! Looking forward to next Tuesday night!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reaching Out When It Hurts Isn't Always Easy

Yesterday morning I logged on to Facebook and was disturbed by a friend's status post.  She pondered ". . . wants to know why we expect those who hurt to ask for help? When you're in that hurt, reaching out is often the last thing you think to do." - Pari Noskin Taichert, author

I felt like someone hit me right smack dab in my heart. It took my breath away in an instant. I stared at the screen and blinked back a tear. Okay, they're simple words, but sometimes simple words are the most effective. Yeah, I know I've said that before. Still true and bears repeating.

I thought about the many times I've seen a pained look on a friend's face or a cheerful smile belied by the pain in someone's eyes, and kept silent. All the times I didn't ask the simple questions "Are you okay?" or "Is something wrong?" or "Is there anything I can do?" just to let the person know I noticed. I thought about all the times I've read between the lines of someone's overly cheerful words sensing he/she was covering something and kept quiet. I thought about the times I've let someone's silence that I sensed meant pain or embarrassment remain silence without proffering even a simple gesture to say that I cared. My heart ached as I remembered moments I could've reached out with kindness and understanding. Even if I was unable to help, at least the gesture would've demonstrated I cared.

Then my thoughts turned to my own reluctance to ask for help when I hurt. I'm getting better at this with a select group of beloved and trusted friends, but I still struggle with it. The idea of appearing vulnerable... The idea of appearing needy... The idea of appearing weak... All of these terrify me. Yet, I understand that in life we all have vulnerable moments, needy moments, and weak moments. I don't think less of others for these moments, but I assume they'll think less of me for them. Yes, yes. I know. I said I'm working on it.

The more I thought about it, the more compelled I felt to reach out to my friends and let them know that I care and that I'm there for them. So I ended up posting the following as my Facebook status:

"Note to my friends: If I don't mention your pain when I see it, it's only because I'm not sure if you're ready to face it or talk about it. If I miss the signs of your pain, it may be because my own issues cloud my vision. Either way, if you need me, I will listen and help the best I can. Know this: I DO CARE!!"

I mean it. Sometimes we don't reach out when every instinct in our bodies tell us, too. I'm fighting that instinct right now leaving a small hint open for the person that I'm here if the person wishes to talk but not making a move. Sometimes I fear my instincts are wrong. Sometimes I'm just too shy (yeah, really). Sometimes I convince myself the other person knows best whether or not to confide in me. But, no matter what, I never stop caring about those important to me.

Lately, I've been compiling my poetry into three collections for publication. As I weed through those poems, I see my vulnerabilities played out in ink on paper. I see the images of moments when I could've reached out to a friend but poured my heart onto paper instead. It makes for great inspiration, but could reaching out just one of those times have taken my life on a different path - changed some event that might have made a bad thing not happen? Could expressing what I felt to someone rather than about them in a poem have created a deeper, more intimate, more caring relationship? Could expressing my feelings and thoughts have changed not only my life but the outcome of someone else's perhaps many someone elses? Could expressing those doubts out loud to a friend have made me stronger in the long run? I don't know. I ask myself these questions because I'll never know the answer.

And, then there's the other question...

If I had expressed those emotions, doubts, fears, struggles, to someone else, would the poetry I've written even exist? Perhaps it wouldn't because I wouldn't have needed to explore what I couldn't find the words to say out loud. And, so I find myself feeling a dilemma. Certain things in my life could've been different, but my art might not exist...

Is my art worth the price of holding those emotions inside? Is it worth the cost of "what might've been"? Is it worth the pain I've caused others? Is it worth the pain I've brought upon myself? They say artists suffer for their art, and perhaps that is true. But perhaps art just takes a different form when one learns to truly express one's need and love for others... Perhaps it's time for me to use my poetry to tell the world and the people in my life the truth of me. Hence, the upcoming books...

But, let me encourage you to do what most of us find so difficult. The next time you see pain in a friend's eyes, just ask him/her if he/she is okay. Open the door for him/her to express what's on his/her mind. Let him/her know that when he/she is ready, you're there to give him/her whatever she/she needs to ease his/her pain in any way you can or at least to just be present...

Also, the next time you need that support, please find someone you trust and let your guard down. You just might find love, acceptance, and support.

Many thanks to Pari for her inspiring Facebook status post!

To my friends who are always there, who listen when I ask, and back off when I don't but still manage to let me know they care and are there when I'm ready to talk, you already know I think you're fabulous, awesome, wonderful, etc., but let me tell you now I appreciate and love you more than you can possibly know. Thank you!! Should you need me to return the favor, please don't ever hesitate to let me know. I'll help however I possibly can.

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Life as a Book 2011

I saw this on Beth Groundwater's blog. She got it from Kaye Barley's Meanderings and Muses blog. I thought what the heck, might be fun.
If you want to play, please join us. All you have to do is fill in the blank with a book you've read this year.

My Life as a Book 2011

  1. One time at band/summer camp, I: learned Killer Instinct (Robert Walker)
  2. Weekends at my house are: One Hell of a Journey (L. Christian Amougou)
  3. My neighbor is:  not Missing in Mexico (Stuart Gustafson)
  4. My boss was: never filled with Faith (Jennifer Haigh) in people to do the right thing.
  5. My ex was: the definition of Old Loves Die Hard (Lauren Carr)
  6. My superhero secret identity is: The Four Ms. Bradwells (Meg Waite Clayton)
  7. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry because: anger makes me see NHI: No Humans Involved (Ray Ellis)
  8. I'd win a gold medal in: being Out of Character (David De Steno and Piercarlo Valdesolo)
  9. I'd pay good money for: Writing the Life Poetic (Sage Cohen)
  10. If I were president, I would: issue a Motion to Kill (Joel Goldman) deception in politics
  11. When I don't have good books, I: Blink (Malcolm Gladwell)
  12. Loud talkers at the movies should be: sent to Tyrmia (Ken McConnell)