Sunday, December 12, 2010

smiling through chattering teeth

It was just another night at the juvenile "holding" facility. But just another night at that place was nothing to brag about, enjoy, or feel comfortable with. The usual disruptive sounds brought myself and one other staff member to the juvenile's room to find him standing there pretty agitated. That was nothing new but the metal chair leg he had in his hands was.

"Great." I thought to myself. What was worse in this microcosm of machismo was that his adversaries weren't backing down despite the threat of getting a skull caved in and being bludgeoned to death.

Ah yes, nice and volatile.

Angry groups are always far more dangerous than a single individual who is mad. They feed off of each other. Encourage negative behavior out of each other. And every individual within the group tries to out tough guy the other in the group. So here we are a couple of angry young gang members exchanging words with a couple of other angry young (did I mention fairly athletic?) gang members. And now a weapon is involved.

Something to note is this. Why did this kid pick up a weapon in the first place? To intimidate? Why intimidate? To cause hesitation, to create fear in his enemies. Why did he need to do that? Most likely because he was afraid in the first place. The last thing I wanted to do was make that fear worse. The more afraid an animal is, the more aggressive he can become.

To be fair I never had any personal problems with this one kid, the one with the deadly weapon, so I felt a little more at ease with him than some of the others there. It was a little easier to fake a smile. But once metal starts getting thrown around that kind of negates that comfy feeling too. I knew I wasn't going to jump in there in the midst of them like some sort of Bruce Lee / Chuck Norris hybrid ninja. I knew once physical action was started you had to be committed, have a plan, and have back up. We were a little short on staff as usual. I didn't know all the parameters or what exactly was going on. And I was too far away from the guy with the steel rod. At that moment, my smile was my greatest asset and at great risk.

What's that you say? Too far away? Wouldn't that have been the ideal place to be? Not really. Not when there was no place to escape to. What I needed to do was get that weapon away from him before things got really bad. And bloody.

If I stayed at arm's length or only slightly more away, that would put me right in the most powerful part of a swing of that chair leg. Not where you want your skull to be when someone is trying to knock one out of the park. So I had to get close. This wasn't some guy on the street either that I could pick up a bigger stick and go after. It was a kid. A kid bigger than me. Better armed than me. But someone's kid nonetheless. Someone's kid that despite being in trouble with the law, was still my responsibility to keep as safe as possible. So I took the Sun Tzu approach.

Sun Tzu was the Chinese philosopher that wrote the ever popular "Art of War." A book still used today in business and military strategy. My favorite quote from the book, "All warfare is based on deception."

I had to pretend everything was cool, that this was really no big deal, and that I certainly had no intention of physically engaging him. Big smiles, biiiggg smiles. Deception.

All so I could get close. That's the thing that any attacker has to do. He has to "get close" in order to carry out his physical attack. Many predators also have to get close mentally first in order to get close physically. So I used non-aggressive body language (yet remembering to keep my body as safe as possible.) I used an oblique approach to him as well. If I tried to get at him from behind that would equal aggression. If I ran or made sudden movements toward him, aggression. If I approached him head on, I would become his primary target instead of the other guys. So I approached with a calm, lighthearted (yeah that was a task) vocal tone, with the "calm down" hand gestures going. These hand gestures also provide a "ready to defend" posture as well.

Once I got in close I shot my hands down on his wrist and on the bar itself. I grabbed the bar knowing that physics would be on my side, making it a lever to pry out of his hand. I grabbed the wrist to stabilize his hand and keep him from so readily snatching it away.

Well it didn't work out all pretty and flashy like in the movies either. It wasn't a quick loopy movement with a snap of bone and then the weapon was in my hand. Nope, I kind of had to twist it out of his hand. But once I got it, I didn't care what it looked like. Now I had the weapon and he didn't.

Taking the weapon out of the equation seemed to de-escalate the crowd. Or maybe it was because "Mr. Tonio has a steel chair leg and is kinda pissed." "Mr. Tonio ain't smilin' no more." But the end result was what we wanted. No fight. No swinging steel weapon. No bleeding. No stitches or premature death. No one's kid hurt. No me hurt. Just paperwork and another "war story." Everyone happy.

Well at least everyone capable of smiling a full smile.

Here's what you take away from the story:

Groups are always more dangerous. Guilt and individual responsibility are diffused throughout the group. Its easier for a person to kill you when he feels lost in a group.

In dealing with weapons, and you are unarmed, the ideal place to be is anywhere but there.

If someone is going to start swinging an elongated bludgeoning weapon, (and you cannot escape,) you want to be within the arc of power. Not at the very tip of it. You don't want to be right in front of him either. They call it "kill zone" for a reason ya know.

Fancy is for the movies.

Watch your body language. It speaks volumes.

Don't try and be macho. Use deception. You have to get close sometimes and you can't get close if you're playing macho.

Fear=aggression. Someone who is afraid can be far more dangerous.

Smiling in the face of danger doesn't necessarily mean bravery. Sometimes its just part of being able to stay alive for another day.

Ahh...there. That's worth smiling over.

Written and submitted by our friends at A.U. Violence Management Services