Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stealing bicycles

Today I completed my third and final 9-to-5 Saturday "Tier 1" volunteer-training session held by the Fairfax County Office for Women/Domestic & Sexual Violence Services. I got a li'l certificate and everything. I haven't gotten a certificate for anything in a long time. It reminds me of elementary school and Citizen of the Month, an honor I wanted so bad but rarely got because I was so darn shy. Those certificates are as revered as Pulitzer Prizes when you're in second grade, or they were back in my day. Anyway, so yeah, I got a certificate, with my name spelled correctly and everything. Yeehaw.

Next, in two weeks, is a two-hour meeting on some weekday evening during which all of us aspiring volunteers learn more about the specific agencies in need of volunteers, and get hooked up with the appropriate contacts at those places. Granted, I jumped ahead a bit, or inadvertently tried to -- before I knew about the upcoming meeting, I had already e-mailed the county's volunteer coordinater and requested to move forward with any training I'd need in order to get involved with the ADAPT Program, group-therapy counseling for "offenders" (people who commit domestic and sexual violence... you know, the bad guys). 

As far as I know, there's still a ton more training I'll have to go through, plus a background check (assuming the volunteer coordinator didn't do one already), then I'd sit in and observe one of the twice-yearly, 18-week group-therapy sessions. However, one of the sessions already started at the beginning of the year, so I'll either a) ask to sit in with the current group, as "bonus" observation not to count toward my required amount of sit-in time; or b) volunteer in some other capacity (answering hotline calls, accompanying victims to medical examinations or court) until the next 18-week round comes up. 

During today's session, which included kooky group-activity exercises (a cultural-sensitivity hypothetical -- "Your plane has crashed, and you get to pick three passengers to accompany you in the life boat...", plus some mock suicide counseling), I finally opened up to a few people and expressed my specific desire to work with offenders. The first person I told was a guy, Victor, who sat next to me in the same church pew for all three sessions. He looked surprised and sort of impressed, as if I'd just told him I was going to run into a burning building without a firefighter suit on.

Then at lunch I sat with these two grizzled veteran social workers and a younger girl who seemed like she'd be them in about 20 years (all three of them even wore the exact same style of glasses). The elder two said grizzled-veteran stuff over our donated lunch of mini-sandwiches and potato salad such as, "That was one bloody scene... I was the one who put the bloody gloves in the bag." After I made some comment about something or other, they asked what my affiliation with all this was. A lot of the participants are employed with county agencies -- they're social workers, they work for one of the domestic-violence shelters, they work in law enforcement or they're government-employed prosecutors. I told them I didn't have one -- that I'm just a volunteer. Then they asked which agency I wanted to volunteer with, and I made a twisted face like this emoticon:

: / 

Because I was worried they'd think I was on the wrong team, some kind of traitor for wanting to help the very people who make victims out of everyone they work with. I prefaced my announcement with, "Well, I know a lot of the longtime social workers say these people can't be 'fixed,' but it seems like there has to be another option than just, 'Run and hide' or 'Hope he gets locked away in jail for a long time.' " I don't know if they were just being polite, but the women were enthusiastically supportive, saying, "Well, if you can make even just one difference in someone's life, it's worth it." But then that some woman said, "I heard somebody say it's like what happens to people who go to prison -- they go in knowing how to steal a bicycle, then they come out knowing how to steal a car." I really hope that's not true, of course. 

I guess I'll find out.

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