I should no longer be surprised by the nasty things staff say, but I maintain a shred of decency that permits me to be shocked.
One early Spring morning a co-worker and I scuttled hopelessly late into roll call. My daughter held onto the door jam of the entryway when I tried to drop her off at school. Not one to let this slide, no matter who I kept waiting, I made myself late and disappointed. Needless to say, I was a little sore and the clock had barely chimed 7 AM.
I knew very little about this woman aside from one of her tragedies, although I understood there were more, and that she was highly respected by the inmates and staff. She seemed a source of wisdom, and I had been encouraged to speak to her on several occasions only to be snubbed. What had I done wrong?
Halfway across the yard my co-worker who never even says “good morning” to me, if she can help it, piped up, “So, C–, I don’t really talk to you.” She was going to get the Understatement of the Year medal; maybe I was going to get an explanation for the silent treatment. “The reason for that,” she began, “is that I’ve mentored the past two or three new people. And they, left. Within their first year.” She let her dramatic pauses sink in. We both knew the last newbie left the facility in disgrace. She went on, “So I thought, ‘What’s the point [in mentoring]?’ I think I’ll wait to see if you make it past the first year yourself.” No apology, no concern for her hurtful words, no awareness, it seemed, for her implications about my character. Astonished, I couldn’t reply. My husband had some good comebacks over dinner that night. Too late.
Four months later she gave me the most thoughtful baby shower gift. I had hopes that by August she’d be speaking to me, but the magic first year anniversary came and went. Still no sign of a truce or the slightest sign of my existence in her day to day world. My students occasionally say something about her to see my reaction because they don’t seem to understand our relationship either.
All this, and much, much more animosity took time to develop for me. Since staff assumed I’d be toast within weeks, they didn’t bother to get to know me at first. Our new librarian tech was received with even less warmth and grace.
The officer who has filled the librarian tech position for the past nine months is short and stocky. She carries a chip on her shoulder and wears a countenance that has caused me to steer clear of her from the very beginning. Complaining and gossiping come easy to her. During the hiring process I overheard her ream my boss for not doing more to get her approved for the librarian position for which she’s not qualified. In a whisper she told the officer standing next to me that it had to do with her color. Despite all of this, I didn’t think she would be so rude. When my boss introduced the new librarian to her, she bristled, and in front of a library full of offenders declared, “Well, she might make a good librarian, but she won’t make it around the offenders.”
On the contrary, our new librarian is one of the coolest people I’ve met in a long time. She’s refreshingly practical and competent, full of great ideas that the offenders will come to respect. She’s going to be a huge asset to the facility.
You’ll forgive me then, dear reader, when I tell you that I usually hide from my co-workers in the comfort of my own room during my free hours. People make themselves impossible to like and seem blind to the fact that judgments and gossip don’t make friends.