Thursday morning in Muncie, Indiana. Left the ball state campus and headed into the centre of the Rust Belt town. It's weird, I've left one dilapidated, former industrial city and flown half way around the world only to replace it with another. Spent the morning shadowing a probation officer, which was YET ANOTHER amazing few hours. Philip Johnson, a seventy something probation officer was another of the most down to earth guys I've ever met. He's given 30 something years to being a probation officer and is waiting to be told that he can "just go fishing". But for someone waiting to retire, he makes the most enormous difference to the people he works with. A former alcoholic now 25 years sober, he works mostly with guys and girls on probation who have suffered from substance abuse, he levels the playing field with them and looked to be helping people genuinely turn their lives around. The 3 people who came in seemed genuinely upbeat and happy. One guy came in with his daughter asking about a new job he's thinking of taking up as a bar tender, a woman came in who was over the moon with how she'd turned her life around, and a final guy, which moved me particularly, had a new job and was eager to update his file to include his first ever mobile phone number. Moving morning spent with some inspiring people.
After saying goodbye to Phil, I headed up to a nice little fishing themed restaurant called the White River Landing, where I devoured a highly reconmened, delicious (if slightly small) Chicken Ranch Pizza. It was amazing. From there we headed back to campus to have a tutorial/lesson/meeting with the man in charge of a programme based in the Southside (the projects) of Muncie. We heard a great deal about the issues in the area, what's currently being done and about the emerging gang problem. We then split off into smaller groups where we discussed various viable options to quell the gang problem. It felt brilliant to be putting all the things I've learned from lectures and tutorials and essays and reading from the last year into something applied. We settled on a few solutions, but whether the "Muncie Weed and Seed Project" will adopt them we shall have to see...
Headed over to the gym with the National Guardsman and Footballer again, this time for a horrific arm session. Now I'm not normally one to focus on a single part of my body in a workout, normally aiming to hit everything every time I train. So this hurt. Lots. Seriously it was days ago and my arms still feel like rocks.
"About as bad as it gets"
Woke up this morning feeling apprehensive. Quite rightly so I think, seeing as we were due to spend the day in Pendleton Maximum Security Correctional Facility. This facility, 30 something miles north of Indianapolis holds 2000 inmates and in the past held John Dillinger (one of the few places he didn't escape from, but that's another story). We drove for an hour to the prison, where we underwent a fairly comprehensive drug search. To keep this in perspective, I cleaned the bottom of my shoes to make sure there was no drug residue. I left my wallet in the car because 90% of American money has traces of drugs on it (apparently true in the UK too, but gonna look into that a bit more) to make sure that the Drug "Sniffing" Machine didn't pick up anything out of the ordinary. After everyone had been scanned by 2 intimidating machines and patted down, we went in.
I'll be honest, it was one of the most intimidating experiences of my life. We saw everywhere, the cells, the mess hall, the library, the recreation area, the dorms, the school, the good behavior block, the infirmary, Solitary. Heckled the entire way round (mostly the girls I was with, but pretty sure I got some too) the whole time was nerve wracking. But worth it. Seeing people doing the time for some of the most horrible crimes imaginable shows, that however flawed the system may be, parts of it work.
The afternoon had some surprises of it's own. We stopped at a buffet on the way home (so- much- food.) and the girls disappeared off shopping. Earlier on in the week we met a veteran cop, with 32 years under his belt. I met him again for a cup of coffee and picked his brain on some of the finer, less classroom oriented points of policing the scum of the US. This is a guy who has policed some of the worst parts of the US, and picked up plenty of stories and scars to prove it. Learnt more than I ever though I would. He passed on a few things to me, one being a police patch from the Anderson Police Department, a tradition among police and something I was proud to be included in.
There are more stories, but not the sort of thing I want to blog from beyond the back of beyond in Indiana. It's also getting late over here, and I need to be up and perky in the morning for a trip to...wait for it...CHICAGO. That's right. Joe is going to the Windy City. Expect LOTS of photos and some more awesome stories.
Take care everyone.