Saturday 18 April 2009

Hiding in the Office

I have recently been on a day long course that was supposed to equip me with skills and techniques for dealing with aggressive and potentially violent individuals. Needless to say, none of these skills involved learning how to keep a chav in a headlock until the police arrive, that is the type of skills that would be useful. No, these skills are more of a touchy-feely variety, they try not to lessen the self-esteem of the perpetrator, you get the idea. Basically, they are of no use to you once a violent person decides to beat you to a pulp. Today, I will have an opportunity to put some of this newly acquired wisdom into practice.

It’s around noon and the food delivery has just arrived at the Refuge day centre for pseudo-homeless young people. The centre is relatively quiet this lunch time, there are only five or six service users here. One of whom is Terry, a tall well built lad of about twenty, with a serious rage problem as I am about to discover.

Terry isn’t all bad as many of these young people aren’t. At first glance you would dismiss him as a complete yob, and up to a point you would be right. However, Terry has an aptitude for cookery and is amazing in a kitchen at rustling up very nutritious meals with limited ingredients. He has a passion for fish and in particular Caribbean recipes. However, a first glance at Terry and you wouldn’t have him down as a skilled Afro-Caribbean cook, for a start he is white, and dresses in the type of clobber you would more associate with pies, chips and other junk foods. It’s a pity the state couldn’t develop an education system to ensure that the likes of Terry utilised their aptitudes as opposed to turning to a life of crime from a young age, which Terry has.

Terry isn’t too fond of the few rules that we have and was recently banned for a month for openly drinking alcohol in the centre. Today, he decides to eat his lunch in the common room where eating is prohibited and only drinks are allowed. I remind Terry of the rule and he blatantly ignores me and stands in the centre of the common room eating. After about twenty seconds I remind Terry again but this time inform him that if he doesn’t abide by the rules he may find himself banned again for a month. Terry doesn’t like authority or rules (like so many of our youth), and he feels the need to rebel instantly. He becomes very verbally abusive telling me to “f*ck off and leave me alone”. I follow him into the kitchen/dining area.

“Terry there is no need to talk to me like that I am simply reminding you of the rule regarding no food in the lounge, it’s the same for everyone.”

Terry starts to get very agitated and is pacing up and down the kitchen. I stand with my back against the wall awaiting his response. He tells me:

“I told you to f*ck off, get out of the kitchen for your own sake, I’m warning you.”

I am pretty frightened but decide not to capitulate as it would be sending out the wrong message to the service users that the staff will take all kinds of abuse. I stand with my back to the wall and ignore his request.

Terry becomes extremely angry and I can see there is an avalanche of rage accumulating within him. He throws his sandwich at me and screams, not shouts, at me as well as other members of staff:

“Get the fuck out of here. I’ve already told you to go. You better for your own sake.”

I stand my ground and don’t budge. I also look him in the eye as his threats escalate. Very bad move, I obviously wasn’t listening on the course. He flips out and flings some more food about the kitchen.

“I’m going to f*cking kill you! Outside now! If you don’t come outside I’m going to come back at closing time with a crowbar and I am going to seriously mess you up! You f*cking c**t!”

Judging by the look in his eyes and the people holding him back I take his threats very seriously. I decide to put one of the guidelines from the course in to practice:

“Also, since violent impulses are often momentary and fleeting, it can be useful to have furniture between yourself and the service user.”

Instead of placing furniture between me and Terry, I opt instead for a thick wall and a locked door. I am now hiding in the office and Matt one of our male volunteers keeps me company.

Terry is in the kitchen still screaming about what he will do to me when I come out. I can hear dishes being smashed. Agnes and a few female volunteers are trying to calm him down. Whilst holed up in the office, apart from shitting myself, I muse on some of the possible techniques from my recent course I could have used to defuse the situation with Terry. Here is a list of some of them:

“If possible you should be firm, assertive, but fair.”
I tried that one, that’s what kicked him off.

“Let the service user know that you recognise how they are feeling.”
“Terry I recognise that you are in a state of rage, please don’t hit me.”

“Encourage the person to express verbally their feelings.” He is continuing to do that at this moment. I can hear him telling the other staff that he feels I deserve a beating and he will be the one to deliver it. Is now the time for me to leave the office and ask him to express his feelings or should I wait?

“Use the person’s first name as frequently as possible. If the client is projecting their anger against others (e.g. social workers, authority figures) do all you can to let them see you as an individual rather than a role, Tell them who you are. Disclose minor personal details.” If only I had remembered that one as his rage escalated, I could have told him a light hearted anecdote about myself or asked him, “Did you know my favourite animals are ducks, what about yourself?”

“It can be useful to let the person know the effect they are having on you.”
In case you weren’t aware those are my teeth that you just knocked out and are you aware that you are kicking me in the face. Just thought I would let you know, in case you hadn’t realised.

“Avoid physical contact, at least until the incident is over.” I’m glad I remembered that one as I was going to try to hug him whilst he was threatening to bash my head in with a crowbar.

“Avoid sudden sharp movements”. There goes running away.

"If you are going to take physical action (e.g. stand up, walk away, leave the room etc.) let the person know what you are going to do before you do it. In this way you avoid your actions being interpreted as hostile." It is disturbing to think there are people who can construe walking away from a situation as a hostile act.

After a half hour or so Terry calms down and Agnes comes in to the office to see how I am.

“You ok? He has calmed down now.”

“I am a bit shook up I thought he might have grabbed a knife or something he was that enraged. I take it he will be barred for that. It does state in our rules that threats of violence or actual violence will lead to people being barred. I don’t feel I should be the one that issues him with the ban either after what I’ve just been through with him it could kick him off again.”

Verbal threats around here constitute a month’s ban and actual violence a lifetime ban. However, I feel that even threats of violence should lead to a lifetime ban, as it is very difficult to work with people that have physically threatened you in the past. Besides, threats of violence are a form of intimidation and there should be a zero tolerance policy on this.

“Well, whatever you feel is necessary, he does have a problem with male authority on account of his violent father. He is sorry so maybe we should just give him a warning, but if you feel he should barred then go ahead and do so,” states Agnes.

“According to the rules we should be banning him for a month, and if the rules made sense he would be out of here permanently for this behaviour.”

I have just decided that I am going to leave this place within the next two months, as I really don’t feel safe working here. What’s more is that Agnes should be sticking strictly to the centre’s policies and issuing this lad with a ban. By not doing so she is putting her staff at risk of violent, threatening and aggressive behaviour.

Terry gets a month ban and I have to push for Agnes to be the one to issue it as I feel that being the one just threatened I should have the support of management. If I hadn’t been determined and outspoken Agnes would have been happy to have just asked him not to do it again.

Agnes is like so many adults in today’s society that excuse or fail to confront the anti social behaviour of our problem youth and young adults. People of Agnes’s temperament and outlook pervade the education and care system and the youth offending sector. Is it any wonder then that crime amongst young people is spiralling and the behaviour in many of our secondary schools is out of control?


Boy on a bike said...

If you let people get away with a certain behaviour, is it any wonder that they think it is ok to repeat it?

It's so obvious to many of us, but those running the system appear to be wilfully blind.

Hogdayafternoon said...

As I also eventually realised, a lot of the people I encountered in situations like this had never had anyone in their lives, including their parents or whatever passed for them, come up to them and say "No" and, more importantly, mean it.

Clearly there's no Room 103 in your workplace Mr Smith. Look after yourself at all costs, because if you're injured, or end up inflicting injury, your masters, in an act of shameless arse covering, will state piously that `Winston Smith did actually attend a course in dealing with aggressive and potentially violent individuals`.

Constable said...

Leave it behind mate.

You have a conscience working with people who are too happy to live in a world were "politics" encourage you to have none.

Your manager needs a good kicking don't you Agnes and the policies need serious revision.

Follow your beliefs my friend, they seem to hold you above the rest of the slime maggots who purport to do your job.


Anonymous said...

I weep for the future...

Anonymous said...

Ever thought of submiting your posts to a newspaper so they get a wider readership Winston.
This guy needs to learn discipline,the army would help there.

Jonathan Levy said...

I find your experiences to be quite interesting, and will certainly be checking here regularly to read more of them.

Have you read any of the writings of Theodore Dalrymple? It seems to me that both of you work with similar groups of people, and I would be quite curious to know what you think of his analysis.

Please keep writing,

Jonathan Levy

WinstonSmith33 said...

Hi DMC. There is a book in the pipeline.

Yes Mr.Levy I've read Dalrymple and I think he's spot on. I mostly agree with his analysis and he is an excellent writer as well.

Anonymous said...

I also agree you should leave.


Neil said...

Excellent insight, excellent writing.
What cretins the homelessness bureaucrats are. They know nothing of common sense.
I agree with the comment about Theodore Dalrymple - a first-class writer.
I'll look forward to your book. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Pleased to hear that you did not get injured.It certainly sounds like a good idea to move on from your job as soon as possible. I deal with care workers on a regular basis and the support provided is a disgrace. Take care and watch out for this boy in case he returns in yet another 'rage' as he may well fixate on you as a target.

Dick the Prick said...

Defo get the hell out of Dodge but where does it end? Geez man - you're getting screwed with your pants on for doing your job.

I used to do drugs analysis and whilst 'customer' survey info always came out +ve and I guess any harm minimization teaching (even if bribed to turn up) has to be a good thing - all other data kinda came to prove that err...hmm.. drug treatment doesn't bloody work and actually exacerbates the problem.

Let's give the NTA £300 million extra, let's disjoint DIPs, DATs, CARATs, Treatment Agencies and CJIPs. It's just a bloody expensive merry go round of arse over tit bullshit.

I dunno - ain't got many answers and wasn't allowed to tell people to just bugger off to the boozer or the offy because err.. it's legal.

Fortunately I got out but I walked out of my job and have only just got another one this week after 6 months of researching 'homes under the hammer' and 'diagnosis murder' - it's a gamble.

Anywho - all the very best.

Anonymous said...

"..................It is disturbing to think there are people who can construe walking away from a situation as a hostile act."

Certainly not Ian Tomlinson's final attacker.

Uponnothing said...

Interesting post. I've been a supply teacher in some pretty violent inner-city schools and after a while I started hating the kids.

However, I realised that this was not fair on them. They didn't ask to be born to shitty parents, in a shitty house, on a shitty estate full of shitty people.

We judge these people because we understand social codes and behaviours, we know what others expect of us and we are conditioned to behave as best we can in most situations. What we have to remember is that the majority of troubled youths received none of this, they were unlucky and were born to different parents.

Like I said, they didn't ask to be born, and had no choice about what family, and consequently what world they grew up in.

I work in Further Education in one of the most deprived areas of Wales, I have learned that many disadvantaged youths are intelligent and respectful youngsters.

Please be careful not to tar all youth with the same brush - some of the comments on this site reek of the Daily Mail.

Anonymous said...

"Terry becomes extremely angry and I can see there is an avalanche of rage accumulating within him. He throws his sandwich at me and screams, not shouts, at me as well as other members of staff:

“Get the fuck out of here. I’ve already told you to go. You better for your own sake.”

I stand my ground and don’t budge. I also look him in the eye as his threats escalate. Very bad move, I obviously wasn’t listening on the course."

I also work with the young homeless. Here, as a reminder, is Rule #1: withdraw from any volatile situation at the earliest opportunity.

You are clearly (by your own admission, in fact) frightened of the 'underclass' you have to deal with. The contempt you hold them in is writ large all over this blog and people like Terry can smell that.

Find a new job. You clearly aren't cut out for your current one.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous above does have a point. I suspect that somewhere inside you know, but haven't written, that there are people around who might have been able to handle this situation. That you couldn't is no crime, but your account here avoids that possibility, and asks us instead to join you in blaming the stupid system, and stupid other people. The fact is, even if everyone was taught the "discipline" to agree with your views, there would still be situations you couldn't handle.

WinstonSmith33 said...

I actually get on quite well with most of the people I work with and even the ones that I dont like or get on with I act towards them in a professional and courteous manner.

Contrary to what was suggested by an anonymous poster, I in know way show any contempt toward the people I work with in the context of working with them. This blog is somewhere that I can express my feelings and frustrations with waht I have to deal with everyday. It is a form of catharsis.

I would also like to add that I get on very well with the majority of the young people I work with even the feckless ones. Believe it or not I was a bit like some of them myself when I was there age, but I group in a tougher society that didnt tolerate the kind of nonsense tolerated today and so I was forced to grow up and cop on quicker.

This idea that all negative and destructive behaviour is as a result of people coming from rough estates with crap parents is a massive generalisation and fails to account for all those kids in care or from rough backgrounds who dont turn to crime or end up drug addicts. This is a bleeding heart ultra liberal excuse and most decent people from poor neighbourhoods would disagree and be insulted by the generalisation.

Yes, these kids face a greater risk of falling in to that category than others but its not in my opinion the over riding factor. Ive worked with some young people with horrific backgrounds that were more together in their lifes than some of the staff working with them.

Carl Eve said...

"Ive worked with some young people with horrific backgrounds that were more together in their lifes than some of the staff working with them"

Ah, but can you tell us why that is?

How come some unfortunates become legends while others remain utter shits?

Anonymous said...

I think its important to have a stabilising figure in childhood who tells you that drinking and robbing and fighting isn't normal. Without that, drinking and robbing and fighting will be all you know until you're old enough to reflect upon what's normal and what isn't. I speak from experience, as one who had just such a stabilising figure - my dad - whilst my mum was busy drinking whisky and falling down stairs.

WinstonSmith33 said...

Yes anonymous it is important to have a stabilising figure in your life and even when a child has one or two parents to provide this there are still no guarantees that kid wont get in to trouble of one kind or another.

Human beings are generally flawed by nature and need to have their behaviour regulated in order to be socialised. There have always been rubbish parents and dysfunctional families and a lot of dysfunction in the past merely went on behind closed doors. This was a lamentable state of affairs.

However, what we have in the current age is a situation where dysfunctional behaviour not only occurs behind closed doors but in the open as well.

In the past, the wider society was a lot less tolerant of violence and crime. It didnt matter how crap your home life was criminal or anti social behaviour was not accepted. Most people knew this and the law didnt make excuse for people for bad behaviour it punished them, sometimes too severely. It wasnt a perfect state of affairs. However, today we have gone to the other extreme and seem to view punshment as a last resort. I feel that if we resorted to it in the first instance we would have a lot less in the form of social problems. Im all for therapaeutic approaches but these need to be coupled with punishment.

Anonymous said...

"How come some unfortunates become legends while others remain utter shits?"

Variety of reasons. Some it just dawns on them that they can do better in their life ; the help of a good teacher, a Winston, a sane member of their family as a role model.

Some realise their family are cr@p and resolve not to be like them. Some disown them. Some are sucked into the mire of their family and sink.

Some reach a carer/teacher/whatever strong enough to be their brick wall who won't let them indulge their behaviours.

Some learn a 'real world lesson' ; that being rude to a big bloke when you are adult gets you a punch in the mouth and no-one really cares anymore because you're 'not a child'.

Some never learn at all.

halojones-fan said...

Seems to me that most of Agnes's problem is that she is pathologically conflict-averse, much like too many in modern society. Her problem isn't that she thinks you were wrong, or that she thinks you could have done better, or that she genuinely believes that it's not his fault. No; she's just scared, scared of loud voices and breaking dishes and strong emotion. She hates these things and wants them to go away, and she's practicing classic avoidance behavior; that is, Pretend It Isn't Happening And Hope It Comes Out All Right In The End.

Anonymous said...


One of the funniest blog posts I've ever read. I always feel for other people involved in the 'entitlement' side of Britain I work in.

Know mate, that whenever I tip up to a care home, and the customers are being a bit off, there's ALWAYS a breach of the peace, and they ALWAYS come in, even if just to give the staff the night off from some sniveling wretch.

Keep it up.