Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Point of No Return - Labor pt. 3

Last week we had a "runner" escape from the inmate line. I can't blame him. Working in a monotonous environment featuring single-digit temperatures (the plant is not heated) and a constant barrage of snow outside would make a lot of people take drastic measures. You would think school would be cancelled and people would take off work, but alas, 'snow day' has yet to enter the Colorado lexicon. The show must go on. He only had a month left. According to the grapevine, this guy sneaked out under the guise of a break, called a fellow gangbanger on a stolen cell phone, and was promptly picked up by two sexy ladies in a SUV. Talk about modern Western outlaws. This guy apparently belonged to a loathed "group" of Spanish individuals in Longmont, and is probably across the border at the moment, although he clearly hadn't perused enough crime fiction to know that his cell phone call would be traced. The guy he called has been arrested, as well as one of the ladies that picked him up, but the fugitive is still at large. The crew bosses have confidence that he'll be caught, and unfortunately for him, two years will be added on to the month of time he had remaining.

Apparently, theres a runner on average every one and a half years. This statistic would be interesting to use in a study on how our motivations to escape what we're meant to be doing, whether it fits within our goals or not, plays into behavioral modification. What drives us to the breaking point of saying "Enough! I'm not going to do this anymore!" and gives us the courage/indifference to change our behavior and stand up to oppression, real or perceived? If there's an inmate every one and a half years who decides his current lot isn't worth the personal freedom and gains he could be making on the outside, however horrible his crimes were, then how are you supposed to stop him if his motivation is solid and he's past the point of no return? It's like trying to stop a suicide bomber. You can try and improve the environment in which the individual or group of individuals is coming from or works within. This will have long-term benefits in appeasing the general condition and standard of living in said environments, but in the end, someone with stronger motivations will convince themselves or others that their desires cannot be boxed in, that theirs is a higher cause, and that something else is needed. This is the general trend of Progress with a capital P. No one can ever be satisfied.

Less than half of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. Not being paid enough is a valid cause of some of this discontent, although I'd argue that the majority lies within a perceived lack of meaning to the jobs we perform. All of us have a dream job, which might include being in control of some large company or nonprofit, streamlining production efficiency, maxmizing profits, helping thousands of less fortunate souls, (mine includes some combination of these as well as a comfortable clime (some might even use the word tropical), dacqueris, and copious amounts of paid vacation), but the fact is that there's only a limited amount of these positions. Perhaps, competition for these spots is a good thing; it motivates us to be all we can be (disregard any allusions to the Army's recruitment message, I'm not getting paid off...) to achieve those cherished positions. The trick, which Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham clearly forgot last week, is not to lose sight of the goal. More importantly, not to lose track of what it means, to the bigger picture of your life and the world around you, to be doing whatever you're doing.

What about those who wish to live simply, who like serving others, or cherish getting paid for what these bigwigs would call simple tasks? Their life is usually rooted in a struggle of some kind, whether in solidarity with a cause bigger than themselves or just simply to survive, and it is this struggle that gives them meaning. Devoting ones life to defending a cause they believe in regardless of where it takes them careerwise, or having a steady paycheck to provide for your family's future success and survival are both valid sources of meaning in life. While sorting through what are supposed to be recyclables (but often include everything else in the waste stream), workers here can fall into both categories above. The inmates who put in time here are also able to fulfill what Colorado state law requires of them: to be given eight hours of "meaningful" work. The inmate program here at the recycling center is under review, and most likely will be cancelled due to poor production (or at least poorer production than if we had trained workers on that line), and behavior problems like the one above. There are several pluses to hiring paid workers, the foremost simply being job creation. The Boulder County sherriff is naturally pushing back the deadline for termination in order to find a different work program they can send the inmates to, but sometime around the end of winter, the recycling center will no longer be using inmates as a source of labor.

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