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I’ve come adrift. Not frightfully so and not such that I’ve lost sight of the shoreline or my old mooring, but my new job has unsettled some things I was confident I knew about myself. It has put question marks at the end of some sentences I had for years confidently punctuated with exclamation points.

As a Libertarian activist, 2-term state party chair, veteran of a state-wide-televised gubernatorial debate, widely-published essayist, blogger and so on, I am accustomed to knowing the extremely limited role of legitimate government and being able to accurately define it.

As a lifetime capitalist, free-marketeer, inventor and innovator with well over 20 years of self-employment and multiple business creations in my wake, the me I know is designed to be either self-employed or work with folks who are living in the free market, whose successes and failures are totally based on the sturm and drang of unfettered market forces.

As an acolyte of Austrian Economics, I understand the imminent disaster stemming from central banking, fiat currency, widespread dependence on big government and the extreme shortage in our society of self-sufficient people capable of creative, independent thinking and action.

As the society we inhabit approaches the obvious-to-me waterfall of economic collapse, I’ve been working to navigate my little skiff away from the mainstream. While the timing of the tipping point and exact results of the fall aren’t clear, it is apparent to me that a future with a tolerable quality of life requires moving away from communities based on consumption, extravagance, trivialities and production of nonessential goods and services.

Obvious of course, is that employment in government service or any dependence on government for income, food or shelter is for fools. When we are all reduced to scratching and clawing for the essentials, nearly all, if not all government programs will disappear or shrink to a tiny percentage of their current selves. This obviously includes any communities and free-marketeers who depend on those recipients of government money.

A related subset of my grand knowledge is that the US prison system, with far and away the highest incarceration rates on the planet, is one of those areas of government that needs to be trimmed with a vigorously-applied machete. More accurately, the mountain of laws and near-infinity of activities held to be illegal need to be trimmed to those few things rational cultures prohibit as infringing on the rights of others to life, liberty and property.

So our first 18 months in Galt’s Gulch saw several attempts to establish an adequate, reliable income stream that would survive massive economic and societal change. Darn this self-sufficient community we selected and have been growing a part of. They already had covered the trades I offered and employees I could be – with a line of cousins, nephews and well-known long-term neighbors waiting in the wings. Our modest little savings stored in silver coin was dwindling more rapidly than the dollar was depreciating. The jobs we did get were available to “outsiders” for good reasons.

Mr. Irresistible Force, meet Mr. Immoveable Object.

I finally won one. As of December 16th, I have been working as a Corrections Officer.

Wait! Don’t slam the book down in disgust. It really is a good job. Lemme explain.

First a little context. The Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) has a number of facilities spread around the state. One general classification calls them maximum security, medium security, minimum security and work centers, with the latter acting as a transitional place from prison back to the free world and the former housing them in as relatively secure and safe environment as government agents can provide within the budget available. These offenders serve between the minimum and maximum sentences (ie: 3-5 years) that the courts assigned them in the least expensive and thus least restrictive environment IDOC can trust them in.

While this is going on, the legislature and courts send increasing numbers of previously free men to IDOC for care and feeding, asking only that it be done for decreasing dollars-per-inmate annually while the Federal Reserve Notes themselves buy less and less each year.

IDOC operates one institution in the state for the courts to use as “retained jurisdiction”. Here the judges tell the convict that he has up to 180 days to straighten up his act or he will go to a regular prison. If within that 180 days, the offender demonstrates that he can behave himself within some very limited and clearly-defined boundaries and make significant progress in some relevant programs, he goes back before the judge who will change the sentence to probation instead of prison time. Some of the programs this institution offers are anger management, addiction management, GED, high school diplomas and avoiding criminal thinking.

This is where I work.

With 6 years as a spouse to one working in IDOC’s central office with the highest-level officials there, I come into this position with more than a little respect for the professionalism within the management teams. I also know that is not universal in the corrections industry. From previous tours and applying to be the Plant Manager, I know this particular institution reflects those values.

I dreaded facing the high percentage of “war on drugs” victims my research tells me are in the system. “Managing” them would be like asking Arlo Guthrie if he has reformed enough from littering to go kill Vietnamese people. While about half the corrections officers feel that checking out the records so they can “know what they are in for” helps them, I’m among the half that focuses on inmate behavior while here and don’t seek that knowledge. Nevertheless, thanks to rotted-out methamphetamine mouths, inmate explanations or through other ways, I do end up knowing many of the offenses that land these guys under our care, and have yet to find ONE where drug possession or use convictions are what got them here.

Many of them tell me of all they lost on the way to their personal gutters. Typical in many ways, an ex-major league baseball player with trading cards available on e-bay read me his poem, “My drug of choice.” It was a very touching 2-pager describing his loss of career, family, self-respect and everything worth having in his life. We discussed what he might give back to the game and his plan to operate baseball camps when he gets out. I think he’ll make it.

Speaking of which, it is somewhat heartening to know that over 60% of the convicts do not return to the prison system. That reinforces the feelings I get from these guys when we talk about their thinking and behavior changes that will keep them out. The other side of that statistic is also unfortunately reinforced by some who explain how their minds just work differently from mine. That they are simply not wired to think about their future or consequences of their behaviors. How they expect to hold a good job until their first payday whereupon they will party until their parole officer sends them to the big house.

Outnumbered about 100 to 1, I keep my charges within a rigid set of lines using wits, voice, command presence, innovative sanctions and documentation of their behaviors. After a quick OJT week with half a dozen different C/Os, we are encouraged by our trainers to “find your own style and stick with it”, I have eschewed the drill-instructor style and adopted more the 1st Lieutenant one (definitely not second-louie, if you know what I mean). I think it gives me good control while being firmer than some and steadier than most.

While encouraged to write up every rule infraction, I tend far more to write up positive behaviors while discouraging negative with methods less likely to leave scars on their records. Balancing that, of course, with the need to make darn sure nobody is taking advantage of any perceived weakness in me and to make sure anyone I suspect of a pattern of pushing against the rules has that pattern show up on their record. When I do write a negative entry “for” them, they have earned it and it smokes.

Do I enjoy it? Yes. Does that surprise me? Yes. Am I good at it? Yes. Does THAT surprise me? Kinda. Several correctional employees and executives have told me I’d be good at this, but I doubted I’d be able to do it. Of course I didn’t visualize an institution like the one hiring me with several wide-open converted USAF barracks and related buildings within a multi-acre fenced compound. I get to move a lot both indoors and out without a lot of walls and only a few real “cells” for serious detention (very short term).

I tell them from the start that “I’ll treat you with honor and respect and you will treat me with honor and respect. We will get along just fine.” Usually with one or two quick lessons, they all understand that concept. I enjoy the positive relationships, the respect, the opportunities to help them exercise constructive thinking, am proud they can confide in me and in some way I have yet to fully comprehend, I enjoy staying one step ahead and in control of those who do challenge the rules. This may well be the best “thinking” job I’ve had.

Now where am I? … reminds me of what you get when you cross an elephant with a rino? Elephino.

And I guess that’s my point. I am in a bit of a philosophical mud bog. I can hardly expound on liberty, small-government, anarchy, entrepreneurism, eliminating taxation and things like that without bigotting myself. I can hardly feel prepared for the collapse of our currency and of the government issuing the checks while I’m on direct deposit from the state.

For now I think I’ll go sit in the corner and read the literature of real Libertarians, Austrian economists and legitimate philosophers. I guess too, I might as well enjoy the scenery on this new path while I find out where it leads.