One of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century, H.P. Lovecraft,defined horror as: "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." (Wikipedia)
So what could be so horrific in a recruiter’s job experiences that would qualify as a “horror story”? Who would think that such a job, the one of being a recruiter, would have horror attached to it? Well it’s here and there and the stories shared in this contest reflect a variety of aspects of what horror is in certain circumstances for recruiters.
For me my horror came in the job itself. Frankly, the horror of dying on the job. No joke. My fear was a combination of the known and the unknown. Allow me to explain—did you know that in California State Prisons there is a “No Hostage Policy”? It is interpreted as: “If you’re taken as a hostage by prisoners in a prison setting there will be NO negotiation for your release.” You’re essentially SLO.
My Horror Story: The Short and Long of It
Long story short--I left a Civilian Recruiter role in the Army when my enlistment was up in 1974, just after Nixon was impeached, Watergate had the headlines and the recession was on, magnified by the oil shortage crises that started in ’73. Unemployment in California was 11% in many places. Jobs were scarce.
However, my professional network directed me to a Federal, State and Minority Community Based Not-For-Profit organization trying to make a recruiting, training and job placement grant work within the California Department of Corrections. A job opening existed for an Administrator with Recruitment, Training, Job Development, Job Placement responsibilities. I qualified, was hired, and arrived at a prison in Northern California with linkage to Folsom, Soledad, San Quentin, Vacaville and Tracy—all famous and infamous State Prisons in California.
My job was to interview, select/recruit, coordinate training, help counsel, and help directly and indirectly with job placement efforts of felons scheduled to be released in 1-2 years. My first presentation to an audience of inmates and inmate leaders ended with my life being threatened. I made the mistake of suggesting, “That if you’re not interested in our program which is designed to help you prepare for parole back into mainstream society—thank God you’re locked-up. You belong here.”
After that presentation a Chicano inmate leader approached me and said, “Ese, this program can be a big help to those inmates here who need it and want to participate. That’s on them. But if you ever talk to us like that again--we’ll KILL YOU! Mfker!” As the reality of my life being threatened hit me this same inmate then said, “Vato (dude), your heart is in the right place. You want to help us help ourselves and this program is failing because they fired the last set of free people who tried to run it. I’m going to school you on how to survive here so that your program could be a good thing for us. But if it’s BULLSHIT and you’re BULLSHIT. Vamos a tener que matarte aquí o donde quiera que vaya (we'll have to kill you here or where ever you go). He then smiled and we shook hands. He was my mentor in all things related “prison survival” from that day forward. He represented the Hispanic inmates on the yard. I received similar threats from the White and Black inmate leaders as well.
Frankly, any job that starts with your life being threatened qualifies as horrific and this truly was. And nothing signifies that better than the statement made to you when you enter a California State Prison as a free person for the first time. As you enter from the outside going in you pass through what is called a “sally-port”. This is the in-between space that you step into from the outside where the gate is closed behind you and just before another gate is opened allowing you to enter the prison proper. It is at that moment, between those two gates, that all free people are read the no-hostage policy, “If you are taken hostage here today, the Governor of the State of California allows us to inform you that there is a no-hostage policy here. We will not negotiate for your release if the prisoners here take you hostage and want to bargin with your life. Do you understand” That’s their on-boarding statement that brings shivers to the toughest men I’ve seen pass through the sally port. Many decided not to enter. I did.
Next came the recruitment selection process wherein 100 inmates had to be interviewed for selection and placement into the training/counseling and job placement aspect of the program. Again, one-on-one interviews with murderers, serial killers, crazies, repeat offenders—all criminals with known and unknown backgrounds sit at arms length—face-to-face with me to determine if they are a fit for the program (a program designed BTW by four-time losers who saw all the hurdles paroled inmates faced that contributed to 60%-70% recidivism). This program was brought in to stem that flow. The yelling matches I had with some inmates who were not accepting being rejected put contracts on me on the yard. The only thing that saved me were the inmate leaders who intervened on my behalf for the good of the program. Nevertheless, I was coached by security on what to do if I was attacked and how to signal them. To my good fortune, though there were near hits—I did survive and manged to win most of the inmates over in terms of the good we did on their behalf.
During my approx. four years with the program I ended up directing but still with hands-on recruitment, training/counseling/job placement responsibilities. I directed three counselors and three external job developers. We ran a program that actually made a significant improvement resulting in only 9% recidivism, 92% job placements over a three year period with the likes of: IBM, Xerox, HP and many other California employers.
The horror of the work there was the occasions when young men would turn themselves in to me to escort them to security for solitary confinement because they were being raped on the yard. The horror of the experience was the threat of violence at a moments notice. Example, Mexican National inmate newly incarcerated made the mistake of removing a salt shaker during chow hall from a Black Gorilla Gang members’ table. It was considered an insult—he was killed and the Hispanics rampaged killing a black inmate in retaliation threatening to kill 2 for every one they killed. We, my team worked in the midst of those gang wars…always on the edge of a violent work environment.
The final horror story of my/our experience there at the prison was when the famous and infamous Proposition 13 passed in California—which was the Tax Revolt that defunded many social services type programs like ours. The horror being that we were gaining momentum in minimizing recidivism and getting ex-felons back with their families; back on the job; and contributing as tax paying career minded citizens who prior were rampaging and causing pain in suffering in their wake.
I often say I would still be working in such a role and place had Prop 13 not passed and the program survived. Horror experience yes, but on positive impact side of the equation I have nothing that compares to it.