Thursday, July 19, 2012

Staying Safe

Western Maine is an outstanding place in which to live, and I’ve always felt blessed to be here.  I’ve always felt safe; even while recognizing that it is na├»ve to believe that there is never any danger in our neighborhood.  There is.  We don’t live in a Utopia. 

A popular local convenience store was robbed last night.  As I write this, the only fact I’m privy to is that the crime occurred.  Rumors abound, of course—because we humans are susceptible to the rush of adrenalin, and the desire to be part of the drama—especially after-the-fact, when the danger has abated.   

Friends of mine have been made to feel unsafe in a town that has safely sheltered my family for more than four decades.  That angers me.  It angers me because—even though this criminal will be arrested—will be tried and convicted and punished—he has used fear and the threat of violence as a means to an end.   It angers me because I know, first-hand, what the long-term effects of this act of violence might be.

I’ve been held at gunpoint.  I’ve also been the victim of an armed robbery attempt.  And I’ve worked in an arena where helping a victim sometimes meant entering a ‘danger zone’.  I know--intimately--that it doesn’t matter how brave one is, how prepared one feels, or how insignificant or ‘manageable’ the actual situation might seem; there can be lasting impacts to the victim—even if those impacts aren’t immediately recognized or acknowledged, or if those effects manifest themselves in ways which seem atypical, based on the circumstances of the crime.

Two days from now, my daughter will begin her summer job--working at the store which was held up last night.  Such a job will provide a wonderful opportunity for a high school teenager hoping to earn enough money to take a 10 day trip to Europe next April.  It will also provide the means for my shy daughter to learn how to effectively relate to ‘the public’, how to follow directions and work in a fast-paced environment, and how to be a team player.  She will also—perhaps--begin to understand that it takes great effort to ‘earn a living’.  I’m excited for her, and have high hopes that she will be a valuable addition to the “T Too” team. 

But…I’m a mother.  I love my children with a fierceness that--even now, after 29 years of motherhood—still surprises me.  This morning, upon hearing the news that Trantens Too had been robbed, my first thought was…of my girl.

Instinctively, I wanted to protect her from possible harm and remove her from danger.  But quick on the heels of that thought was this one:  Life is unpredictable.  Even if I could shelter my children forever, there are no guarantees that they would be safe.  None.   And if I allowed one criminal to derail my daughter’s plans, I would be handing our power over to him.  He would have won something he doesn’t deserve and hasn‘t earned—and we would have lost, in equal measure.

On my drive home, I mentally framed the conversation I would have with my teenager to prepare her for the unlikely chance that she might be the victim of an armed robbery.  I would tell her some of things which I’ve learned over the years:

“Remain calm,” I would say.  “Do exactly what you’re told to do—and nothing more.  The most pressing need is to keep yourself and your co-workers and customers safe.  No money or goods are worth risking injury or death.  By remaining calm, you increase the odds that the crime won’t escalate into violence.  The goal is to get the perpetrator off the premises as quickly as possible.

“Be observant.  Try to memorize features, clothing, height, weight, tattoos or piercings, scars, facial hair, speech impediments or voice anomalies.  Mentally file that data. 

“When the perpetrator has left the premises, lock the doors immediately.  Call 911 and calmly relay what happened.  Stay on the line as long as the dispatcher needs you to.  Then, call the owner.  Ask your co-workers to write down their observations without comparing notes, while events are fresh in their minds.  Write your observations down, too.  Don’t speak to anyone about the crime until you’ve been interviewed by the police.

“Don’t touch any surfaces the criminal might have touched, in case there are fingerprints which can be lifted and used as evidence later—or which might help identify the criminal if he is a ‘repeat offender’.  If he left anything at the scene (a note, a piece of clothing, anything) keep it protected and point it out to law enforcement when they arrive.

“Cooperate fully with the police.  No observation, no matter how insignificant it seems, is too minor to share. 

“When you are allowed to leave, call someone you trust to come get you.  It’s important that you feel safe and secure, and that you know it’s okay to vocalize your fears.

“Don’t talk to reporters.  Refer them to the owner or to the police.

“However--talk to the people you love and trust.  Don’t be hesitant to ask for counseling.  Know that it’s okay to admit that you have worries about returning to work. 

“Still…you must return to work.  You’ve gotta get back up on the horse.  There is a wonderful life ahead of you, and no common criminal has the right to keep you from enjoying it.”

These thoughts and many more were running though my head as I arrived home.

I walked through the door.  My daughter bounded down the stairs and into the room.  She’d already ‘heard’ about the robbery on Facebook.  Ah, the wonders of modern-day social media…

“Well, then,” I said to my beautiful seventeen-year-old, “what do you do if someone wants to rob you?”

“Um…hit ‘em with an ax?” she smirked.  No fear.  I was secretly pleased, but her answer was the WRONG answer.  And so…the tutorial commenced.

We won’t be intimidated into staying inside our homes or changing our lifestyles, and we won’t stop ‘living’, just because there are people who think they can forcefully take that which they have not earned.  Instead, we will be calm, and vigilant, and protective of each other.  We live here for a reason—for many reasons—and those who can’t abide by our rules of decency will be shown the door.

That door has bars, by the way.  And a good, strong lock.  

** Posted by Jack, on behalf of Karen, who is experiencing some temporary technical issues.