Sometimes I think we've over-bought into the idea that we can be effective by focusing primarily on the numbers. Sure, numbers can be an essential part of the equation. But they don't take into account some of the most important things of all. It's hard to measure, for example, the true impact of a real human connection.
People aren't widgets.
The other day I met with an inmate who was being released after his 42nd stay in the jail. I can't imagine that he didn't already know that he could go to the Food and Care Coalition to get a hot meal and some bus tokens.
Maybe I helped him by mapping out his to do list to make it more manageable. Get a two-week supply of your current meds at the Rite Aid by the hospital. While you're waiting for them to fill the prescription, go across the street to the Deseret Industries to get a change of clothes. After you check in with your probation officer, go to the Health and Justice Building next door to get a birth certificate so you can get your social security card and then your state photo ID. And so on.
I don't know. Maybe the practical information we talked about will make a difference for him and he'll put more pieces of his life together this time around. I always hope it will.
But it was the unofficial conversation we had as we wrapped up our meeting that struck me.
While we talked, he had his arms resting on the table, hands out, palms up, gesturing. I kept noticing the tattoos on the inside of his forearms.
"Your tattoos are really colorful," I said. "More colorful than I usually see."
His eyes lit up. He pointed to the roses on his right arm. "These were just in black ink for a long time," he said. "Then one day I learned from my daughter that different colored roses have different meanings. So I added color based on those." He showed me the intricate pattern of red fading into yellow and yellow fading into red. I wondered what stories they told.
He turned to go back to his housing unit with a smile on his face. Someone--who was not, by the numbers, required to see him--saw.