Peacemakers on Both Sides

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
—Matthew 5:9

Every couple of years as a volunteer chaplain, I’m expected to attend a week of "In-Service" training. I felt pretty righteous the first time I gave up a week of my vacation to attend the in-service training at Putnamville Correctional Facility. That is, until I saw the schedule for the week. My feelings were soon replaced by an unrighteous dread as I saw the scores of handouts, tests, and films we were going to see during the next week. Among other things, we are taught how to clean up blood spills, how to survive as a hostage, how to apply mechanical restraints, and how to do lots of other things I don’t ever want to try.

I sit through the class with 30 other people. We spend the week together and learn everything the Department of Corrections says we need to know this year. Sergeant Metzger is the leader of our class. She looks to be about 50 years old. She says she’s a grandmother, and when she smiles I can sometimes picture her outside the prison in a happier place playing with her grandkids. But, today, she’s all business. She is dressed in what appears to me to be SWAT gear. She’s wearing army boots and a dark blue DOC uniform that is perfectly pressed. She’s maybe five foot three in those boots, but her tough-as-nails presence adds about ten inches to her height.

We spend the morning inside a small classroom with Sergeant Metzger. After a lunch break, she leads us outside. It’s June and it’s warm. I’ve been sitting in class watching DOC training films and I’m ready to stretch my legs. Sergeant Metzger has more than that on her mind. She’s teaching us self-defense this afternoon. Given my Quaker background and pacifist tendencies, I’m hoping to just stand out in the sunshine for a while and breathe the fresh air. I look up at the beautiful clear blue sky as I’m standing in a patch of freshly cut grass in the field behind the training building. I feel the warm spring breeze and am just beginning to really enjoy myself outside. I’m not paying any attention to Sergeant Metzger.

Before I really know what’s happening, she places a rubber knife in my hand. I’m going to be her volunteer. I’m going to be the sergeant’s example of how to disarm an attacker.

"Come at me with the knife held high," she says as she backs away from me. She crouches into a position that looks like a karate master.

"Okay," I say, collecting my thoughts, "are you ready?"

"Sure," she waves her hand, "I’m ready."

I get a couple of feet away from her and I start to lower the knife in a terrible and menacing manner. But before the knife is anywhere close to a vital organ, she swats my wrist—hard. She grabs my arm, twists the rubber knife from my hand, and plants me on the ground with a thud. I’m looking up at the blue sky again, and Sergeant Metzger smiling at me.

"You okay, chaplain?" she asks.

"Fine—good—okay," I’m lying.

"Okay, good—let’s try it again. This time, come at me with the knife held low."

I’m still shaking cobwebs out of my head as I stand up. She hands me the rubber knife that was only briefly in my hand, and I return to my starting spot about ten feet away. As I brush myself off and collect my thoughts, she explains to the class just exactly what she’s going to do to me this time as I attack her. My knees feel weak.

"Okay, chaplain, come at me with the knife low."

My enthusiasm for this exercise has waned considerably. I move somewhat more cautiously forward this time and begin to swing the knife toward her stomach. Before I get anywhere close, she side steps my lethal attack and grabs my now aching wrist. This time I drop the knife before she has a chance to break my fingers. With an all-too-familiar thud, I’m on the ground again. The difference being, this time my face is in the grass, the same grass I was appreciating from a much more comfortable distance just moments earlier. This time she has me pinned to the ground and the fingers of my right hand are firmly planted between my shoulder blades. I try not to cry.

More cobwebs. I roll over, and Sergeant Metzger smiles and helps me to my feet. She asks me if I’m okay. I honestly don’t remember my answer. I hope my response didn’t include any profanities. She asks if anyone has any questions or needs to see it again. I hope not. I don’t want to redemonstrate either move. I’m ready to move on to something easier like a full-body cavity search. Sergeant Metzger has a few more pointers for us, and none, thankfully, involve putting the chaplain on the ground. I’m paying attention at this point and I decide never again to attack anyone with a knife.

After some final instructions, the class splits up. Some of my classmates hang around chatting with Sergeant Metzger. Some decide to sit on picnic benches and just relax. I decide to leave with all the grass-stained dignity I can muster and go back to the chapel office and hide for a while.

I find the office is open. I find a chair and carefully place my aching body down. Dan and a couple of the other chapel porters are working on request forms and filling out paperwork.

Dan is a little quieter than usual today. Since my head and wrist ache, I’m not too anxious to ask why. I sit for a few minutes pondering my knife-wielding past and considering how I’ll explain away various grass-stained garments.

Dan comes over to me.

He tells me he got a letter from his wife. She’s filed for divorce. We end up talking for a long time.

She’s got a lawyer and an agenda. But his heart is breaking and he’s not going to fight her. He’s not going to let things get ugly either. He loves her, but he understands that while he’s in prison, he can’t be much of a husband to her and he can’t be much of a father for their kids. He wants his family, but he wants peace, too. He wants to be there for his wife and kids one day, but it can’t be today. So, for now, he’s stuck. He’s stuck and he tells me he’s going to sign the papers and send them back to the attorney. He’s going to let go quietly and pray that he will be together with them in the future. He tells me he’s putting it all in God’s hands now.

Dan is a peacemaker. He’s making peace by letting go and stepping aside. Later, it occurs to me that Sergeant Metzger is a peacemaker too. She keeps the peace in a very different way. She holds to strict rules, regulations, policies, and procedures. She’s going to keep the peace even if it means stepping in front of a knife. Sometimes, peace comes by letting go and stepping aside. Sometimes peace requires you to step up and face self-sacrifice. Blessed are the peacemakers on both sides of the fence. They will be called children of God.

Ken Stalcup

Ken Stalcup is a member of Irvington Meeting in Indianapolis, Ind.