Working as a psychologist in the prison system, and in the Army can teach you a thing or two about how humans cope with crisis and respond to high stress situations, especially ones they cant control. As part of our profile series, What I learned, we talk to EY Oceania Markets Leader Jenelle McMaster about why her early career is as relevant now as ever. Read the full profile here.
"There was an inmate at Parramatta who had been a long-term inmate and was really respected and liked by officers and inmates. He was top of the chain, would sweep the floor of all the offices, that sort of stuff - a really steady pair of hands, and a bit of a “go to” for everybody.
When we were in the process of changing jails, he completely flipped out. It was so uncharacteristic of him. I sat down and said, what’s going on for you? He said, ‘I just don’t want to go, I won’t go’. I didn’t understand why, I thought it was all upside for him, I couldn’t see anything negative. It was down the road, brand new, great facilities, bigger cells.
He couldn’t articulate the problem, but he was extremely agitated and upset. So I asked him to give me one example of what was freaking him out, and he said: “it’s the taps”. In the old jail he had taps where you turn the handle, and the new facility had taps where you lift the lever. I looked at him as if he was insane. But it was at that point I realised it’s not about the taps.
Stress will play out in something like – in this case, the taps because it’s the only thing you can grip on to as an example, but it’s representative of something very different.
What he was freaking out about but didn’t have the words for, was a loss of familiarity, routine and control. A loss of the “world” as he knew it. He knew his place in the current jail, he knew the system, he relished the power of being the go-to point and now he was the same as everybody else, just figuring out this new space, not knowing the answers."