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Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.
Thursday, October 16, 2003
people is the inability to understand how I was
able to keep doing this job for so long. It is
amazing what you can do when you have no
choice in the matter, or at least believe that
You develop certain defense mechanisms to
cope with what you have to endure. You keep
frequently reminding yourself that you can do
it and it will be over in a few more hours. You
convince yourself you can handle anything for
8 hours. After all, I had been in Special Ops,
I could handle anything. At the time I thought
I was handling it just fine.
What I did was to essentially become a different
person when I had to go to work down there.
I call it my "chicken plant attitude." It was basically
pretty simple. I was going to do whatever I had
to do to get me through the night. Whatever I
had to do to get through the night was okay. It
was justified as being necessary to survive. I
figured anything I did within the confines of that
plant was justified by the fact that I had to be
there because I had to have a job and I had to
pay my bills.
It is hard to explain the "chicken plant attitude"
to someone who has not been in such circum-
stances. I first learned to do it in combat when I
had to kill somebody. You pretty much just
turn your emotions off because you can't afford
to feel bad about what you are doing. Otherwise,
you won't do a very good job of it. I imagined
myself a part of the machinery of the place.
The problem is keeping it separate from the part
of you that knows you do care about things. It
gets kinda hard to separate the two after awhile.
I got to the point that I was carrying that attitude
home with me. I started realizing that I was
becoming the kind of person that didn't care about
anyone but themselves because that is how you
have to be down there.
The best way to describe it is to say that any feeling
of kindness or compassion is a weakness. Because
if you feel any compassion for what you are killing
then you also have to feel bad about yourself because
of what you are doing. So, in order to keep from
hating yourself, you have to convince yourself that
kindness and compassion are a weakness and are,
therefore, not acceptable. The one thing that has
to be foremost in your mind is, "I will take care of me
because no one else is going to do it."
And the people and the environment will reinforce
that belief continuously. Each person down there
has to adopt the same type of attitude to some
extent or another in order to function. That makes
for many situations, sometimes violent ones, between
workers exhibiting inexcusable behavior that they
believe is justified by their own need to get by.
I believe that a lot of the cruelty that was exhibited
was probably at least partly caused by the stress
level that trying to be two people creates. On the
one hand, you have got to go home and be a loving
husband, wife, father, mother, etc. and care about
the people and animals in your home. On the other
hand you have to go to work and be this cruel, cold-
blooded, heartless person doing a brutal job around
other cold-blooded people that care no more about
you than they do those chickens.
Oh, they may appear to, but you know in your mind,
that they have to be as cold-blooded as you are or
they couldn't do the job, either. It doesn't make for
trusting friendships or marriages, or any other type
of relationship. It is hard to trust other people when
you know that they also harbor the same ability to
shut off all caring to be able to do what they need
to do to get by. Am I making more sense now?
It was the desire of almost all chicken plant hands
to get a job that was as they said, "off the line."
These jobs were few. One didn't come open very
often. The ones that did were competed for very
heavily. Needless to say, it took a "me first"
attitude to get one. It was said that some of the
female workers actually screwed their way into it
and I believe it. People would do just about anything
to get off that line into an easier, less nasty, job.
That created enough rivalry between workers to
keep any real camaraderie between workers. Your
best friend was only your best friend as long as he
was not competing for the same job. You never
felt like you could trust anyone. The gossip would
fly around. They would stab you in the back quick.
I have already discussed some of the problems this
brought into my personal life away from the plant
in earlier posts. The lowering of self-esteem, the
meanness and anger, the guilt. I would get mad at
myself for what I did for a living. It made me feel
like I was a bad person to be able to think and act
in such an uncaring manner, especially toward people
I did genuinely care about.
I lived two lives for so long that I started to forget
which one of them was the real me. I kinda got lost
in there somewhere.
Once I got with my wife and she started showing me
that there were indeed things about me to love then
I started to find my true self again. I have talked a
but before (and so has she) about my road back to
Of course, it did make it harder for me to be able to
continue to work at that horrible place. I started to
have a harder and harder time going in every night.
But, it is hard to be two people. One of those will
inevitably cross over into the other's world.
I am so glad I don't have to do that anymore. It
is wonderful to be back in the land of the, (well, I
hate to say "normal" - I'll never be that! Ha ha),
shall we say, regular people. It will all be worth it,
though, if I can use my experiences to bring about
some much-needed change to the industry.