Saying Goodbye

16 05 2009

Hi everyone. I am writing to say this is my last blog entry and I will be deleting my blog soon. For those of you that have been reading since I first started this blog and then followed me when I created a new one – thank you. Since leaving my job at the prison, I am finding that I haven’t been able to transition this blog to other topics. This was a wonderful outlet for me during a job that was the most difficult one I have had so far. I may blog again, but not about social work. I spend enough hours being a social worker all week and want to focus on other things in my life. I will continue to check in on your blogs and thank you again for all of your support and feedback.

-The inmate whisperer


4 04 2009

Okay, so I’ve got major countertransference going on with a client. M A J O R.

Good things about this:

1. I’m aware of it

2. I am seeking supervision around it

3. I am working hard to figure out how to deal with this person clinically and not let my own crap get in the way

4. I’m certain there is a lesson in this somewhere.

Ass Sucking things about this:

1. I feel irritated. ALOT.

2. I am dreading groups when he actually shows up for treatment.

3. Most of my time in group is dominated by redirecting and refocusing this person’s behavior.

I have tried and tried to figure out if there is someone in my life that he reminds me of. I can’t pinpoint it. The BEHAVIOR however is one that really pushes my buttons. You know the one, the “I know everything about everything, I’m going to make sure everyone knows it, I’m going to sit next to you to enhance my feelings of being an expert and attempts to cofacilitate this group, I don’t have a problem but I come to treatment anyway, even though I am aggressive, abusive, negative, bossy, confrontational with nearly everyone in my life, I use all of these communication, anger managment, and mindfulness skills you are teaching which I am going to be sure to point out so everyone really gets that I know it all” -itis???

Oh for the love of god. Somebody help me.

It takes all of my strength to not want to scream “WHY ARE YOU HERE IF YOU ALREADY KNOW IT ALL?”

I know, I know….the behavior is not about me. I need to not personalize it, this is just his defenses coming up……but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

Just released from prison

3 03 2009

After five years of corruption, verbal abuse, negativity, sexual harrassment, and a healthy dose of good ‘ol human misery, I have just been released from prison. I feel so relieved. I am comforted by the hope that I touched some lives while I was there and if anything, helped those incarcerated feel like somebody cared about their well being.

I have taken a part time job working in a partial hospitalization program. In addition, I am doing per diem work with women through a local agency. I am excited about a flexible schedule and having benefits with a part time job. This is giving me a much needed break.

As I said my goodbyes last Friday at the prison, I heard “You’re so lucky, I’m stuck here”, over and over again. As if my getting out of that place was luck instead of a decision I made regarding my own happiness. Most of the people working at the prison are employed by the state, which means if they have 30 or so years of service they get pension and ongoing retirement benefits for life. I cannot express to you all the misery that this creates for most of the people working there. More people than not can tell you at any given moment exactly how many days they have until they retire. They stay in jobs they hate, in a place that they hate, working with people that they hate, for security. And they have made that CHOICE.

Two things became very clear to me as I heard how people were “Stuck” over and over. The first, that no wonder the prison is so full of miserable and negative people all treating each other like garbage.  And second, it is the staff who are in prison in that place, not the inmates. The inmates are going to get out eventually and it appears the staff are not. They are, for all intensive purposes, prisoners of their own minds.

Even though I no longer work at the prison, I will still write about it from time to time. There are enough stories to last a lifetime from that place.  And event though I am no longer in prison, I’m still having adventures in prison and I guess as long as I work with other human beings, that will be the case.

I hope you’ll keep reading.

You can cry in the shower

24 02 2009

Part of helping my clients at the prison is teaching the first timers how to survive. Unfortunately, that means encouraging behavior which feeds into the prison mentality and stereotypes of masculinity. The reasons behind it are important of course. Personal safety is crucial and those new to the prison environment know nothing about the rules or how negatively it will impact them if they break  them.

Often I meet with men putting a great deal of effort into holding back their tears. I acknowledge their pain and how they are feeling and try to gauge if they want to let it out or not. You can tell….those who are looking to let the tears out will do so as they turn their heads away from the door so others don’t see them. The men who fight the tears are usually the ones who need to let the pain out the most. In those moments, I remember the words of an inmate I met with when I first started this job. “Tell ’em to cry in the shower. It’s the only alone time you have in this place and no one can tell that you’ve been crying when you get out.”  I share that information often and that it came from a prior inmate. It is unfortunate that they social rules of prison life won’t allow for expression of pain and vulnerability….that is just what alot of these men need.

Day In the Life of a Prison Social Worker

21 02 2009

8:00  arrive at work. walk through 5 gates and a locked door to get to my hole of an “office”. Open my door to ants crawling everywhere. There is no food, where the hell are they coming from?

8:15  Gather things to go down to the “PODS and do intakes on new prisoners. Walk through 7 gates to get ther and across a Pod floor with 50 inmates on it. Get hollered at by those locked up behind their doors. Sneaky assholes do it when they can’t get caught….

8:30-10:30  Do assessment and intake on 10 new prisoners. Most are polite, some are a bit odd, 5 are on mental health meds, all have substance abuse issues. Get sick of hearing myself repeat the same shit over and over and over…. Despite the monotony, make some good connections and feel like at least I gave some compassion and respect.

10:30  Hang out in the “tower” and shoot the shit with the Correctional Officers. Listen to most people rant and rave about the prison and other people’s lack of living up to their expectations. Defend my position as a mental health worker. Have a couple of laughs. Back to office

10:30 Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork. Leave a couple of messages at medical about balls being dropped that need to be picked up. Listen to my coworkers yell back and forth. Get annoyed that my office is 90 degrees. Call maintenance and leave an irritable message about the ant invasion. Eat my lunch, check my blog, count the days until I am done with this job.

12:30  2:30 Count has cleared so I meet with my last 2 clients for termination. Start to feel sad about leaving. Will miss working with these guys. Start to freak out a little about life changes… Try to accept “thank you’s” from clients.  Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork.

2:30 – 4:00 Spend some time saying goodbye to coworkers. When asked the question “Why are you going?”  try to resist the urge to answer “Because I’ve had enough misery and corruption for one lifetime.” So I smile and say, “It’s just time for a change”. Ignore comments about the  stupidity courage it takes to do so given the state of the economy.  Try to remember that following your heart and using your common sense can be done at the same time. 

4:30  Go to clock out. Walk past the 100 prisoners coming and going to the chow hall on the runway. Most are respectful, I still get whistled at. REMEMBER WHY I AM LEAVING.

8 days and a wake up

18 02 2009

I have switched jobs many times throughout my life. Historically, it hasn’t been difficult. There is usually a personality disordered boss or innapropriate coworker that I can rely on to give me that little shove out the door and on to my next nightmare job.  Also, the truth of it is I get bored after a while….I get good at what I do and feel as if I am not being challenged intellectually enough, so I move on to the next challenge.

Throughout my youth (which I suppose I may still be technically in), this was not of much consequence – switching jobs I mean. I worked at restaurants or coffee shops or even later as an administrative assistant. The people I served may have been sad to see me go, but it was unlikely that it lingered and significantly impacted their ability to enjoy that 5 dollar latte or recieve the 10 page fax transmission.

Since starting in my professional work as a social worker, leaving a job has taken on a much different feel. It has become an experience wrought with emotions. I have begun that process of terminating with clients and saying goodbye and inevitably I get the ” Thank You’s ” which are wonderful of course but so much better when not followed by a speech on how I am triggering abandonment issues….. I have chosen to have a sense of humor about this because I know better of course. Although I must say, it does tap into that feeling that I am walking away from people who rely on me.

This feeling has been here before in my social work career when leaving a job. Beause I am in the business of connecting with other human beings, severing those connections is a hell of alot more impactful than hanging up the apron for the last time.

As a young intern, I found termination with clients very difficult because of that sense that I was abandoning them. Reflecting back, it is nice to see growth on my part. The emotions are still there but they don’t invade and take over the game, so to speak.

I am curious how others have experienced this process, if you feel like sharing.


p.s. – i actually don’t even know if impactful is a word…..but it is now baby.

calling a spade a spade

8 02 2009

When presented with an opportunity, I am sure to tell others that one of the reasons I chose my profession was because it requires self reflection and growth.  I don’t know if that was actually a reason I settled for social work after changing my major 7 times in undergrad, but ultimately it has become one. I find that since that first social work class to now practicing with full clinical credentials, that reason alone is the one that keeps me getting up to do this work day after day. For the most part, I stay connected – to myself, to my feelings, to my stuff and its inevitable impact on my treatment of those I work with. Some days, I falter.

When I first walked into the prison several years ago, I was full of energy and bursting with all of the ideas I had gotten about social work after school. Most of my experience had been at lower level direct service positions up to that point. This was the real deal, and I was going to change the world. Imagine my surprise….

One of my most vivid memories from those early days was the reponse my generally bright attitude and passion evoked from most of the other people working at the prison. I heard again and again to “just give it time, you won’t give a shit about these people or this place in no time”. My quick witted and smiling response always being, “The day that happens is the day I leave this place.” I was absolutley determined to not let the prison break my spirit or my belief that there is the possibility for change in every wounded soul that walks this planet. The past few months I have been slapped in the face so many times with the absolute corruption of the place I work, that the sting won’t fade. After months of wrestling with burnout and exhaustion, I have admitted the day I spoke of has come. I have begun to feel myself change. I may be one of the few to leave before it’s too late but there will be no shortage of misery in my absence.

This may be one of my most poignant moments for self reflection and growth. Leaving the prison is bittersweet. I know that I am damn good at connecting with this population. They trust me and I enjoy working with them. They also need strong voices to fight for them when injustice is invading what’s left of their lives like a virus. I know how strong my voice is and I am not afraid to use it. For those reasons, I am wrestling with the piece of me that feels like I am abandoning my clients. I know better of course, but this feeling creeps up whenever I switch jobs and is just a normal part of the process. Perhaps the more difficult piece for me is it almost feels like admitting defeat – like letting the system beat me. I’m a tough girl you see….that’s a big piece of my identity – or has been throughout my life. I want to stay and fight, to prove that they can’t win. But right now I am mostly thankful that I have grown enough to see that is a fleeting feeling – old stuff . I am healthy enough to leave something behind that is damaging some core pieces of who I am. I deserve to be happy and content and I can both have that and the opportunity to help people. This is the year I create that for myself, there is no more time to waste. That being said, the three week countdown begins. My adventures in prison comes to an end.