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.

might as well be on a meat hook

6 02 2009

So the unit I work on at the prison is called APOD. This is the Maximum Security unit and holds about 90 men. In order to meet with people, I have to walk around the floor of the Pod to the interview room. I have gotten used to this and it doesn’t terrify me anymore, but it still is mny least favorite thing to do. You know how it feels to be walking down the street and have a group of men working on whatever project stare at you as if you are on display for purchase? Ever have them actually holler something out at you? I find this infuriating. If I was on the street, I would stop and begin to let the assholes know exactly what I thought of them and attempt to shame them into more respectful behavior towards women. In fact I have done this, many many times in my life.

When it happens in prison, I have to be more controlled about my reaction, because well – I’m at work and suppoesed to be a professional. If I am fortunate enough to see who it is that makes a comment, I will hold them accountable. If they are beligerent or unwilling to take responsibility, then I write their ass up for sexual harrassment. But they are smart you see. They make comments when it is nearly impossible to tell which one of them did it. Yesterday, it was when they were all locked up and I was walking across the floor. Nothing like having a “client” yell that they want to fuck you to start the day off right.