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.