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.





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.





OY VEY

10 01 2009

I had a client accuse me of “practicing on her”. I believe her exact words to a colleague of mine were “I got jipped, she isn’t even a real mental health worker”. When I heard about this conversation, I knew where she was getting this from. I had a conversation with her the previous week where she shared that she “heard” I am just an intake worker….meaning not a real counselor. I clarified for her that I am indeed a real licensed mental health clinician and that although my primary job responsibility is intake assessments, I carry a small caseload of clients.  She seemed satisfied with that answer, and I thought we were square. Little did I know…

Apparently she has taken it upon herself to tell anyone and everyone that will listen that she has been jipped. What is interesting is how incapable she was of properly addressing her concerns with me face to face…this is not a shy woman. As a matter of fact, last time I checked she didn’t have any problem telling anyone who would listen exactly what she thought about them, uncensored.

Needless to say I was pissed. I knew I was personalizing something I shouldn’t be, but these moments are hard. As it is, this client appears to be mounting a defense to save her ass from getting charged with assault on an officer. The argument this time? Inadequate mental health care. I am but a pawn in this game. So when I informed her that I would no longer be her mental health worker and clarified my credentials and qualifications, I decided to have a witness. I also reminded her, gently, that I had been able to give her more attention when she was struggling because of my smaller caseload. Apparently, it still wasn’t good enough.

These are the moments that make me want to work with children or elderly folks, or at least someone ANYONE without a personality disorder.





Threat to Security

3 01 2009

Prison administrators and those in power know how to get around policy. They are quite skilled at it actually. This is concerning since essentially, policy and procedure exists in a prison system to protect an inmate’s rights. I would question that though and say that it really exists to cover the ass of prison officials who don’t like publicity and lawsuits. There is one phrase in particular that was coined to give an excuse for a questionable decision and it is called “threat to security”. These three words give an enormous amount of power to those already drenched in it. With these three words they can remove an inmate from a housing unit, a job, or a class or treatment group. With these three words they can cancel a visit with family or  a scheduled furlough or can get a low risk inmate transferred to a facility intended for high risk offenders. Imagine an 18 year old in a Maximum security prison? Why you ask? he must be a “threat to security”.

What is even more stunning is that those three words are the ONLY REASON THEY NEED TO GIVE. No one is asking for an explanation. Well, almost no one…. From time to time I have been known to question a decision. That doesn’t typically get them engaged in a friendly conversation but will certainly guarantee me a lecture on “chain of command” and “insuboordination”.  Meanwhile, I am busy wondering what it is they are trying to hide? This state is like a big ‘ol small town sometimes. Everyone is connected to everyone else. Personal vendettas do come into play and I believe they effect some people’s ability to make fair decisions.

Case in point. I know of an inmate that has knowledge of certain security officers who regulalry “visit” with “exotic dancers”. How does said inmate know this? Well, he worked as the dancers personal bodyguard…when they made housecalls. Now this inmate could be using this information to get a mighty comfortable stay in prison. This is not his first time around the bend and he knows how to manipulate. But he has created a new life on the outside and is really trying to make some different choices. He has not used that information once but he is being retaliated against and harrassed anyway. Don’t tell me those officers aren’t in fear that he may reveal something, they must be sweating. Especially when they picture their wives and children finding out. Juicy isn’t it?

My point is this. This guy follows the rules. Every single policy and procedure and formal or informal directive. He just wants to get through this bid with no trouble. And even though he has broken no rules and done nothing wrong, he has not been transferred yet to a less restrictive housing unit but is sitting in the maximum security holding unit….for months. Why you ask? Well it’s those 3 magic words people – “threat to security”. 

“Threat to my marriage” is more like it.





Carry On

2 01 2009

3 is the average number of times I am sexually harrassed at work a day

4 is the number of years I have worked at the prison

5 is the number of gates that I have to go through to get to my office

6 is the number of gates I have to go through to get to the Prison Pod I work in

40 is the number if inmates on the floor of the Pod I have to walk through to get to the tiny closet of a room I use to do interviews

100 is the number of people I assess and diagnose a month

0 is the number of days my company was willing to give me off 5 days before my time re-upped so I could grieve the loss of my dog.

It is amazing how little big corporations actually care about their employees. There are no special favors or considerations. If it is not in the policy book, it can’t be done. What is infuriating about it is that I work so hard for this company. I keep my numbers up, I meet our contract requirements, and I actually give a crap about the people I am spending time with. After 4 years at the prison, that is no small taks. This environment will beat the compassion right out of you. Then, a crisis befalls my life that I couldn’t have planned for and I am 5 days away from having more PAID TIME OFF dumped into my “bank” for the year, and they won’t give me a day or two early so I can deal with the fact that I just put my dog to sleep.

So explain to me again about social workers and self care and how important that is??? Then someone please explain to me why so many companies could give a crap about the states that their employees minds are in.