Saturday, December 30, 2006

Life in prison

The holidays have been so busy; I admire those who have been diligent with their blog postings.

I had a nice Christmas. Enjoying my grandchildren, enjoying their gifts, was a true joy. To paraphrase a quote, having grandchildren makes having raised children worthwhile. The granddaughter and I attended Christmas Eve services at my church, as we usually do. And as usual, she entertained herself by twirling, dancing, laying across the chairs, and a new one this year, crawling under the cookie table. You may be wondering how we are not asked to leave. I believe the answer lies in the fact that we are a VERY small church. Losing even one member would make a serious dent in the membership. On the other hand, Unity is a very tolerant religion. On yet another hand (if I had one), we were at the big Unity one year at the Christmas Eve service and we WERE asked to leave. In particular, they asked me to remove my granddaughter. Since I thought leaving her outside alone in the snow -- yes, that was the year it snowed -- would be less than wise, I chose to leave with her. Hence, we don't make the trek into "town" for church anymore. I certainly don't blame the big Unity, after all, they can afford to lose a few folks, especially twirling in the aisles folks.

Other than enjoying those frolicking grandchildren of mind, I've also been getting acclimated to working in prison. Here is quick list of positives and negatives I've found:

+ The food is free - The food is not that tasty
+ I can wear jeans - I only have one pair of jeans
+ There are a lot of men - 1500 of the men are convicted criminals
+ I get exercise - The floor is concrete and the stairs are narrow
+ I get to counsel folks - There is a great deal of malingering
+ I'm BUSY all day - I don't have time to go to the bathroom

I could go on but you get the idea. I also have lots of interesting stories to tell. Personal and professional ethics prevent me from sharing them with my readers though. If I can find a good way to fictionalize them without them losing the incredulous nature of their origin, you bet I'll write about them.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


This last week at work, my first at my new job, has been overwhelming.

To put this in perspective, the prison to which I'm assigned, my unit, is one of three in a "cluster." Each cluster is supposed to have one master's level therapist and a bachelor's level caseworker. Very short-handed. My unit has no caseworker so those from other units come to help when they can. My supervisor, who is training me, was the therapist for my unit but is moving to one of the other units which has no master's level person. He's really been hopping around to all three, along with attending to meetings and other administrative duties. In case it has not yet been apparent to my readers, this has made my training fast and furious.

My unit is the largest among the three, with over 1500 offenders housed there. Of these, 175 are among the official caseload. That's right. I have 175 patients. But that's not all, any time someone gets transferred in, I have to do a chart review to see if they have any mental health needs and see them if they have a history. Offenders are almost constantly moving in and out. Also among my duties, is talking to each offender who is housed in what they call, "special housing." It is also called, "the hole" in prison movies. Looks a lot better than the movies. I don't think it's so bad right now but I hear it gets much worse in the summer when there is no air conditioning.

Friday evening, my boss left a bit early, and I attended to my patient charting. Suddenly, an officer appears along with a suicidal offender. Major mental illness. After I instruct the officer to remove the weapon the offender was going to use to commit this act, I then had to figure out how to transfer this patient to a psychiatric hospital. Fortunately, folks helped me. Turned out, I was the referring physician. Got promoted fast, didn't I?

Trying to leave, (it was way past quitting time) I then got a call that an offender in special housing was demanding to see someone in psyc immediately. So there I am, counseling a guy who is serving a life sentence. No chance for parole. At Christmas time. Talk about a bad case of the blues. No sunshine for months (how's that for Seasonal Affective Disorder?) and feeling hopeless.

I did the best I could and hope that it helped. I was warned that since the guy has nothing to lose, it was dangerous to stand too close to the cell. After I left for the day/night, I thought of other things that might have been helpful. Hope all has gone well this weekend and I'll have another chance to talk to him Monday.

I feel like I'm doing counseling on the front lines. You're right, tigger, things do come back to you. Feels like I never left counseling.

Now I've got to figure out how to refuel 'cuz it feels like I'm drained. Any suggestions?

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Sugarland Express

That was the title of a very old Goldie Hawn movie set in, you guessed it, Sugarland, TX.

And I feel like it describes my trek back and forth to Sugarland all week for orientation. Except there wasn't much express to it. An hour and a half each way. Plus sitting for almost 8 hours. I managed to rush through most of my online orientation so that I can not have to go back on Monday. Talked them into letting me finish on my unit.

I was a bit surprised at how much I remembered about working at UTMB. And pleased that I remembered as much clinical info as I did when completing a mock mental status exam for an electronic record. I'm ready to get to work!

Enrolled Baby Luke in daycare today. He starts Monday, his 4 month birthday.

As tough as things still are financially these days, I'm feeling very blessed.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Prison life

I learned today that we call anything outside prison, "the world." I learned a lot of other things today that I'm not yet ready to discuss. If ever. Tomorrow promises more of the same. Then two days of electronic data capture training. I won't even get to my unit until sometime next week. My "unit" refers to the prison I'm assigned to. As opposed to my world. Or something like that.

It's exciting to have a job and a paycheck coming. Also exciting to have benefits for the first time in a looonng time. And I'll get used to life behind bars. Tomorrow I learn what happens if I'm taken hostage. I think the entire lesson can probably be summed up as, "you're screwed."

They keep asking us if we're scared yet. If we're coming back. They don't know scared. Try wondering how you're gonna pay the rent and put food on the table for your family. That's scary. Maybe I should teach a class on how to pray your way to survival. Other class topics:

How to hide your car from the repo guys (Lessons in making a car disappear)

How to apply for and actually receive food stamps (Persistent Groveling)

Stretching your food shopping dollar (Use at least 2 coupons for the same item, shop late at night when the clerks are young, inexperienced, and hopefully a little wasted)

Avoiding Eviction (get your landlord into a lengthy conversation on the day she had planned to file evictions - she misses the deadline, repeat as necessary)

Entertaining the Kids (Attend every free event no matter how boring until they beg to just stay home and watch TV)

Yeah, and they think prison is scary...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

New beginnings

So I'm starting the new job tomorrow and eager to get started. Not so eager to be leaving Baby Luke. I'm sure he'll do just fine without me during the day but I know I'm going to miss him. I was fortunate when my kids were very small to be able to stay home with them. And even though I practically raised my granddaughter, I only worked part-time and went to grad school until she was 2 years old. Sending her to daycare then was hard enough. Of course, she loved it. And we were both better for it. But here I am. Feeling what zillions of working mothers feel leaving their infants.

I guess it's a good thing that I'm starting a new job in a new place. I'll have a lot to occupy my mind.

Just imagine: for at least 8 hours a day, I won't be smelling like spit-up. I bet I'll miss it.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christmas things

I channel Reverend Alicia here:
Holiday...Holly day...Holy-day Blessings!

Did you ever wonder why the whole "Christmas thing" works? Why do people get all caught up in the whole thing, anyway? Why do they fall victim to over the top spending, etc. Why is it that there seems to be no limit to the spending? Is it an evil spell woven by materialists in the name of Christmas?

Well...I think it is about the deepest, Spirit-level, fundamental Divine Idea of Christmas that stirs within us, and we our present level of touch; to embody; to manifest this idea. We have attempted to create it in our lives. We have woven stories, and myths and legends on the loom of this basic principle.

The basic principle goes back beyond time and space to the formulative moment of the universe...the purity and principle of Oneness with God...with all that is good. It IS the principle of all-good; of hope, love, peace and joy.

As clumsily as we may try to manifest this Divine spite of our errors in thought, word and action... there are a few things that do come through:

At this time of the year, hope is in the air...hope and anticipation for a season of peace, love and joy. At this time of the year people are more friendly, smile more, and exhibit more kindness than typical. At this time of the year, we believe that all things are possible. At this time of the year lights shine and twinkle and remind us of the brilliance that ultimately brightens even the darkest night...the illumination of understanding. Bells ring and the timeless vibration brings us to cathedrals of days past, the bell tolls...calling us to acknowledging that perfect something in which we can find love, peace and serenity.

You see...there really is a Spirit of Christmas. It is the Spirit of Christmas that LIVED and MOVED and HAD ITS BEING in the "real" Santa Claus...Saint Nicolas, who lived the principles of unconditional love, acceptance and sharing. It is the Spirit of Christmas that will bless our holidays with meaning when we cut through the trappings and feel the Spirit.


PS...I found a radio station that plays Christmas music all day long...100.5 FM here in Connecticut. If you don't live in the area...find your station and love it. CHALLENGE EXERCISE: Sing! Sing the songs as you drive to work, to the store, or wherever you go. Sing alone!

Me again, I'm going to accept Alicia's challenge and sing Christmas songs all day. This might put me in a bit of a pickle considering I'm expecting guests today. Oh well.