Keeping It Real

I got fired from a job once. In between my first and second year of graduate school, I decided it would be a great idea to work at a waterpark. After having worked in corporate pharmacies throughout undergrad and part of grad school, I decided I wanted to work in a less stressful environment for the last summer before I got a real job. Less stressful: boy, was I wrong.

Customer service is one of the more humanizing jobs one can have. Humanizing in that it shows you how absolutely awful some humans can be. At this waterpark, I was a manager for the cashiers, which is a pretty straightforward job. The vast majority of our customers were great and were there for fun. That was before the bee infestation happened.

A combination of the heat, water, and trash caused a massive amount of bees to set up residence at our waterpark, causing some serious issues with customers. I began getting pretty used to having customers complain about this, and did what I could to appease them. That was until my fateful last day.

It was our policy to not give refunds. This was posted behind the cash registers and hammered into our heads during orientation. A customer and her young child came into the waterpark and attempted to enjoy their time, until they discovered the bees. The woman came up to the register demanding a refund because of the bees. I explained our “no refund” policy, which obviously did not make this woman happy. The woman began berating me about how her child was allergic to bees and how I was trying to kill her child. Yes, you read that correctly: she accused me of trying to kill her child. It was as if I had woken up that day, put on my tacky waterpark polo and khaki shorts, looked into the mirror, smiled, and said to myself, “I am going to kill someone’s child with bees today.”

I typically can handle most scoldings from customers, so much so that in the corporate pharmacy world I had customers accuse me of changing their insurance, telling me that I didn’t mean anything to the world because I didn’t make as much money as them, and some even would throw their pill bottles back at us if we were unable to read their minds and give them the pills they wanted. All of that I could handle; however, having someone accuse me of trying to kill their child was not something I could deal with.

The woman asked my name because she was going to get me fired for the bees and I told her, “my name is Laura, I’m a seasonal employee, and I don’t give a shit.” Telling a customer that I didn’t give a shit was my demise but it was the damn truth. Should I have said that? Absolutely not. Did I give a shit? Absolutely not.

I often get asked why I work in prison. There are numerous reasons why, many of which are noble. The fact I can swear when I talk, however, is not one of my more noble reasons for working in prison. My personal counseling philosophy is “keeping it real,” which prison happens to be the only environment this type of counseling is suited for. I never swear at inmates but I don’t hesitate to swear when speaking to them. Prison allows me to be myself, and I sometimes swear like a sailor. I maintain a professional presentation in all situations that call for it but sometimes the best thing you can say to an inmate is, “yeah, that is some bullshit.”

I remember arguing with a fellow classmate in grad school about whether or not it was appropriate to swear when talking to inmates. My classmate believed that it was inappropriate and would make inmates disrespect me, particularly because I was a female. I believe that it allows me to be me, instead of putting on a front. Inmates respect when people are real and I’ve never had an inmate complain that I sometimes swear.

The moral of the story here is to keep it real. Be true to yourself. Too often we put on a facade of who we want to be, rather than who we are.

If I could go back, would I not say what I did to that waterpark customer? Hell no.

Universal Precautions

There is this concept in the practice of medicine called “universal precautions,” wherein you treat all human blood and bodily fluids as if they’re infected with HIV or other blood-borne pathogens. When working in corrections, it is imperative to do the same with all inmates you interact with. Not only should you treat all of their blood the same, you should treat all of them the same – as if they’re all capable of the same thing. Any inmate you interact with, regardless of what they’re incarcerated for, is capable of murder.

When I first started working in a prison, my Mom asked me if a “guard” was outside of my office door with a gun while I talked to inmates. This question was humorous to me because, having been in a prison, I thought, “of course there is no one with a gun in the prison.” This was something I soon realized, though, that the public is under the impression of – that corrections officers are roaming the prison with guns to protect themselves. This is not such the case. There is no prison system in the United States (except maybe private prisons) that I am aware of where corrections officers carry guns inside the prison fences. With the exception of those in gatehouses, on the perimeter, and in the towers, there are no guns in prison. To protect yourself in prison, if you’re lucky, you have your ability to communicate, O.C., a radio, and handcuffs.

I talk to inmates, from murders to petty drug offenders, in a room all by myself. It is my personal philosophy to always leave the door open when I talk with inmates, which is a precaution against having someone make a sexual allegation against me, rather than being afraid of being alone in a room with an inmate. In the first state prison system I worked in, mental health counselors did not carry radios, O.C., or handcuffs. They had their word and respect to protect themselves with. The state I am in now requires me to carry O.C., handcuffs, and a radio. None of which I wish to carry for multiple reasons. Carrying these defense tools make me be perceived as someone there to enforce rules or the “police,” as the inmates call it. I also don’t think a radio, 10 seconds of pepper spray, or handcuffs will be what saves my life if push comes to shove.

When I worked in a pharmacy, I always ran through my mind what I would do if we were robbed. When we were held at gunpoint, I did just as I had practiced in my mind – nothing. I remained calm and didn’t interfere with the handover of pills to the man with a gun. This worked out in my favor, though I’m sure there are situations where it wouldn’t have but, all things considered, this was the best possible response to the situation at hand.

When I was working in my first prison, two inmates took two nurses hostage at another facility in the state. The inmates were after drugs and the hostage taking ordeal lasted many hours. One of the nurses complied, the other fought back. The nurse that fought back was stabbed and had their neck cut. Both nurses lived and the injuries to the one were not considered to be life threatening. However, this taught me a valuable lesson – remain calm and do not escalate inmates if I am in a similar situation.

I have never once been afraid while working in prison. I have spent all of my time working in Level III, or maximum security, institutions. I have had inmates yell at me, swear at me, say things to me that aren’t appropriate to repeat. I’ve talked to inmates that admitted to me that they have homemade weapons or “shanks.” All this considered, I’ve not been afraid but I sure as hell have been more aware of my situation in every situation. Corrections staff that are afraid while they’re in prison are working in the wrong environment because they are easy targets for victimization. When you walk through the gates in a prison, you have to be prepared for everything and anything. And you have to be okay with that. I am always aware while in prison, but never afraid.

There is a misconception that the most dangerous inmates in a prison are those that are in for life or there for murder. In my opinion, this is not the case. A young inmate serving time for a less-serious violent crime such as burglary or armed robbery is more dangerous than a convicted murderer. Young inmates have something to prove. Inmates serving life have already proved what they need to and the prison is now their home, and they don’t want their home to be a mess. Young inmates that are new to the prison game want to be perceived as tough or may want to earn their way into or through the ranks of a gang. Young inmates facing 10-30 years are dangerous; murderers serving life are less so.

While working in my first prison, I had a conversation with an inmate who less than a week later orchestrated a riot that left a corrections officer badly beaten and hospitalized. This conversation occurred in an area of the prison where there were no corrections officers nearby or anyone to save me if the conversation went sour. I listened empathetically to the inmate’s concerns and informed them I would get them answers to their issue. Had I known what the inmate was capable of, would I have still taken the time to talk to them in that situation? Yes, I would have.

Prison is dangerous but you’re significantly less likely to have a gun pointed at you than say at a pharmacy, or literally at any job outside of a prison. The number one tool one has to protect themselves from harm in prison is how they treat inmates. Treating inmates with respect and by respecting yourself, in that you don’t cut corners and you don’t bend rules, is what will save you. Inmates respect staff that are true to their word and that don’t play games. Inmates value staff that are firm, fair, and consistent. Respect will save your life in prison faster than some pepper spray ever will, and it won’t sting to administer.

Stay Off Of Twitter, Mr. President

The President of the United States needs to stay off of Twitter. With President Trump’s most recent and appalling Twitter attack on Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, it has become beyond clear that the President needs to stop Tweeting. Perhaps I am taking this Twitter attack much more personally than I have for ones in the past because I faithfully watch Morning Joe everyday, or perhaps this really is that revolting.

I will admit that when President Trump was just Candidate Trump, I found some of his Twitter insults to be funny. I don’t like Ted Cruz very much so when Trump went after him, I enjoyed it. But, it got old very fast. The insults got way too personal and became way too immature for an individual seeking the highest office in our land. And they’re completely unacceptable for an individual actually holding that office.

The first reason people should be appalled by these tweets is this is not what we should want from our President. We should want the President to model appropriate behavior for children, and for us in our personal and professional relationships. We should want the President to make our country look great abroad, not petty. We should hold the office of President to be that of dignity and honor, not of schoolyard bullying.

I have and continue to assert that we should not attack President Trump’s mental health. We should, however, seriously question his temperament. The kind of attacks Trump levies on Twitter are something along the lines of the childhood, “I know you are but what am I?” They say, “I won’t defend my political positions or challenge yours but I will go after your looks and make fun of you.” This is not healthy for the political climate in our country right now and, frankly, it is kind of pathetic.

The biggest issue I have with President Trump, policy positions aside, is that he is unbelievably thin-skinned for someone that is 71 years old. He simply cannot handle anyone challenging or questioning him. He appears to be incredibly insecure. Individuals that are secure in themselves do not need to tell you how successful, happy, or beautiful they are, they let these things speak for themselves. Individuals that attack others based on looks, mental health, or intelligence are revealing insecurities they have in themselves. This type of attack doesn’t reflect on the person being attacked, it reflects heavily on how the person handing out the attack thinks of themselves. That person’s problems are in the mirror.

For those that enjoy or support the way Trump “fights back” or “stands up for himself,” seriously need to question whether they would find this behavior acceptable in their friends, family, or even their children. If I was a parent and my child acted the way the President does, I would be incredibly ashamed in my skills as a parent. My child would appear out of control, unruly, undisciplined, and embarrassing, and that would reflect on me more than it would them. We shouldn’t want our children to act like this, so why should we be okay if our President does?

People can say whatever they want about President Bush and Obama’s policies. But neither can be challenged on their qualities as family men or as statesmen. Both 43 and 44 never became petty and childish despite whatever attacks, warranted or not, were thrown their way. They modeled behavior for our children, politics aside. President Trump is not doing that, and we have to be honest with ourselves about it.

This type of behavior has to stop. The President should be more concerned on coming through for middle class Americans as he so promised during his campaign. He should be concerned about actually doing the things he said he would. Personal attacks aren’t passing policy, they’re inhibiting the ability to fulfill promises that got him elected. If this is how Trump is going to act for the next 3 and 1/2 years, his policies and promises will never come to fruition because GOP Congresspeople will not want to be tied to this legacy. They will eventually wise up and they won’t vote for things on the Trump agenda. If Trump doesn’t put his phone down soon, the only thing his voters will have got from him is malarkey, snake oil, and a Twitter timeline full of insults.

Guest Post: Out of Place

Editors Note: The next guest post comes from Bethany, another great friend I’ve been begging to write for this blog. Bethany is my go-to expert on all things conservative and, more often than not, we have very similar views on various issues. My friendship with Bethany is a good example of why having conversation, and not loud arguments, with those you have different opinions than is actually a really good idea. If you’re interested in writing a guest post, please reach out to me. I want to open this space to anyone and to any opinion. Enjoy! 
Recently my good friend Laura suggested that I write a guest post for her blog about what it’s like being a conservative-ish person working in social work, a primarily liberal field. I ran the organization Laura was the President of, so I guess it makes sense that I’m writing a post for her blog now too 😉
To be honest, if this political season hadn’t been (and continues to be) so polarizing and frustrating I can’t say I would have given much thought to how my political views fit into social work.
When working with clients my political views really do not have much impact on my work. Since it would be considered poor professional etiquette to get into political debates with clients, I have no problem avoiding political conversations with clients entirely.
It does surprise me how frequently my clients bring up their political views. Since I live in a swing state I hear a variety of political views: everything from “You’re not one of them snowflake libtards, are you?” to “I want to murder everyone who voted for Trump.” Seriously! They’ve said that!
Things get more difficult when it comes to co-workers. There is an assumption that the mental health field in general is more liberal and so, at least in my experience, people are more forth-coming with not just liberal points of view, but anti-conservative points of view. I would say this was also true of my grad school experience, which is kind of interesting since Laura and I went to grad school in the very conservative Deep South.
A fellow grad school student told a mutual friend of ours that I would not be a good social worker because I don’t “give a s*** about poor people, an oppressed group social workers help.  That’s like saying well you can be racist or a bigot but you can still be a social worker.” A co-worker of mine said things about President Trump (and the people who voted for him) that were so horrible, I don’t actually feel comfortable printing them.  In class one day some classmates had a conversation about how Trump supporters didn’t belong in our social work program and it would be better for everyone if those people would just leave.
If those people are so repulsed by the idea of a conservative person being in their profession, how will they react when they inevitably have to help someone who has a differing political view? If they feel conservative people do not belong in a helping profession do they also feel conservative people are unworthy of help?
And what’s with the crazy generalizations? “Conservatives don’t care about poor people” – come on now.
Ok, ok, I don’t like Trump, so I don’t technically fit the criteria of the people they were criticizing, but still. It was still the Deep South – there were definitely Trump supporters in the class. While those were not the only times I felt uncomfortable at work or school, the fact that these incidents stick out in my mind indicates that they were relatively isolated occurrences.
So my political views haven’t made me a workplace pariah, and I haven’t lost any sleep about the anti-conservative rhetoric used at work or in class, and I can’t say my day-to-day work life has been impacted.
I do feel that social work, and also the entire country, would be better served if we stowed the “if you don’t agree with me you’re an incompetent idiot” mentality. Engaging with people who have differing points of view can ultimately only help us.
At no point on my grad school application did it ask if I was conservative, so I guess to be a social worker you just have to want to help people.

Guest Post: The Bad Liberal: The New Pride Flag

I’ve been begging a good friend of mine to write a post for this blog. This friend wishes to remain anonymous and I will grant that wish. This friend has unique experiences and views that are worthwhile to add to the discussion. Too often we stereotype what kind of views someone will have based on who they are, but it is more important to consider each person as an individual rather than a label. If you’re interested in writing a guest post, please reach out to me. I want to open this space to anyone and to any opinion. Enjoy:

So there is a new pride flag, I guess? I wanted to share my thoughts on the new pride flag, along with some of my opinions and experiences with the gay community in general.

I have a real love-hate relationship with the gay community. I never really fit into the gay community. I didn’t have enough muscle, my face wasn’t as symmetrical as it could be, too big to be a twink, not big and hairy enough to be a bear, and not manly enough to fulfill the straight man fantasy. I remember never feeling like I belonged in a community that was supposed to be so welcoming and open-minded. I couldn’t really place myself in a “gay category” so I was just out, but by my own choice. In college I joined one of the LGBT clubs on campus after a couple of people from my dorm building invited me. The interaction I had with people there was so awkward most of the time. I was told once that I wasn’t bullied enough in school, that I didn’t have a hard enough time. I was even called “straight passing” by these people who I thought were open-minded and welcoming.

When I heard about the new black and brown colors that some people want to add to the LGBT pride flag I was a little shocked. Then I remembered how I felt. I can understand people of color, or anyone for that matter not feeling included in the gay community. The gay community is a tough club to join, and you better fit at least one stereotype. However, do I think that adding black and brown stripes to the flag will solve anything? No, I really don’t.

Philly is the first city to fly the new pride flag high just in time for pride month. People have reacted very strongly towards it. The pride flag was first created in the late 70s as a response to high political tension for LGBT individuals. The colors on the flag do not represent skin color: the rainbow is a symbol of all the colors found in nature. It was a way to be inclusive. Men and women of all races fought so young LGBT people today could have a better future. Now the gay community is at odds because they don’t like white people. According to this article, white gay men are at the center of all the problems within the community.

The big argument that I see all the time is that people are always upset about how white people always put in their grinder profiles things like “no blacks.” Truthfully, that is so horrible but, honestly, thanks for the warning: as a white person I know not to talk to you either. I also want to point out that it is okay to have preferences for who you want to have a relationship with. Being mad that someone won’t engage in a relationship with you and guilting them into doing it is a form of rape. I laugh at how dumb a person looks when they have on their hookup apps “no fems, blacks, or fatties.” The arguments go much further than that, though some LGBT black people have felt victimized by businesses that promotes LGBT people ranging from not being allowed into places to some iffy dress code policies. You can read more about some of these issues here.

Why do people need to feel validated by the LGBT community? The LGBT community is not an inclusive place and never will be. The idea of constantly trying to push your way into something that doesn’t want you seems counterproductive. I will never know what it is like to be a black gay, trans, etc. person in America. However, I know that young black people do not need the gay community to make them valid in this world. The new flag divides an already divided group of people even more. The original creator of the flag never intended for the colors to represent skin color.

I hope that anyone reading this will understand that the gay community is not a perfect place. It is not a community that has their arms opened wide. I do now understand in my life I don’t need the gay community. What I do have though is a support system, I don’t need a large group of strangers to accept me. I am a valid person and so are people of color on the LGBT spectrum.

Stories from Within Part 5

Stories from Within is a series of short stories I have from my experiences within prison. These will mainly focus on humorous events that have occurred or moments that have really stuck with me. For obvious reasons, identifying information about the inmates or prisons will not be revealed.

One of the most interesting mental health disorders is delusions. Many people confuse delusions with hallucinations so I’ll quickly break down what delusions are.

According to Psychology Today, delusions are fixed beliefs that do not change, even when a person is presented with conflicting evidence. There are “bizarre” delusions and non-bizarre delusions. Bizarre delusions are clearly implausible and peers within the same culture cannot understand them. An example of a bizarre delusion is when an individual believes that his or her organs have been replaced with someone else’s without leaving any wounds or scars. An example of a nonbizarre delusion is the belief that one is under police surveillance, despite a lack of evidence.

The thing that is so interesting, and scary, about delusions is that the individual experiencing them cannot be convinced otherwise. And sometimes the delusions actually seem believable enough to an outside observer at face value until the individual experiencing the delusions delves into themes surrounding the delusion. Individuals can experience delusions as part of schizophrenia, due to substance abuse, or as a standalone diagnosis of delusional disorder. Delusions are rare, with an estimated 0.2 percent of people experiencing them at some point in their lifetime.

The first time I encountered a delusional individual was in prison. I was making rounds in a Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU) in order to check up on inmates that were on a “suicide watch,” which in the prison was known as “Crisis Intervention” or “CI.”

I went to the cell door of an inmate and began a conversation. The interaction was pretty run of the mill – how are you doing, are you eating/sleeping, are you having any thoughts of suicide, etc. The inmate presented as normal and I wasn’t completely sure as to why this inmate was on CI.

I was about to tell the inmate that I’d talk to them the next day and hoped they had a good night when the inmate asked me a question that was quite the curveball.

The inmate says to me, “do you believe in witchcraft?” And, because the rest of the conversation was so run of the mill, I thought the inmate was pulling my leg. I looked at the inmate and laughed and said, “of course I don’t believe in witchcraft.”

The look on the inmate’s face to my response was as if I had just told them that the sky was actually neon yellow. The inmate laughed and then walked to the back of their cell, grabbed a Bible, and started furiously flipping through it in order to show me verses that proved witchcraft was real.

The verse the inmate kept reading to me was Nahum 3:4. “Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts.” This, the inmate asserted, proved that witchcraft was real.

The look on my face while all this was going on probably was not the best reaction. I am only assuming my jaw was on the floor and the rest of my face had a look that said, “umm what?”

I ended the session and told the inmate I’d talk to them the next day. I went back to our office area and talked with my supervisor about what just happened. My supervisor explained to me that they were well aware of this inmate’s delusions and they probably should have warned me before I went and talked with them.

If it wasn’t already strange enough, it got stranger. The inmate would hand me notes written in, what best could be described as, gibberish about witchcraft. I kept all these notes and submitted them with a referral to a higher level of care for this inmate. The notes were supposed to be more proof that witchcraft was real but, in reality, they were more proof to me how mentally ill this inmate was.

I would continue to check on this inmate each day I was there and would often be called over to the cell of other inmates on the wing. They would stop me with genuine concern about how ill this inmate was. The other inmates reported this inmate was up all night talking to themselves about witchcraft and they were concerned about that inmate’s wellbeing.

My time in that prison came to an end prior to being able to see if that inmate got a higher level of care. However, these interactions taught me a valuable lesson: when working with individuals experiencing delusions, sometimes it is just best to play along. Even if the delusion seems really “out there” their reality is reality to them and playing along might just be the only magic to break the spell.

Politics and the Normalization of Violence

Between today’s shooting at the GOP Congressional batting practice and the May body-slamming of a reporter by a Congressional candidate, who is now the Congressman-Elect, the political climate in our country has reached a particularly revolting peak. Politics in our country is normalizing violence. And we’re to blame, not the politicians.

The 2016 Presidential Election was distinctly vile. Much more than we’ve ever seen. This vileness didn’t end after the votes were counted, it has carried over and it doesn’t appear there is an end in sight.

But why is it like this? It isn’t political correctness run amok or the fake news causing it to to happen. It is quite the opposite, actually. It is the fact we’re normalizing behavior that would be unacceptable in most pre-school children, let alone adults.

The way you view someone else dictates how you treat them. If you view someone who has opposing views as being something derogatory, you essentially feel that they should be treated as such. For example: Trump supporters chanting slogans and wearing shirts that say “Trump That Bitch” or Kathy Griffin posing for a photograph depicting President Trump decapitated. Why are we, as a society, allowing either of these things to be acceptable? By doing so we’re decreasing the willingness for healthy discourse between our politicians, our neighbors, our friends, and even our families. We’ve made politics so hostile that we’re making it acceptable to talk poorly or use physical violence against those that we disagree with.

And red alert: the news media is not fake. All media inherently has a slant to it. By its very nature what a news organization chooses to report is slant. Regardless of what commentary is added to that discussion, the choice to report is slant. This is not new to 2017, we’re just now using it as an excuse for things we don’t like. By labeling anything we disagree with as “fake,” we’re becoming increasingly paranoid and distrustful. This paranoid and distrust is furthering our inability to have healthy conversations and disagreements with one another.

Can political correctness sometimes be taken to the extreme? Yes, of course it can. But, more often than not, it just means that you’re not deliberately being a jerk. Even a soapbox social worker such as myself stereotypes different people and has strong opinions about other people and their lifestyle choices. But am I acting on it? Hell no. I’m treating, which also means using unoffensive words, others how I wish to be treated. It is such a simple concept: if you don’t want someone to disrespect you, don’t disrespect them. Even if they’re a stranger. Even if they’re different. Even if you don’t like them.

I co-faciliate an Anger Management group with inmates. The most basic concept we teach them is that once you’ve resorted to violence then you’ve lost. Interacting with other people can be broken down into a matrix game, where you and the other person can either win or lose. Not using violence is a win-win situation. Using violence is a lose-lose. It is very elementary, yet it is a concept that we are not easily grasping.

If you disagree with someone then have a civil conversation with them. Simply talking and respecting one another will go much further in finding common ground than violence ever will. You can disagree with someone and not use derogatory words to describe them or depict violence against them. It is extremely natural to not completely agree with every person you interact with.

Regardless of one’s political opinions, they do not deserve to have violence exerted against them, and they definitely do not deserve to die. We must stop accepting this as the new normal and start changing the way we interact with and talk to one another. It is such a simple change and costs us next to nothing. Is your pride really going to take a hit to stop saying “Trump That Bitch?” Probably not, but if it is then maybe your real problem is in the mirror.

By resorting to violence, an individual is choosing to lose. One is not going to change the political opinions of another person by shooting them. Sometimes we just need to bite the bullet and treat our fellow humans like we want to be treated.