I am slowly letting go of the idea that I can go back to prison. I am/was an HIV Counselor/Educator at CT's only Women's Prison before I took a terrible fall, smashed my right upper arm to smithereens, and ended up with chronic pain. I have held onto the hope of returning for over two years now, but I am beginning-just beginning- to admit that this is a fantasy.
I need to be "100% " to return. Of course, I was never !00% to begin with, and you should have seen me hauling my 50-year-old overweight body through boot camp. Yes, a real march-around, do calisthenics, hurry-up and wait, learn prison rules, and how-to-take- down-a-prisoner-who-has-a-knife type boot camp.
I was lucky in several ways. My friend Cindi S. was in the same class, we drove together(one and a half hours one way), and kept each other awake in class. Also, the whole class was made up of nurses and doctors and counselors, so we weren't competing with young go-get-em would be correctional officers. And(sadly) a man had died the class before from a heart attack, so when I mentioned my heart condition to my lieutenant, he blanched and told me not to do more than I could. Definitely no push-ups! I did finally learn to march, though. Useful stuff for an HIV Counselor.
When I finally got to York, I was in pretty good shape, and knew that in a riot, I could put handcuffs on someone, or defend myself, if necessary, with a good right hook. (Not that any of that was ever necessary. The most I ever did was tell a bunch of inmates to sit down while a fight was going on, and to my surprise, they all did!) But I was not on narcotics.
That is the real problem. I have been left with chronic pain which is intolerable without serious pain meds, and I cannot go back to prison on them. I would not, either, because my driftiness might endanger another staff member. And that is the ultimate sin, something to feel badly about forever.
The thing is, I loved my job. It was the one I had been unknowingly aiming for all my life, and I was good at it. In a strange way, I loved a lot of the inmates,too. Flawed, angry, drug addicted, prostitutes, even murderers, most have been sexually and/or physically abused starting very early, filled with shame and self-hatred, but they are survivors, who manage to keep going despite experiences most of us will never know. They are women who want so desperately to change, even when they know they can't or won't.
And the women who are HIV positive are some of the most courageous women I've ever known, especially the long term survivors who lived through the bad old days, many in prison. Their stories are heartbreaking, devastating, and yet they tell them with a hilarity that had everyone roaring with laughter.Then I'd go back into my office and cry.
I was both liked and respected by most inmates. They called me the Gentle Giant, and would sometimes knock on my door(a real no-no in the medical unit) and come in with a bogus HIV question for a couple of minutes of peace and quiet. When I was not flat out busy, I'd let them stay, and talk about the weather, or their kids, or how to deal with a difficult cell mate. The highest praise I ever got was, "You treat me like a human being, not some sub-species of an animal." They still send me messages through Cindi S. who has taken my place there.
Can you tell how much I miss them?
Of course I don't miss the whole prison mind set, the rules and regs which must be obeyed, the way some( not all) CO's and nurses and doctors treat inmates like the scum of the earth, and that there is nothing a counselor can do about it. I don't miss the inevitable paperwork, or my crazy co-worker, who had serious emotional problems, and is now gone.Or the way the Big Brass always did their surprise walk-through's after we had been warned, the whole place cleaned up and painted, and all the inmates were locked down, so the overcrowding was never seen. Typical state bull$hit, under then-Governor Rowland, who is now in a Federal Penitentiary himself. For the record, Federal Prisons are cushier than state prisons, according to my sources, many of whom have been in both.
Friday, I called and left a message for the guy who handles disability retirement, as my attorney has been urging. Luckily he wasn't in, because as I put the phone down, I burst into tears and cried and cried and cried. I'm crying now. I know that when one door closes, another often opens up, and I have to close the prison doors firmly behind me, with me on the outside, before I'll notice other passageways anywhere else. Plus I am facing another surgery on my arm and rehab again (yeah, can you believe it? More surgery) before I can really look around much for something meaningful to do.
This week I will start pushing forward on both these things-leaving the prison behind, and girding up my loins to fight Workers' Comp once again. Both are long term projects, but I guess there is no time like the present to start.