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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Freak Show Scene One

Sometimes a person needs to choose her attitude. Whether to cry or to laugh for instance. When I transferred to work at a different state prison it was never mentioned that I would be the mental health nurse on the weekend. I would be the only one. The one in charge of all the psychiatric inmates.
 The prison has four crisis stabilization beds. Which means inmates who are suicidal, unstable, or generally terribly whacked out are placed there. Sometimes they are naked and tied with leather restraints to a mattress. An officer checks them every fifteen minutes. The nursing and medical staff checks them all the time as well. Needless to say it is a freak show. There are an additional twelve step-down crisis beds in another building the mental health staff supervises. The mental health inmate population in this prison averages around six hundred inmates. The weekend RN can be called to see any of them at any time.
The first weekend I had to work I did have the wisdom to insist that another RN orient me. I had never had mental health training outside of college.
My first day, a Saturday, a regular frequent flyer, was there. Let's call him Derrick. He was twenty years old. White, deathly so, as he had not seen the sun in many many months. His favorite distraction was masturbation. Most inmates do this. But Derrick had achieved a special status as a master at this among the staff. Dr. Tice, seventy years old, said one day that he almost envied Derrick his ability. We laughed out loud at this. I was being oriented by Linda, a RN, a character in herself. We walked back to that CSU first thing. I said hello to Derrick through the thick prison glass. He said " Shut the Hell Up You White Motherfiiing Bitch" and threw urine under the three inch space in the door onto my white shoes. I don't recall what I said to him at that moment. I did back out and clean my shoes. Linda was howling with laughter. She said that was typical and not a bad start really. Really? This is when you choose your attitude. I laughed and laughed. Then I called Joe and he laughed with me.

The remainder of that day was uneventful. I learned that everything done for the mental health patients had to be written in triplicate. That right there was worse than Derrick by far. Linda and I walked out those six locked gates with satisfaction because we finished on time. Joe was sitting in the parking lot on his big motorcycle, he took off his helmet, smiled handsomely and said "I'm here for my bitch."
Olive Out


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