The Grass Is Always Meaner
Sperry the supervisor was chatting as he spread the Sun Butter – the new peanut butter perfidy that the prison foisted upon us- on his wheat bread. Instead of peanuts, Sun Butter manufacturers use sunflower seeds into a baby-diarrhea consistency spread. The supervisor bit the sandwich and almost choked.
“What the hell is this?” he shouted.
“Sun Butter,” Bengals told him.
“It’s made with sunflower seeds,” Green Bay informed him.
“It replaced the peanut butter,” NY Giants said.
“What… some flower child out in California thought this would be better than peanut butter? Well… fuck you asshole!” Sperry shouted to the theoretical flower child on the opposite coast and chucked his sandwich into a trash can. It’s always interesting to see a jailer get jailed himself, even if he’s only bound by the taste of Sun Butter in his mouth.
Not that the taste of Sun Butter is the worst confinement that the corrections staff can face. The administration has tossed more than a few (but still not enough) male guards to the lions of criminal prosecution for sexual contact with inmates, creating another one of those situations like when God became man or Zeus made himself mortal. People in power find out how much the powerless world sucks.
The supervisor had yet to lose the taint of sunflower seeds in his mouth when word spread like butter that a local police department arrested one of the guards, one who had worked here for several years, for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend very severely. The judge set high bond.
I do not know for sure but I think the guard eventually bonded out of custody. Until that point, his own employer penned him in. This guard knew what the people watching him thought of him – as a corrections employee he was probably a higher profile inmate than his cohorts – because he thinks those same thoughts about us. Being new in confinement, he wore his uniform, a different one still issued by DOC, 24/7; anyone admitted to a Connecticut prison has no pajamas at first. No one can sleep in their underwear because they might flash a guard. He ate question-mark cutlets that pass for protein just like we do. To post his bond, he wrote a request form to a correctional counselor who probably worked for the department for far fewer years than he to schedule a call to a bondsman. Then he sporked over a retainer to a lawyer who met him at court, a place twenty-five miles away that takes eighteen hours to go to and fro. He likely saw guards he already knew from working with them before they transferred out of York, apparitions from posts gone past whose awkward greeting (if he was greeted at all) shrinky-dinked his self-esteem.
I’m not feeling 50 shades of shadenfreude. I am not happy that Sperry disgorged his Sun Butter or that the C/O took a collar. I like Sperry and the C/O never gave me a problem. But still, in my penal processing, staff have tampered with my food and my mail, vandalized my property, taunted me with names, invaded my privacy and even assaulted me. They played “jokes” on me, providing false information/orders that I would follow. Every revenge fantasy entailed some scenario where they were rendered just as powerless as I am. I dreamed of nothing violent, just instances where I controlled all toilet paper in the state, duly authorized not to spare a square to any of them. Or that DOC would hire me as a staffing consultant and I would decide who among the guards stays and who blows. You’re fired!
In abusive or oppressive situations, role reversal is the ultimate reprisal because the payback is rarely out of proportion with the original offense. Role reversal is like LASIK surgery performed on an eye for an eye. Everyone’s vision improves as their eyes well with tears in their new, bad, circumstances.
It’s no secret that my parents would forcibly hospitalize me in psych wards early on in my tenure as public enemy number 330445. I mass-produced angry tears during each of these events in 2001 and 2005. For those who have never experienced it, involuntary hospitalization feels like a kidnapping and the place that holds you for ransom is the Bizzaro World in Superman. Someone – for me it was my parents – calls the police who shanghai you in an ambulance even though no one is hurt. EMT’s physically force you onto the rig (if you resist you can be charged criminally with assaulting a law enforcement officer) that transports you on a stretcher, even though you can walk or sit upright, to an emergency department where a physician determines whether you are a danger to yourself or others. Then the good doctor decided whether you can meet your basic needs – food, clothing and shelter. If you’re homicidal or suicidal, you stay. If you are neither homicidal or suicidal but are so addled that you cannot scale even the first step of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs, you stay, too.
Every single time they called, I stayed.
No physician ever actually interviewed me as I shivered in a paper gown in an exam room. Instead, the medical establishment collected clinical data on a patient in their midst from people who weren’t even there, my parents. Despite calling 911 and referring their daughter for emergency treatment and intervention, my parents never came to the ER. As I stayed, they stayed. At home. Grilling steaks or watching Masterchef. Once they ventured out after calling 911 – to a restaurant. Another time they were to a charity auction as I sat emergent, dangerous, half-naked at the hospital.
Each time I stayed, some ER doc shunted me to the psych ward where an RN with a frying pan face would greet me.
“Hi Chandra. I’m June, your primary nurse. Do you remember me?”
Of course I do, you bitch.
No one else ever had a primary nurse and I do not know why June insisted on being mine. I suspect that it was because she loved itemizing my property and clothing as I stood by, now clad in scrubs.
“I’m such a clothes horse. I like these shoes. Cheap and Chic by Moschino. Did you get these at the outlets?”
“And this bag! I love this green. Do you remember the pink Prada one you had last time?”
“Well, I own it so, yes, I do remember it.”
“I’ve never heard of this designer Luella,” June gushed.
“And yet, somehow, she still exists.”
“And Blugirl. Blugirl. What’s Blugirl?”
“It’s Blumarine, their younger, more affordable line.”
“They have it at Forever 21?” she inquired.
“Boy, Chandra, you sure can dress,” she conceded as she sealed everything that came in with me in a plastic bag like the ones cops use for evidence.
“So I guess I can’t feed or house myself then, if I can clearly dress, right?” I asked June, referring to the standard for involuntary admission: inability to feed, clothe or shelter oneself.
These hospitalizations never lasted very long, mostly because I always filed for a hearing with the local probate court. Eventually the probate judge would amble in with a tape recorder – the record – and ask doctors if I should have been held against my will. I was naïve and inexperienced enough at first to expect that employees of the hospital would testify that a colleague, also employed by the hospital, had no grounds to hold me. But because the truth would have exposed the hospital to litigation and complaints – as well as lent me some sway – it never showed up. June, my primary nurse, was handmaiden to the fraud, raising a manicured hand up near her botched highlights to swear her oath. Then she lied.
“Ms. Bozelko has multiple scars on her forearms from past suicide attempts. It’s highly likely that-”
“No I don’t!” I interrupted. “Look,” I offered the inside and outside of my arms to the probate judge. At the time, I could barely believe that the hospital attorney would allow perjury like that. Now I’m shocked when they don’t do it.
Any probate court hearing held within a psychiatric setting is such a kangaroo court that I don’t understand why veterinarians don’t sit in on them alongside the shrinks, the lawyer and June, my primary nurse. The judge always ruled that it was within the doctor’s discretion to hold me involuntarily. Somehow I was always released hours after these sham hearings. I suspected that the judge knew I was right but was too much of a power player to ratify my rightness officially. After all, just like the criminal defendant, the psychiatric patient can never be right. Never. Once you get a Dx (diagnosis) that requires Tx (treatment) with an Rx (prescription), you will be hallucinating, mistaken, lying or just plain wrong for the rest of your life. I had no idea that after that first hospitalization, I would never be right again.
Now, years later, I borrowed another prisoner’s copy of the Connecticut Law Tribune and read an article about Attorney Ira Grudberg and how he had obtained a relatively large settlement for a client who was hit by a bus. His client sued the bus company because her injuries prevented her from working. His client was June, my primary nurse.
According to the article, poor June, my primary nurse, could no longer subdue psychiatric patients because her injuries were so severe. Not working, June, my primary nurse, became clinically depressed, got a Dx that needed Tx with an Rx. When I get out, I might go to the courtroom look up June, my primary nurse’s case and find the name of the driver who hit her so I can send him or her an Edible Arrangement in congratulations and gratitude.
How a person handles a reversal of fortune tells almost everything anyone needs to know about him. A real jerk will still shit on the little people, not realizing that he’s one of them. A good guy will realize that, when you have a little bit of power, the grass is really meaner on the other side and he will stop being mean himself. Sun Butter has yet to dawn again on any of our trays since the Sperry ordered the Sun Butter thrown out to make way for real peanut butter again. The guard has yet to report back to work – at least not with inmate contact – since his arrest so no one can tell how he landscapes the grass on this other side. Like the guard, June, my primary nurse, has not returned to work. She probably does not realize that she’s on the other side now because she put way some green from that settlement. It has not been forced on her yet that the grass is always meaner where she is now. Roll up your sleeves, June. Let me check your arms.
I don’t want to rub anyone’s face in his/her misfortune; I know what it’s like to lose. But I do want to ask Sperry, the guard and June, my primary nurse, without any trace of ridicule, revenge or rancor:
How did it feel?
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