It seems I find myself caught up in arguments that are suddenly reminiscent of an identical argument – well, not exactly identical, not exactly déjà vu, “I’ve been here before” – but where the chorus seems to sound like, “and if you didn’t the conclusion last time, you’re not going to like it this time.” The issue at hand: Orthodox Christian clergy discussing when to “separate” someone from the fullness of the church – the sacramental life – when they are homosexual.
I have watched individuals “administer,” “dispense,” “render,” and “mete out” justice for many years; beginning with my parent & grandmother, other significant (and a few “not-so-significant) relatives, babysitters, those under a general classification “adults” (e.g. “What are you kids going? Stop it!”), parish priest, teachers, administrators, “officials.” employers, law enforcement, courts, judges, and prison personnel. While I am sure there are many “rationale & justifications,” primarily I have heard its intention to be instructive and rehabilitative (“You have to learn these things”) in order to function socially; punitive, as a frequent sub-category of instruction, but as likely to be a “reparation/penalty” and punishment; and finally, as means of separating/segregating you from society for the protection of society – with the occasional addendum, “and to protect you.” Occasionally it is posturing, and on even rarer occasion, it is substantially misguided and harmful.
I have a strong opinion that this final aspect – separating/segregating an individual from the social or spiritual context in which they are, in fact, defined, is an awesome responsibility for the applier of such justice, and the manner and process of such a decision must be transparent and accountable to both the society and to the individual involved. And those without the fundamental courage to do so, in my mind, are unworthy of the authority of such an imposition.
I was standing at the reception desk, looking to see who had checked in to see me. As usual, the assigned staff sat at two desks facing each other, while the “escort officers” casually walked around, frisking patients as they entered, collecting ID’s and appointment slips. I sat down behind the supervizing officer at the desk, and almost immediately, a therapy group concluded and 15 or so men were nosily picking up their ID’s and having their appointment slips signed in order to go home. If a patient happened to live on the same yard as the psych unit, he is just allowed to leave, but the others are gathered into groups, frisked, and escorted by CO’s to their respective yards. Within a few more minutes, another group concluded, others were arriving for a group, all were converged, impatient, loud, frisked as they entered, frisked as they left, turning in papers as they arrived, collecting papers as they left.
Wading his way back through the crowd, one young man approached the desk and was looking at the ID’s spread out in front of the supervizing officer. “I forgot my ID when I left. Can I get it back?” The CO at the desk asked, “What’s your name?” The patient told him, the officer picked up his ID and said, “Go have a seat.” “Why? I just forgot my ID. I got my time on the yard now. Can I just have my ID? I just got out of group.” “I said go have a seat.” I stood there confused by what has happening, and I actually was amazed at the young man’s restraint. Without reacting, he walked over and sat down on the long line of benches and patients.
Approximately 5 more minutes passed, the population at the door was considerably thinned out and all the officers began to sit down. The young man got up from the bench and approached the desk. “Can I get my ID now? I just got out of group and want to go to the yard.” “Didn’t I tell you to take a seat?” “Yeah but…” “Go sit down.” Frustrated and mumbling, the young man went back to the benches. Another 5 minutes, all the entries & exiting had concluded, and the young man was up and pacing. When the CO noticed the pacing, he yelled out, “You had better sit down like I told you.” Another 5 or so and the young man started slowly making his way back to the desk. “Why you doin’ this to me, man? I just forgot my ID. Why can’t I go? I didn’t do anything to you, man.” “Do you want me to put you in a cage, or are you gonna’ go and sit down and shut up like I told you?” Someone already in a cage yelled out, “Why you messin’ with him, man? That ain’t right.” Pointing to one, “You, shut up,” and the other, “You, go sit down, now!”
The other officers see what’s happening and they are angry. But it’s prison, and they can’t support the inmate against the officer, so they do the next best thing. They get up and leave. I said, “Isn’t that enough?” The CO turned toward me and said, “when I get his doctor to let him go, I’ll let him go.” But he made no effort to do anything, and I looked at patient, then and I looked the officer and left to see my next patient, feeling very angry. About 45 minutes later, as I walked my patient out, there was the same young man, now in the cage. He was fully escalated, yelling obscenities, and being completely ignored by other CO’s, many of whom did not know what had transpired earlier. I asked the supervizing CO as to who was the young man’s doctor. He stared at me for a moment, then told me the doctor’s name. I walked to the back and informed the doctor I needed to dismiss his patient so he could go home. “Why’s he still here? What happened?” All I said was, “Trust me on this. I’ll take care of it.” I walked out, picked up the ID and said to the CO, “I spoke to his Dr. and I’m sending him home.” The CO started, “But he…” I leaned in into his face, “OPEN the door.” I stood at the cage and put the kid’s ID through the port: “Don’t you say one word. Just go home and chill.” He nodded his head.
As I was leaving later, the desk officer casually said, “Have a good weekend,” to which I did not respond. On the whole, I interpret this entire episode, though particularly offensive, to be a clear abuse of power and intimidation, but was posturing, nonetheless. It is ugly. It reflects very poorly on the system and the individuals entrusted by the system to administrate, even at the lowest levels; but it is also endemic. And there is significantly worse to be had.