In the middle of my busy crazy day, one of the office assistants handed me a mental health referral from a sergeant on one of the other yards. It was marked Urgent, and under the reason for referring the inmate, he had written, “Does not follow directions. Will not respond to simple questions.”
Because it was “urgent,” I basically had to drop everything else and handle the referral today. I was familiar with this particular inmate. He used to be on my caseload, and he had a bad attitude about being in prison—it wasn’t his fault, he shouldn’t have to do the time, it wasn’t fair, everyone was against him, etc. I suspected that the referral was less about him having any real mental health issues and more a matter of the sergeant not wanting to deal with the inmate any further. So I called the sergeant’s office and asked that the inmate, Mr. R, be sent to my office on a special pass.
Mr. R showed up within half an hour and was escorted to my office by a correctional officer who stood at the doorway to ensure extra security. This C.O. was also familiar with Mr. R. I sensed that part of the reason he stuck around was to send the message that he wouldn’t hesitate to take action if Mr. R tried anything aggressive with me.
“Look,” I said. “The reason you’re here is that I received a referral from the sergeant saying you wouldn’t follow directions or respond to simple questions. I’m just evaluating you to make sure you’re not having any mental health problems.” We both knew that there was no reason for him to even really be there.
“Man,” Mr. R said. He slumped in the seat and stared at the floor sullenly. “I don’t have no mental health problems. I didn’t want to answer their stupid-ass questions.”
“How did it come to this?” I asked, waving the referral slip to draw his attention to it.
Mr. R looked up and rolled his eyes. “Man. It started from this morning. I kicked this milk crate that was on the ground. They told me to pick it up. I told them no, it was already on the ground, why should I pick it up? They told me to pick it up. I said, if you want me to pick it up, then you give me some gloves and I’ll pick it up. And then next thing I know, they got me in the sergeant’s office, and he be asking some stupid-ass questions.”
“Okay,” I said. I’d heard enough to know that A) this wasn’t an urgent referral, and B) I’d just lost an hour of my day, what with finishing the interview and then having to type up a detailed report of my rationale for clearing this inmate to return to the yard.
Luckily I had some chocolate stashed in my desk drawer, because yesterday’s cake was already gone.