First bit of news I learned this morning when I got to my office: There had been a suicide on our yard. Second bit of news: As mental health staff, we would have to go on the tiers after yard recall this afternoon and conduct one-on-one cellsides with each inmate to make sure he was doing okay and to see if he wanted a follow-up appointment with his clinician.
It had been a while since I’d done a cellside. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it means going into the building where the inmates are housed and talking to them at the cell door. You’ve got to be okay with walking down the corridor while 50 pairs of eyes watch you from behind their glass windows and 49 pairs of ears are listening while you talk to one inmate. If you are fearful or uncomfortable, they’ll know it.
I’d done enough cellsides to know what to expect. This time, I stood at the end of the hall and loudly announced who I was, what I was doing there, and why. Then I went knocking door to door. Most of the guys said, “I’m okay.” A handful of them requested to see their clinician. A lot of them just gave me a thumbs up to let me know they were fine. Every so often, someone would say, “What? What happened?” Here and there, someone would say, “No comment.” One guy said, “I don’t know nothing about it.” And then there was the one guy who said, “You talking about the dummy who hanged himself?”
I was doing fine until I moved on to the next door, and the window was covered with paper so that you couldn’t see inside the cell. I scanned the glass to find the narrow label that told me the name of the individual who lived there. It belonged to the man who had cut his throat and then hung himself. I felt a wave of sorrow, and my heart went out to him.