I’d seen all of my patients for the day and was typing up progress notes on the computer when one of the inmate doormen/clerks knocked on my office door. He held another inmate’s ID in his hand and showed it to me. “This individual is asking if you have time to see him. He says that he desperately needs to talk to you.”
I took one look at the name and photo on the ID and immediately knew what was up. “Sure, bring him in,” I said.
This particular inmate-patient was a 53-year-old lifer who had committed his crime at age 17. He’d been incarcerated since 1979. In June of this year, he’d attended his umpteenth parole board hearing. This time the board found him suitable for parole. Since then, he’d been waiting to hear whether or not the governor would oppose and reverse the board’s decision. I had a feeling that he just got his answer today.
Mr. M walked into my office, and he didn’t have to say a word for me to know that my hunch was correct. I let him talk and cry and express all the things that he needed to say.
After a while, he looked at me sadly and said, “You know, this had been the first time that I actually let myself start to dream. I let myself daydream what it would be like to live outside of prison, out in the community, maybe have my own place, a job. Now…”
He didn’t finish his sentence, but I knew where he was going with this. I was also aware of his history of clinical depression and suicide attempts. He looked so heartbroken and hopeless and dejected that I knew it was time for one of my personal unconventional interventions.
“Listen,” I said. “Let me tell you a story. You know how you get to a place where you’re just feeling like it’s all hopeless, like there’s no point in trying any more, everything is just fucked?”
Mr. M nodded his head and smiled a little through his tears, and I could see that I was getting through to him.
“I’m going to tell you what a good friend once told me when I was feeling that way. I don’t remember what I was doing at the time—I think I may have been trying to make something, or fix something around the house, but I just kept messing up and I was getting frustrated. And I was like, Man! This is just fucked! This is a lost cause!”
“I hear that,” Mr. M said. He leaned forward a little to hear the rest of the story.
“This friend of mine came along,” I continued, “and he said, Relax, this is not a lost cause. It’s not fucked. Nothing is ever fucked.”
Mr. M sat back, and his small smile broke into a laugh. “You’re funny, Doc,” he said. “I like that. Nothing is ever fucked. I’m going to write that down. Thank you.”