365 Days Handmade

Making life a better place, one day at a time

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Day 345/365: A Rainbow in Prison

It rained all morning, and then the sky cleared up around noon.  I usually take a break from my office in the middle of the day and walk out to the parking lot, where I sit in my car for a few minutes.  This afternoon when I left our yard and cut across the plaza, I heard an inmate saying to one of the correctional officers, “Wow.  I’m glad I stopped to take a look.”  I glanced over my shoulder to see what they were looking at.  It was an amazingly bright and full rainbow that stretched across the sky over the prison.

I wished I could take a photo right then and there, but of course cell phones aren’t allowed inside the facility.  I hurried through the corridor, stopped and waited for two sallyports, showed my ID at the gatehouse, and made my way out to the parking lot.  By the time I reached my car, the rainbow already appeared to be fading.  I popped the trunk, got my phone out of my purse, and surreptitiously tried to take a photo before anyone saw me.

I managed to get this shot, which doesn’t do the rainbow any justice, but I think it gives you enough of an idea of just how impressive a sight that must have been for someone standing underneath it.



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Day 344/365: The Things We Don’t Say


These are my favorite patent leather flats.  I wore them to work today, and then it rained all day.  I would have been better off with rain boots.

My Lifers Group was scheduled this afternoon, and I had to leave our building to get to the group room.  I didn’t have an umbrella, and I had to carefully step around puddles to keep from getting my feet soaked.  The lifers were waiting outside the door, watching as I approached.

One of them commented, “All of them days you come to group wearing Converse or closed shoes, and today when it’s raining, you got on those open shoes.”

To some people, that may have sounded like a criticism.  What I heard underneath that gruff, convicted murderer/formerly active gang member’s comment, though, was, “It’s raining, and I’m concerned that your feet will get wet and you could catch a cold.”  He may not have articulated those words, but I knew the sentiment was there.

“Yeah,” I said.  “When I put these on this morning, I didn’t think it was going to rain.”

What I meant and didn’t say was, “Thanks.  I know you care about my welfare.”


Day 337/365: There Still Are Superheroes

I was feeling really disillusioned with the world yesterday.  I had to remind myself that there still are good people out there and that happy, positive things happen, too.  But it was tough.  Today was a lot better.  It was fairly uneventful at work, anyway.  Or at least on our yard.  There was about an hour this morning when the entire facility was recalled because of two separate staff assaults that happened within a matter of minutes from each other, in two different locations.  I heard that one of the assaults involved an inmate biting a correctional officer.  Fortunately, there were no fatalities.

Anyway, so as I was saying…  I wanted to have a more positive outlook today.  I wanted to think less about the awful things that happen every day and remember good moments in my life.  I looked through the photo gallery stored in my phone over the past year and found a few that made me smile.

Sometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying.


My superhero.  And my husband.



Day 336/365: A Bad Day


One of the occupational hazards of working in a prison is that you will inevitably encounter an individual so criminal and disordered in his thinking, so entitled, confrontational and combative, that you will have to terminate the interview and order him to get out of your office before you activate your alarm to summon custody.  Depending on your nature and character, you will experience any number of emotions as a result of this interaction, and then you will have to deal with it.  For me, there was mainly the feeling of being straight up pissed off.

I took a break and went out to the parking lot, where I sat in my car and scrolled through my phone and checked Facebook.  And that is where I first saw the news about the San Bernardino shootings at the Inland Regional Center.  The Inland Regional Center, in case you don’t know, is a state agency that provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities.

There are a handful of Regional Centers throughout the state of California, and I know people who have either provided or received services at these facilities.  I also know people who are capable of murder and people who have committed murder.  I don’t know all of them.  We don’t know all of them.  There are those who are locked up now, and others who are still out there.  These days, when I learn about a new shooting incident, I can’t help thinking that there will inevitably be another one.  It’s only a matter of time.

I sat in my car for a few more minutes and tried not to let things bother me, but eventually I had to get out and start walking back to the prison.

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Day 321/365: Back to Work

Ever since the change in Daylight Saving Time, I’ve tried to be mindful of leaving my office by 5 PM in order to avoid being inside the prison at dusk.  Unfortunately, today was a really busy day and I had a lot of paperwork to complete, so I didn’t officially walk outside of the facility until the sun had almost set behind the mountains.

That’s okay, though.  I didn’t make a whole lot more progress on the mitered squares blanket, so instead I’ll share with you a blurry photo of our parking lot as I was leaving work.


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Day 308/365: In Which I Learn I’m Old


“That’s a nice watch,” Mr. A said to me today during his routine follow-up appointment.

“Thanks,” I said. “It’s a Swatch. You know, like the kind that was popular in the 80s?”

“Nah,” he said, slowly shaking his head to indicate that he didn’t know. “I’m not that old.”

Riiiiiggght. Because this was a kid who was born in 1994. The year I graduated from U of R.

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Day 302/365: Another Day in the Joint


This is how my morning began:

I had a new arrival scheduled for his initial intake. We were about fifteen minutes into the interview when the sergeant came by my office and knocked on the door. I waved for him to come in and asked the new arrival to step outside. The sergeant came into my office and said, “Hey, Doc, we got Inmate XYZ in the holding cell. He’s saying he’s suicidal.”

We both knew the drill. “Thanks, Sarge,” I said. “I’ll talk to him after I finish up this appointment.”

“Great,” the sergeant said. He turned to leave the room and just as he was walking away, my phone rang.

“Dr. V,” the person on the other end said when I answered. It was one of the mental health administrative office technicians. “We received a call from the clinic regarding one of your patients. He’s not saying that he’s suicidal, but they have some concerns. They need you to go over there as soon as possible and talk to him.”

I said, “I just spoke to the sergeant, and he told me that they’ve got one of my patients in the holding cell right now, saying he’s suicidal.”

“This is a different inmate,” the office tech said.

“Give me a few minutes,” I said.

I got off the phone and turned to the new arrival who’d returned to his seat across my desk. He was casually looking at the posters on the wall and acting like he hadn’t heard anything that had been said in the last three minutes.

I looked at the day’s schedule of appointments and silently said goodbye to any remaining bit of free time I may have had left.

“Listen,” I said. “Can you come back this afternoon? I’ve got a couple of emergencies to take care of.”


Day 296/365: In Which I Use the F-Word as a Therapeutic Intervention


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.”

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Day 280/365: Goose Egg

So the most exciting thing that happened at work today was this:


My no-make-up-and-bland-hair-pulled-back-because-I-work-in-a-men’s-prison face.

I don’t know if you can tell from the photo, but I had a pretty huge goose egg on my forehead.  It didn’t come from anything scary or dangerous like an inmate elbowing me in the head or a correctional officer accidentally hitting me with a baton.  No, it happened because I was in a huge hurry to use the restroom.  I quickly locked my door, swung around to race out of there, and ran right into the corner of a shelf that was protruding from the wall next to my office door.

I had to be escorted to the clinic by a correctional officer, and medical staff looked me over to make sure I was okay.  I probably could have requested to go home afterwards, but I stuck around because I had three patients scheduled this afternoon.  The funny thing is that each one of them noticed the goose egg the moment they sat down across the desk from me and immediately expressed concern for my safety and well-being.  Which is kind of heart-warming when you consider that they are convicted felons in a prison.  At least I know I’m not working entirely with cold-blooded sociopaths.

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Day 279/365: First Time For Cellsides This Year

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.