Wednesday, September 27, 2006

For She's A Jolly Good Fellow

I love working with students. Maybe I'm showing my age, but every year they show up younger and younger, bright and energetic, wide-eyed with enthusiasm.

And I get to take them to prison. They seem so innocent I thought about calling this post "Bambi Goes To Jail" but that just seemed wrong.

My students want to work with criminals. They have signed up for a full year of experience evaluating and treating people with mental illnesses involved in tthe criminal justice system. At least six months of that training is required to take place inside a correctional facility.

They are already used to working in hospitals with severely mentally ill folks. They have also already worked with people involved in the criminal justice system while working on those inpatient units; they may or may not have been aware of it, but chances are good that a certain percentage of their inpatients had open charges or were on parole or probation. So then the only thing they really haven't had experience with is the correctional environment itself.

I make sure they have a good experience. The facility we work in is relatively new---well OK, younger than I am at least (don't touch that Dinah, I know where Max lives!) so that means it's new from a building standpoint. It has security bells and air conditioning and modern ventilation and (usually) working elevators. My students get an office of their very own with a real desk, chair and working telephone. They are not seeing patients in a linen closet. I am with them throughout their clinic and am readily available to answer questions or solve problems. I let them run their own show within the limits of the system, and I give them feedback about what to expect from the system. If all goes well, by the end of the rotation I have them at least somewhat considering a career in corrections. Even if they don't work corrections at the very least they've got a good idea how free society facilities interact with my system for patient transfers and other issues. They have a more complete view of the institutional public mental health system by the time they're done.

So it's a good thing. I wish I could get more of them to stay but I realize it's not for everyone. My aim is mainly to be a good Bambi mama.