Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Center

I thought it'd be prudent for me to share my experiences at the residential treatment center I used to work at. This stems mostly from some side comments I get from people when I tell them that I quit because of the stress. They seem shocked that a residential treatment center would cause enough stress for someone to quit and not just "hang on" and wait it out.

My first official shift went fairly well. I was getting the hang of the rules and was asked to sit and watch a girl in the time out room. I dutifully took my post outside the room. I could see the scars on her arms where fresh wounds had been ripped open by her fingernails. The blood was all up and down. She asked to use the restroom which was perfectly in her right so I let her. Then after a few minutes I called into the bathroom. No answer. Again and again I called but still no answer. I called on the radio for help and my coworker and I opened the door to find her huddled in the corner ripping out huge pieces of her hair. She attacked us and was put into a restraint. I held her in a corner with the help of my coworker while she kicked and screamed and bit until the shot given to her in the butt finally took effect. Great first shift.

I was assigned to the younger boys unit. Only problem was that these "younger boys" were mostly bigger than I was. And this kid was no different. His mood fluctuated like no other and he constantly had the look from the crocodile from Peter Pan glued to his face. While he looked comical, he was not to be messed with. After throwing a temper tantrum in class, and upon return to the unit, I went to the whiteboard to change his level and for him to lose his privileges. He dared me to change it. I tried reasoning with him and reached out to change the board. Next thing I knew I was on the floor with a terrible pain in my head and him being taken to a time out room. My coworkers emerged with cuts to their faces and bruises on their bodies from the restraint. I was left shaken but otherwise relatively in-tact.

Whoever said that words will never hurt you is a complete moron. Yes, sticks and stones can break bones but guess what? Words, and endless harassment and taunting can create severe psychological deficits in the form of social skills which lead to unhealthy relationships which unfortunately continues to spiral. I have never been called "fag" until I worked at the treatment center. To walk down the halls was to hear countless whisperings of gay, fag, queer and other words I care not to repeat. To think that I was investing myself to help these kids and to hear that they had absolutely no respect for me was, to say the least, very discouraging.

I transferred to the girls unit. A few days later, riots broke out in both boys units. The police were called in and several arrests were made. The boys unit continued to tank from that point on.

At first the girls unit was a lot better. And overall, it was an excellent decision. I felt safer physically, felt like I could joke around more with the girls, and felt more at ease in conversation. That was until the honeymoon period was over. Anytime there is a new staff or a new girl, things tend to run smooth for about two weeks or less. Then, they begin to act like they normally did.

In the hallway between classes, the staff were watching over the kids and a few were talking towards the end of the hall. On the way back from the bathroom, one of the girls decided to jump and attack a staff. This resulted in the staff being taken to a hospital, complete chaos as girls began to fight other girls, and other girls fighting other staff. Our staff never returned to that unit. Why did this resident attack this particular staff member? Because she just didn't like her.

In the cafeteria, a knife restriction was placed on the girls for self-harm reasons. There were too many instances of girls taking the plastic knives to change them into shanks or to use to cut themselves with. A girl ran for the knives, she broke through staff, took the knife, broke it on the floor to make it even sharper, and began stabbing herself in the arm. I have never seen anyone take an object and with no care of their own well being, plunge it into their own skin over and over and over. I was shaken and felt like throwing up.

These are only a few instances of some of the things I encountered at this center. If you still believe I should've toughed it out go give it a shot. We'll see who lasts longer. I could only take five months. And what happened on my last day you ask?

I cried. I had not cried that long, especially in front of people I didn't know very well, in a very long time. My heart was broken because these girls had promise. They had been given opportunity after opportunity and they were literally throwing their lives away. I wanted them to succeed. I wanted them to take advantage of the therapy offered and of the caring staff that had stuck with them for years and get out of that awful place! But, there is no way to force someone to change. Even if it is for their best interest.

Although I have concentrated mostly on the negative to give you an appreciation as to the struggles that those in the mental health field endure, there were positive things as well. I built real relationships with some of these kids. Relationships that I realized would change their lives for the better. For some of those girls, losing me was very difficult. And they told me how much I had changed them and how much they appreciated me. It was gut-wrenching to leave those that I cared so much about, just because some would never learn that violence solves nothing and real change can only come from within.

I value the lessons I learned from that center. I learned that being invested in people is a worthy goal. I learned that life completely sucks, but that there are people that make it all worth it. I learned the meaning of loving someone no matter how stupid their choices were.

And I learned what a difference it makes in a person's life when you can look them in the eye after they hurt you and say, "I forgive you."


  1. Steve- Sorry you had such a bad experience there. I worked at a girls RTC. I had some similar stories. It was so bad. It took me months to get over working there. There were a few girls who I connected with and who I was able to help, but for the most part the job was discouraging

  2. I read it! Im so glad u r out of there!

  3. And can you believe I am STILL there?... good golly.

    The paragraph about words + psychological deficits, is so insanely true. I really don't know how much more I can take... I hate going to work, getting hit, spat on, blood on me from children self-harming, getting called derogatory names... I seriously go come in tears many a days... {Words, and endless harassment and taunting can create severe psychological deficits in the form of social skills which lead to unhealthy relationships which unfortunately continues to spiral.}

    Surely miss seeing your face around!