“I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
I walk into the jail. It is my first day as the new supervisor of the medical unit. What a great opportunity to change things with this job. I did not know why they hired me to do this job. I had at the time 10-12 years working in psychiatry and this was a jail, which is mostly medical I thought.
I was there for a few minutes, and met the staff members. Right away there is a behavior code called and we are to rush to the cell to see what it is. I follow along and watch. We get to the cell and there is where I would first meet Anastasia. She was a 21 year old Russian female. She was cutting herself with an object she had stolen.
“Anastasia, give us the scissors NOW!” screamed the guard.
“No, you guys don’t care. No one does, I want to die anyways.”
She continues to cut and the guards with the riot gear on jump on her all at once and put her down. She is screaming and screaming and crying, “get off of me, get off of me, I will give it to you.”
“Too late for that!” Scream the guards and the nurses.
They bring her into the medical unit and she is checked out by one of the nurses. The nurse, as she goes over to check Anastasia’s blood pressure and her wound is furious. It is obvious. She came into work, and she was just getting her coffee started, listening to her music, and catching up on the gossip of the day. She rolls her eyes as she walks shaking her head towards Anastasia.
Anastasia is sad and crying and asks the nurse, “Are you mad at me now.”
The nurse replies, “Well why do you keep doing this?”
This would be typical of what I would see in my time at the jail. I heard many of the staff say things like, “They get free care and I do not.” Or “They are taking our tax dollars every time we have to call the ambulance.”
I watched my boss come in and yell at an inmate who was going through withdrawal. “Shut up!! You are annoying! Just shut up and leave us alone.” He had paperwork to do and she was interrupting him.
What would happen when an inmate made a self-harm gesture as Anastasia did is that we would place them on intense observations. Meaning they had to come in to talk to someone at least once per day and we would have a series of questions to ask them to gauge how they are doing. Then we would decide if it was to continue. Great idea I thought, this will be fun.
However, I soon realized that no one really wanted to do this, and no one really made any effort when doing it. However, you are less likely to help someone if you have it in your head that they are just a bad person instead of taking the time to get to know them.
“She just wants attention.” “She is a manipulator, a baby and playing games. Now we have to do all this paperwork.” These were things some of the staff would say.
I began to see why they hired me. By diagnosis, about 75% of the jail inmates had mental illness. But I can tell you from my lifetime of experience, it was 100%. That is not an exaggeration. This is now where we are housing our Mentally Ill. In jails. Across the country and this was my first taste of it personally. It costs 1,000 dollars to send a patient to CD treatment or to Mental Health treatment per day, whereas the jail only costs about 100 dollars.
Every single inmate that I encountered would have benefited from mental health or CD treatment. The charts are all similar. Abuse and neglect as a child. Then drugs, alcohol, cutting, gambling, some sort of escape. Then fights, crimes, and then jail. Then back in jail, again and again and again.
We have this high recidivism rate and we wonder why? The reason is the system. We don’t treat the underlying conditions, and we punish the result of the condition. That would be like punishing someone for having a heart attack, but not telling them about the heart disease or helping them with diet modifications and lifestyle changes. Then when they have another heart attack, we punish them again and say “they just do not get it.”
We are the most incarcerating society in the history of mankind. We have private prisons that make money of people being jailed. We have people who lobby congress to make tougher laws so we can lock up more people and everyone makes more money. Most of these people that are locked up are mentally ill.
So we are taking those that were abused and traumatized, and we are not treating them. We are locking them back up, and making money off of it.
So how did Anastasia get here, and how do we solve this issue of locking up the mentally ill?
You see the picture at the top. That is a Russian orphanage. That is where Anastasia spent the first 4 years of her life. In a crib, with no human touch or affection. Fighting for food. Forming no bonds with anyone.
“Child maltreatment has been called the tobacco industry of mental health. Much like smoking directly causes or triggers predispositions for physical disease, early abuse may contribute to virtually all types of mental illness.”
There was also a study done using monkeys regarding early bonding and its significance and how it affects our future development. It showed that lack of early maternal interaction, and early adversity in life, as well as lack of bonding significantly increases your chances of developing addictions and mental health issues, and behavioral issues later in life. Here is the full study if you want to read it.
So, in Anastasia’s case, she was in an orphanage the first 4 years of her life. Which altered her brain development significantly. Russian orphanages are well known for their lack of resources, neglect, and abuse of the children. Some have been shut down. There are many awful images that can be seen online and article about it.
She then was adopted by her American adopted parents. They were excited to bring home this child, to be helping out the less fortunate. However, as in many cases with these adoptions from Russia or other countries, they did not get what they thought they were getting. They were not equipped to handle this young girl.
She was 4. 4 years old. Imagine a 4 year old. They are exploring life, starting to gain independence, asserting themselves. Many studies state that the personality is almost fully developed by age 3, some say by age 6. No one argues that it is fully developed very early on.
So now imagine a 4 year old sitting in a crib most of the day with no one to bond with or hold, no one to love her, or care for her. No one to ask questions to. No one to smile at or to play with. How is that fair that when she gets older we expect her to just have somehow magically “figured it out.”
She gets home and she is not a typical 4 year old. She screams, she throws fits, and she yells, hits, and kicks. She has no idea where she is or what is going on and she is scared and does not trust the world, nor should she.
Her adoptive parents were sold on the idea of bringing this kid to America and giving her a better life. They were not ready for this.
So, by around age 5 or 6, Anastasia’s new mom is holding her down, locking her in her room, and making her stay outside. Almost hiding her from the world. She is once again punished when she has emotions, or feeling. If you scream and feel, you are hit, held down, or locked outside. That was the message that was being sent to Anastasia. What this teaches the developing brain is that when you are feeling something, you deal with it by inflicting pain. It is how her young brain was molded over and over again.
When a child is abused like this over time, the hippocampus sometimes shuts down, that is the part of the brain that involves memory of events. However, there is also proof that the chemical reactions in a child’s brain at this time are similar to that of heroin withdrawal. So what I am trying to say is imagine a child going through this much pain over and over, and getting this sick over it. No one is explaining any of this to her. She doesn’t understand why she is dying inside. Then the memory part of the brain shuts down almost so she doesn’t have to remember all of the events. I would ask her all the time about the orphanage, she didn’t remember. But I read the chart. So I knew, but she didn’t. It is probably best that she didn’t.
So we see these children as adults and we say, “Well only half of them were traumatized.” I am certain that is false, you still see the behavior, because the body remembers. The brain does not always remember the things that happened. But the body does.
Just like an alcoholic or drug addict learns to use the substance when emotions come up. Someone who self-harms usually has learned at an early age that when emotions come up, you inflict pain and punishment. Then it goes away and the surge of dopamine happens much like it does in an addict. However, the feelings stay inside. They are never released. So now, this temporary relief has actually made things worse. Now there is shame over the self-harm, and the original emotions stay. Now you have someone with all these emotions bottled up. Eventually it’s going to explode.
Anastasia began cutting herself at age 7. I asked her how this started. She said “It just made the pain go away, when my mom would hit me, I would not be sad about whatever I was sad about anymore.”
She was eventually sent to groups homes. Her first one was at age 11. She would cut and self-harm. She has scars all up and down her arms.
She has tried to walk into traffic, and she had tried to overdose. She has tried to stab herself with a knife.
Her life has been this. Placement after placement, event after event.
Now in the jail, the staff when she is not around state that she is “attention seeking” and “manipulating” and “playing games.”
They are not motivated to help heal her because they believe in their head that it is made up. I think she does want attention, because she has never gotten it. What you think of someone in your head affects the way you treat them.
Some of the oppressors of the mentally ill and addicted walk around like they are superior, like they did something to have this privilege. Like it was earned. They were born on 3rd base and act like they hit a triple.
I learned all of this about her life as I talked to her, and confirmed it by reading her chart. I would get my eyes rolled at by the staff and guards, and told “You spend too much time with the inmates.” and “You are causing issues because now they expect everyone to spend time with them.”
However, some agreed with me. That’s another thing I learned, there is usually a silent majority that agrees with being kind to people. Everyone has this at their core. They are more willing to do this if they have a partner in doing this. So by acting out of love, you usually bring out the others that have been fearful to do things different.
The oppressors of the mentally ill and addicted take someone abused, who never had near what they had, and lock them up. Then they punish them and do not treat them. However, they continue to make laws and laws to punish and punish. Prison is a big business here. We have people making 100,000 a year. In their minds, they need to keep making that money, and more if they can. They do this at the expense of the mentally ill and traumatized and addicted.
The oppressors say, “They do not want to get better, they keep coming back.”
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
When Anastasia was 18. She was in an adult foster care program. She had a staff member that was very strict and had this attitude like the staff at the jail. She felt Anastasia’s behavior was purposeful and deliberate. She ordered Anastasia around. She bossed her around, she had power and abused it, much like the jail staff.
How did this staff member grow up? She was told she was a princess and got everything she wanted. She was told she was special. She was told she deserved all that she had. She was a victim of all of us also. She was also told lies as a child. She ran her house since she was little. She was abused in another way. We create this, our society creates this. We are all co responsible for the staff, and for Anastasia.
How is it all of our faults, some say to me. Silence is consent, if we say nothing and do nothing, we are consenting to it. Some live in excess, and as a whole, we have a lot that we do not need. We spend billions per year on Christmas, and the super bowl alone costs billions of dollars. We as a country and society have all this money. We see the suffering in the other parts of the world and we do nothing. We say we can’t change things. We are only one person. So we sit on our couches, and we watch TV and we over consume. We pay entertainers billions of dollars. We are using up all the resources.
We are acting like a virus. Viruses attach on to the host. Viruses eat, multiply, and use up the hosts resources, then move on.
There are people suffering all over the world. They are the future Anastasias. Or worse. We can prevent the next school shooting, or the next serial killer. We are capable of this.
We also see the spoiled little girl and think it is “cute.” We watch the shows that encourage this, we show children by our actions. We consume and teach young girls what beauty is, by how you look. You have to be skinny, you have to look a certain way. You have to act a certain way. Very rarely do I see someone just accepting their young daughter for who they are.
The young spoiled staff members are victims of the lies as well. We all see it, but do we do anything? NO.
It’s hard, I do it. I try my hardest not to and I am getting better at it. But it is all over and it is hard not to become a part of it. You have to be aware. I am not always, it is a process.
We sit and wait for people to come along and change all of this.
But, what if we are the ones we have been waiting for? What if you do something each day, and someone sees it and it continues. The effect of one kind act or word is much larger than you can ever imagine.
So yes, you are only one person, but you can change the world if you want to.
Anastasia was hurting one day, and having intense emotions. So she left to the store. She came back late and was yelled at by this staff member. She told Anastasia she cannot eat supper. The staff was mad that Anastasia was not following “the rules” which really were “her rules.” She did not like Anastasia doing her own thing and going off. This was not the first time Anastasia has disobeyed her. No one had ever challenged her. These 2 people and their generations of pain collided on this day.
Anastasia was doing poorly on this day. She had bought a knife. She pulled it out. She was going to hurt herself. The staff member was scared, this was not how it was supposed to go.
The staff called the cops and they surrounded the house. They broke in and arrested Anastasia because they had to evacuate the house. The staff was angry, and said she felt threatened. That was enough for felony terroristic threats.
What happened was they then officially charged Anastasia for felony terroristic threats. She did not know what to do, Anastasia had a public defender that was overwhelmed with cases so he got her to plead guilty. No one really advocated for her. You have this young, law abiding staff member that was scared and this brutal criminal that tried to hurt her. Lock her up. That was the perception.
So now Anastasia is at jail. A felony terroristic threat. She was getting punished more in jail. She was not getting any treatment. She was continually shamed by staff. She never had visitors. She was now a mentally ill person in a jail. This is how it happens. This is just one story, but there are many like it that result with mentally ill being in prisons all over.
What will they think 100 years from now about us? I hear people of this generation always say, “I can’t believe they had slaves,” and “I can’t believe they didn’t let women vote and men just did what they wanted to their wives.”
What do you think this says about us? We take people who were abused, and traumatized. We charge them with crimes and lock them up. For money. We do not treat them either. We make money off of it. We are taking sick people and locking them up, we are the most incarcerating society in the history of mankind. Most of which are mentally ill and have been traumatized and we do not treat them. We can fix it, we choose not to.
Anastasia and I talked daily. I read her chart, got her records, and got to know her. She was a kind, loving caring young lady that never had a chance. Now she was not perfect, as none of us are. I still heard the talk from staff and guards, “She just wants attention, game player, and attention seeker.”
So, at times she was afraid to report symptoms because she was convinced that she “made things up for attention.” That’s what she was told her whole life.
One day, during clinic, she passed out in the hallway. A medical code was called. They all rolled eyes and said “Anastasia again.” She would say she was ill at times to get an opportunity to talk was the perception of many.
We went down to the code, but this time she wouldn’t wake up. If she was faking it, it sure was a good job. We called 911. She went in.
She was in the hospital for a few days. She would have to go back and get tests done.
It turns out she had developed cancer that had spread all over her body.
She was not going to make it. She was going to die.
She was placed in the hospital ward for end of life care. At age 22.
Everyone was surprised by how she handled the news that she was going to die in 6 months. She said to me, “I hope my dad visits me now.”
I lost it. I lose it again now writing this. I cry every time I think about this moment.
That’s all she wanted was a visitor.
She came into the hospital ward as we had to monitor her hourly now.
What I saw from everyone was their humanity. Everyone was truly sad over this. They started to see her every single hour on the hour as they had to, due to her illness. Since she was now in the ward right next to us. So the staff were almost “forced” to interact with her and get to know her.
They got to know the true Anastasia. They treated her so gently and kindly. Everyone was laughing with her.
Everyone got to know her quirks. They got to know who she was. Because of this, they all knew when there was a change in her behavior, so they knew when she needed attention. They knew her so well they could see when she needed extra when she needed time alone.
They knew her favorite foods. Some would sneak her in treats and pop and everyone was breaking the rules for this kid. Some of those that were the roughest on her were truly the ones with the softest hearts.
I saw so much beauty in this such painful moment. Everyone had their masks off.
Why does it take this for it to happen? Why did this kid have to die for people to see her for who she was?
They were forced to get to know her. It was amazing.
At one point during all of this, I sat down at the desk next to the oldest meanest nurse in the building (my false perception.)
Her name was Dorothy. I just started small talk. Her head was down, she was shaking. I said “what is it?”
I looked in her eyes, now this was probably the toughest woman I’ve ever met. Smart and rough and tough. You know, old school. She was crying.
She said “you know it just hurts. I lost my daughter at age 21 to a drug overdose and I see a lot of her in Anastasia. I was mad Anastasia was wasting her life and going to kill herself like my daughter.”
I never would have guessed that is where all her anger towards Anastasia came from. Everyone has things that lead them to be who they are, give them their beliefs, and things that dictate their behaviors.
Which is why we all are co responsible for each other.
When Anastasia died, she died with all the nurses and guards around her crying. Everyone came in on their days off to say goodbye. She finally had her family. It was us.
I sat next to her as she passed away. She had this huge smile on her face.
I said “What the heck are you smiling for?” That was our relationship. We teased a lot and goofed off. Even as she was going away.
She put her hand out, she held my hand gently, which was very unlike her. She looked at me dead in the eyes and said. “This was the best 6 months of my life.”
She finally got treated the way she should have been her whole life.
She finally got what she always wanted, and what she never had gotten.
Anastasia means resurrection.