the long walk home 07

Then there was the Judith incident.

Actually, there were a number of Judith incidents. Her time with Shaline ran like some troubled arc in a bad soap opera. That place was so crazy.

You know, I don’t know why I keep coming back to these stories; two seconds of reminiscing drains my energy to right above zero and the next two seconds plunges below zero like winter in Chicago. Sharing this stuff changes nothing. These things have happened before, they’re happening now, and they’ll happen again, repeatedly, years and years and years from now. And still, like a durned fool, I’m writing. What the hell for?

Right. Back to the story.

If I were to show you a picture of Judith then, you would probably imagine that she was a retired but active grandmother who used to be a schoolteacher. You’d be wrong. (Is anyone’s life that simple anymore?)

She wasn’t retired in the sense that she was receiving a pension. She had stopped working, and was collecting public assistance while applying to Social Security for a mental disability. I don’t remember her official diagnosis. It was probably depression.

Judith talked well and presented well, and Shaline put her in the same room as Summer, who also had issues but was working full-time at a local fast food eatery. (These are all pseudonyms.) Summer didn’t respond well to her new roommate. One of Shaline’s rules was that you had to turn the lights off and be quiet at 10pm if you had a roommate who wanted to sleep. You didn’t have to sleep, but you did have to be respectful if your roommate wanted to sleep.

When I say “had to”, I mean it the way liberals mean “had to”, which is to say that this was more of a press release than a rule.

Judith thought it was a rule. I remember she had the hardest time with that concept for the loooooongest time. I can’t tell you how many times she would go to the office, let them know that Summer had come in from work after 10pm, turning on her television without plugging in her headphones, and playing her little electronic game, keeping the sound on.

It was probably especially confusing for Judith because occasionally someone from the office would also pretend like it was a rule, and they might actually get up, walk down the hall about 10 feet to the room that Summer and Judith shared and tell Summer that it was after 10pm and she had to be quiet. To which Summer might turn down the tv. Or not. If she did, the tv would go up again as soon as the staff left the room.

Judith would return to the office to let them know that the tv was still loud (or loud again). And occasionally, someone might make a return trip to the room. Usually they didn’t. Usually, they didn’t even make the first trip down the hall.

Now, if you’re thinking that the second or third night Summer played that game, you might have had a chat with Summer about her continued residence in the program, and that if there was a fourth or fifth night, Summer might have been invited to seek shelter elsewhere, then you’re probably not a liberal. That sounds like a plan that would solve a problem, and liberals don’t solve problems. (And if you are a liberal and that’s what you would do, you probably shouldn’t tell anyone because they will come for you and take away your club membership.)

Drained yet? Pretend you’re Judith. A hard enough life with little to show for it, trying to work up the energy to accomplish the small to do list you have. Only every night the past week, you’ve had trouble sleeping because your roommate is behaving badly and staff people are behaving irresponsibly. I said week, didn’t I? This went on for months.

I tried to help. After the fifth time that I saw Judith visit the office to no avail, I told Judith that what she needed to do was to put nuts and bolts on the floor and vaccum them up with that old, clanky and clunky vacuum cleaner at 7am in the morning.

Before I gave her that advice, I remember having a discussion about the wackiness with the staff people there. I vaguely recall them suggesting that they didn’t want to get involved because Judith and Summer were both adults. Or some similar madness. I’m probably never going to understand what their deal was and that’s probably a very good thing.

At the time, though, it was disconcerting. There was a rule, supposedly, and they acknoweldged that there was a rule and they acknowledged that they would not be enforcing that rule.

I was still struggling with sobriety, thinking that because I was only having a drink or smoking weed once every one or two months, I was sober. In other words, my brain cells were regenerating, but my thinking was still pretty cloudy. Not cloudy enough for me to vaguely comprehend that something was seriously amiss at Shaline. If you have any kind of illness, and especially mental, one of the first things most mental health facilities do is to strongly encourage you to regulate your sleep. Most will enforce a traditional sleep regimen.

Shaline was perhaps revolutionary in that they did not require you to sleep or lay quietly in bed at 10pm, but actively supporting disruption of sleep was simply groundbreaking. The sad thing is that it’s also the norm in 99% of shelters.

And I didn’t have a college degree or years of experience working in these places, but the sleep factor isn’t rocket science. And if I could put that together after years of pot and alcohol, what were these staff people and their supervisors still smoking?

After months of trying to reason with staff into enforcing their own rules and after months of sleep degradation, Judith finally went and got that vacuum cleaner. If I remember correctly, she didn’t wait until 7am to get that carpet clean. I think she even vacuumed Summer’s side of the room.

She never had a problem with Summer again.

Her problems with Shaline, however, would continue. And of course they would. That episode was like the first time your boyfriend hits you: a warning of things to come. Writing this now, I can see that so clearly; at the time, I wouldn’t have seen it even if you gave me the script in advance.

08. June 2014 by sojourner hardeman
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