Oh Crap . . . I'm Institutionalized!

I am not, by any means, talking about eating ramen with Takis Fuego and ranch packets or making "pruno" in a plastic garbage bag and hiding it underneath my toilet. I am talking about the sense of time lapse, now that I'm a free woman.

That lapse was the 22 years I spent working in a juvenile detention facility. I was a fresh 24 year old volunteering two days a week as a group counseling facilitator for six months before I actually was hired. I still had that "I-can-make-a-difference" mentality when I was hired, but that all changed in my first 30 days as a part-time employee.

Never in my life of working corporate administrative jobs, customer service positions, or hell, even my 3 years of working at McDonald's did I witness such craziness like I did at juvenile hall. Most of the wild stories involve the kids that came through the doors but the hardest pill to swallow was the way employees were treated by administration and by each other. Every day I walked into that facility was a reminder that not only did I work in a jail I was a prisoner just as much as those kids. It was the most negative, toxic environment I have ever been subjected to and I did it for almost half my life.

"It was the most negative, toxic environment I have ever been subjected to . . ."

When I retired at age 46, it was the best impulsive decision I have ever made. And my only regret is that I couldn't break out my co-workers with me. As each day passes I am "unlearning" the habits I picked up in the inside. Everything about me is changing, the way I speak, my disposition .  .  . I even eat my lunch sitting down. It's a weird feeling. It's like I'm 24 again and picking up where I left off. I'm looking at the world like it's my oyster and I get up every morning grateful to be in this position. All because I did my "time".

And here's the lesson in all this. In the years past, I have seen so many kids come, go, do time and get released back into society. I've had them get excited to see me, hug me, buy me lunch, some of them were old enough to buy me drinks, ask me to be the Godmother to their children, and offer me complimentary drugs ("no thanks, I'm good"). And they always say the same thing, they remember how well I treated them. Sometimes I don't even remember who they are, but they absolutely remember me.

And now that I'm free, I get it. I have run into co-workers that I'm excited to see and hug. I buy them lunch and sometimes drinks. I enjoy their company because I remember how well they treated me while we were locked-up together. And then there are those select few who shouldn't even attempt to talk to me when they see me. I definitely remember being the subject of malicious lies, the blatant disrespect, the undermining behavior and sense of entitlement. Those co-workers, managers and administrators who claimed to be for you in your face, but stabbed you in the back. We had plenty of those kind and when I see them that toxic spirit grips my throat, so I stay far away. Because even though I may be free, I never said I was rehabilitated.


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