I am in the mood for a short story...I have spent years working with the menatally ill.This is the truth.I worked in various 'residential facilities', day programs and also the psychiatric ward in the hospital.I worked with many hard-core schizophrenics, people who hear voices, have hallucinations, and are basically existing in a different reality.Now, in all my time working with these people, some who had killed people and were declared criminally insane, I never had any real problems, and in fact, was able to communicate quite well with them (at least for the most part). My worst problems were with the staff at these facilities, who tended to treat these people like animals or alien beings. Anyway, let me recount one particular humorous tale. I worked with a guy we called 'Cowboy John'. Now John would get up every day and wear nice Levi type black jeans, fine leather cowboy boots, and sometimes a cowboy hat.John was extremely neat and fastidious, which was ironic, because his roomate in this particular residence was a pig, who ate canned Spam cold, right out of the can, in chunks, sometimes urinated in the trashcan in his bedroom, and once,escaped the facility, ran home to his wife, and promptly got down on the floor and started eating from the dog's bowl..But back to John: He would dress up in cowboy garb, and spend all day smoking cigarettes and drinking hot tea in the kitchen. AND, constantly talked to himself or should I say, had a continous discussion with someone who wasn't there. Cowboy John claimed to be a Korean War veteran, and many of the conversations went something like this: 'Captain, you're making a mistake...We should deploy to the south, the Koreans are there...No, Captain, I said to the south, get out your map...No, I said the squad is gonna take fire this way, Captain...I'M the radio man here and I'm telling  you...'.Crazy. Anyway, one day Cowboy John was sitting in the kitchen for a number of hours, drinking tea and smoking, but being very quiet. After a few hours, I became curious. I say 'John, you are very quiet today...Is everything all right?'. John pointed up to the air conditioning duct on the wall in the kitchen...'John, what are you pointing at?'. He pointed to the duct again, and said 'Can you turn it off?'. 'You mean the air conditioner John?'. 'No' he said 'I mean the intercom up there!..That voice that's coming through it has been blasting away all day and I'm starting to get a headache from listening to that son of a bitch.'

John's roomate, George was also quite a character, as I mentioned. The staff at our facility was primarily Black, and George 'didn't like niggers'. So when George has a Black staff member on duty, especially on the overnight shift, he would make it a point to get mischievious. Many of the black staff tried to be 'over-controlling' so this was a recipe for trouble. Sometimes the staff would come in to empty the trash at the end of the shift, only to find that George had filled the platic trach can with urine, or, if he was really in a mood, he would have a bowel movement in the trash receptacle, or on the floor beside it. The facility involved was actually a very nice set of apartments, so this kind of 'unhygienic behavior' would upset the staff terribly. George also had a tendency to 'wander'. Since this was not a 'locked' facility, and was actually a 'community residential' type set up, all the clients, or patients had the liberty to go out for walks or to the store or whatever. Usually, a staff member or 'counselor' would accompany them, but not always. George was very independent because, although he had been locked in a State hospital for many years, he had previously been married with a family. And his wife still lived nearby our residential facility. One night George took off, and went back to his old home, breaking in through the patio door. Apparently his wife, who was upstairs sleeping, didn't hear him come in. When she came down to the kitchen the next morning, she found her husband George down on the kitchen floor, eating out of the dog's bowl. George was having an early breakfast. She called us, and we went and picked George up.

The real problem at these mental health residences was the staff. These residential facilities came into being when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania started closing down the large state mental hospitals, due to numerous lawsuits over cruelty and mistreatment of patients. Some 'avocasy groups' filed a class action lawsuit, and an award up upwards of $100,000,000 was granted to establish half-way houses or community residences for former hospital patients. These residences were then run by 'non-profits'. Under Pennsylvania laws, these MH non-profits had to adhere to 'affirmative action' hiring practices, meaning that 75% of the staff hired was black. Many of the staffers were not well-suited in terms of dealing with 'difficult' personalities. Their solution to conflict was the exertion of 'control'. I got my job in this particular facility through a 'heads up' from a friend of mine who already worked there. I needed a job, and since he knew I could communicate with 'out of the ordinary' individuals, I was able to get my position.

The supervisor for this program was a Liberian immigrant who, from what I could see, had no particular qualifications for a supervisory role. In fact, he was having a surreptuous affair with a female staffer, using one of the clients apartments to consummate it. Many of the black staff disliked whites, and after about a yer or so of employment, I was framed up for a 'bogus' violation of staff rules. The supervisor wemt along with these allegations, and I lost my job. However, there was a measure of vindication for me. The MH facility tried to deny me my unemployment benefits on the basis of 'willful violation' of policies of conduct. I had violated no policies. When I went before the unemployment arbitrator or judge, I was confronted by administrators from the facility, the staff members who had lied about me and two lawyers for the 'non profit'. I managed to keep my cool through a one hour hearing, told my side of the story, and the judge believed me, as I was granted my unemployment benefits. About 1 1/2 years later, as I was watching the 11PM news on a local channel, I was greeted with the 'Action News' story of the night: A night supervisor at another Philadelphia MH facility had just been arrested for raping female patients on the midnight shift. I watched the video, and lo and behold, who was being led out of the facility in hand cuffs but my old Liberian supervisor, who had apparently left our old stomping grounds and moved on to 'greener pastures'!

As for 'Cowboy John', George and the rest of my old clients, I don't lnow where they are now, but I wish them God speed. Funny thing, the diagnosis for all of them was almost always: 'Schizophrenia: Undifferentiated' which just means that they acted crazy as loons, but the shrinks could never really put their finger on the real problem,

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