27 February 2007

Wellness Check

Chaplains get to do all sorts of things. Today was filled with a thousand different tasks, but the best one came near the end of the day.

There'd been a long line outside my door since one o'clock, close to 100 people were in the chapel, and most of them were waiting for a composition book. Someone could make real money with a stand that stocked only composition books. Any place to put down your personal thoughts--what a gift.

While the noise level rose, the phone rang. I couldn't answer, so it went to voicemail. Another 15 or 20 people came through my office. Then the phone rang again. The woman on the phone was concerned about her son. He'd been calling every day, but no one had heard from him for three or four days. Could I please find out if he was okay? I told her I'd call her back.

I called his unit and asked the officer to check him out. "See if he's upright and breathing. His mom is worried." The unit was busy with showers, and, as it turned out, the officer forgot.

After four, with the units locked down for count, I went out to tell one man that his mom had had a heart attack, and to check on the one who hadn't called his mother.

His cell was at the very end of a tier. Fifteen cells, three men to a cell these days. We're very crowded. The third man is sleeping on a mat on the floor.

"I'm looking for Nathan," I said to the guys in A-15. A young, slender man got off the bunk. I introduced myself and said, "I'm doing a wellness check. Your mother called."

He looked sheepish. "Because I haven't called?"

"Yep. You don't call your mom, the chaplain will come looking for you." We laughed.

"Tell her I'm okay." I nodded.

Back in my office, I related the conversation to his mother. "But he's okay? He looks okay?" He does. He'll call, probably tomorrow during his gym time when he has access to a phone.

Wellness checks work both ways, usually an offender stressing because he hasn't heard from his girlfriend/fiancee/wife/mother/grandmother in "ages and ages." Sometimes all it takes is a quick phone call and the tension level goes down. I count that as a small victory in keeping people safe in a place that can be emotionally unstable and occasionally violent. Sometimes it doesn't take much to accomplish a little peace.

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