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Archive for September, 2012

You can blow out a candle, but not a fire

Will was consumed by the lack of justice he saw around him; had a visceral hatred of the unfairness he encountered personally and observed generally. Acutely aware of mixed messages and inconsistencies, he rarely forget an unfairness. One time, he said, “I was in the commons at Sunrise Courts and I took my shoes off. A staff told me it was against the rules. But the staff could go barefoot! I almost felt like saying, “That’s not right. It should go both ways….”

“A double standard,” I agreed.

“What’s that?”

“‘One rule for you and a different rule for me”, I defined it.

“And that doesn’t make sense. It should go both ways. At Sunrise Courts, they made it a rule that since the clients couldn’t have dogs or cats, neither could the staff that lived there. The staff weren’t too happy about that. And one time, this staffer named Rick was going through a divorce. He came to work with a bad attitude, and broke a window. I was glad that Ray Graham took it out of his paycheck and didn’t expect the clients to pay for it.”

“Did you think they would? Why should the clients have to pay? The staff person broke the window?”

“Because Ray Graham has a lot of double standards.” (once Will learned a phrase, he liked using it, making it his own. He particularly liked this one, since it succinctly defined one of his pet peeves.)

He went on to talk about the typical practice of Ray Graham staffers insisting clients “take responsibility” for their mistakes while taking care to avoid having to do the same for themselves. As was often the case, I sensed he was skirting something, trying to convey something far more important than the rather mundane examples of unfairness he was using to illustrate his points.

“Like the time Don made me sign a paper saying I would take responsibility for damaging the condo wall after I threw Mike’s furniture. When will they take responsibility for what *they* did?”

“Lets talk about that. A lot of times, when you did things like that – threw things or yelled – it seems that you didn’t feel anyone would listen to you.”

“They wouldn’t.” He was adamant. “They never did. They didn’t want to listen. That’s why I wanted to get the police….or maybe Steve Wilkos. I could go on that show and then *he’d* listen to both sides.” (Steve Wilkos is a former police officer who had a television show that usually featured Mr. Wilkos standing up for the powerless, intervening on behalf of the victims).

“You wanted back-up. Someone to help you explain your side of the story.”

The powerlessness of the individual in the face of an impersonal bureaucracy, represented by teachers, by parents, by staffers who defined him as “a handicapped person”, a 3/5ths man – this drove Will to despair and often, to rage. His lack of adeptness in articulating his views meant he’d lose any verbal faceoff; he knew that. It was the curse of Cassandra, to tell the truth and have no one believe you. He fantasized about garnering elusive backup, authority figures who would stand behind his views, buttress his truths with words that couldn’t be dismissed. Behind every tossed piece of furniture, every rage-filled voice mail, there was a raw and bleeding need for justice.  It wasn’t about particulars, it was about essentials.  The right to self-determination.  The right to decide his own life course, the right to the same opportunities and choices that define “freedom”.  These were the things he felt deprived of, along with the respect and dignity that come with being a free man.  His battle was a familiar one, and though it was lonely, it was also universal.

Ray Graham didn’t see it that way. “Anger management issues”, the staff psychologist (also a board member, in an interesting ethical pretzel) postulated. “Intermittent rage disorder”, the official diagnosis read. That’s a fascinating assessment. Is it a disorder if it’s based on facts? Is it an illness, a neurosis, if one’s anger is righteous? The flame of freedom blazed impossibly high in Will’s soul, always. I have little doubt that I’d have been bent to the ground, facing what he faced. The fact that he never was – not ever – never fails to astonish me, or cause me to pay stark tribute, daily, to what he suffered, and what he won.

You can blow out a candle
But you can’t blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher


“I fought back. They didn’t like that….”

There is nothing that inspires revenge, vindictiveness, vengefulness, use what term you will, as much as being made to feel powerless.

At one point, Will was diagnosed by the Ray Graham psychologist as having  “intermittent explosive disorder”. The definition for this disorder says that those afflicted with it react “out of proportion” to events or individuals; that they exhibit rage over seemingly minor events.

I was intrigued by this. Will’s clinical file, I noticed, mentioned the “trigger event” for one such episode, but failed to mention the numerous, complicated events leading up to the trigger event. When taken as a whole, his outburst – while not helpful – was hardly “out of proportion”. He felt his independence was being threatened, and surely that is a significantly powerful trigger for most of us?
Talking to Will about these events shed more light. There was a pattern, I noticed. The Ray Graham staff would attempt to keep him in, or return him to, a dependent situation. He’d resist. They’d persist. He’d react, and they’d use his reaction – his anger – to get him on psychotropic drugs, to document his irrationality and his inability to cope with normal stress. He persistently refused to take the drugs, and eventually refused to see their “in house” therapist, who was also a member of their Board of Directors, an ethically “iffy” situation at best (although he was keen to seek therapy for the issues he wanted to address, on the “outside”, as he would phrase it).

His roommate, the elderly “Mike”, had become ill and required a stay in a rehab facility after hospitalization. Mike was also his landlord. It wasn’t long before Ray Graham staff approached Will to paint a bleak scenario. Mike might not be able to return to the condo. In that event, Will would need to return to the “group home”, the hated “Sunrise Courts”. Will, who’d made it clear to me that he would not live in such a place ever again, regardless of what his other options were (and he cited both homelessness and suicide as preferable) did not take such threats – and that’s what they were, for certainly the Ray Graham staff were aware of his feelings – lightly. Will’s eventual response, after repeated threats, was to pick up a couch and toss it. Naturally, an “incident” report followed and more pressure to deal with his “anger management problem” via drugs.

But that incident was, as I said, part of a pattern. Will’s independence was persistently threatened by Ray Graham staff, who represented an organization that would profit financially from moving Will (or any “client”) to a more highly supervised and less independent living situation.
“I fought back.  They didn’t like that..” – William Thanet French  .” –