Friday, January 05, 2007

Keeping The Faith

"I don't know if you believe in God, but..."

I think it's interesting that the only time my patients feel me out on a topic is when they're about to bring up religion. They don't ask my opinion about the war on drugs before they talk about their unfair sentence for drug possession. They don't ask my opinion about feminism or domestic violence before bringing up "that b--- who got me locked up". They don't ask my opinion about homosexuality before talking about the partner they're horribly homesick for. So why do they need affirmation or permission to discuss religion?

Religion is a touchy subject even out in free society, but even more so in correctional facilities. Religious affiliations tend to split along racial and other cultural lines, from paganist skinheads to the Nation of Islam. Celling both together can cause problems. Wise (ie older) inmates generally know not to preach to their cellmates and not to get into arguments with the ones who do.

From an institutional standpoint accomodating a wide variety of religious practices can also be a challenge---try getting a kosher diet for someone in maximum security who's been ordered on nutriloaf restrictions, or a hallal meal for Muslims, in combination with whatever other medical dietary restrictions they may be on. While every facility generally has a chaplain, there is no guarantee that the chaplain will be of your particular faith. Religious services may or may not be available, or may only be available every month or so.

The thing that got me interested in this topic recently was running across Sister Frankie*** yesterday morning. Sister Frankie is one of our institutional chaplains and a fixture---I might even say a legend at this point---in the region. When I first started working in her facility the inmates kept greeting me as "sister", which I didn't think too much about at the time because among my patients everybody seemed to be everybody else's "sister". It wasn't until an inmate stopped me in the hallway and asked me to pray for her that it hit me---I was Sister Frankie's doppelganger. I had never met the woman but I recognized her the instant I saw her speeding down the hallway. I stopped, spun around and said, "You're Sister Frankie!" I had to explain that apparently all of us short grey-haired folks look alike.

Anyway, it was a good comparison. She is tough as nails and irrepressibly cheerful. She's hung in there for years and shows no signs of burning out. I can only hope to pick up her good habit(s).


Not her real name. Duh.


Dinah said...

You're a wonderful friend. You're a talented writer. You're an awful awful punner. I, too, have patients occasionally ask my religion, they often assume it (with no particular accuracy) and I have been asked my sexual orientation. Funny, I bet people don't ask their accountants these questions.


Personally, I'd rather not know the religious quirks of my doctor. 'Sure I'll fix your body up; but just so you know, you're still going to Hell!'

I agree with Dinah about Clinkshrink being a talented writer. Clink, you're fun to read! Better be careful about the puns though: if you crack too many, Roy and Dinah might diagnose you with something. Don't tell me there's nothing in the DSM about puns....

Midwife with a Knife said...

Patients often assume that my work must bring a profound and affirming belief in God. I bet they don't assume that about their accountants, either.

Although I frequently inquire about patients sexual orientation ("Are you sexually active? If so, is it with men, women or both?" is on my annual exam patient questionaires), patients never ask me about mine.

ClinkShrink said...

Awww, thank you everybody for the kind thoughts.

The issue of asking patients about their sexual orientation and activity is an interesting issue in prison. If they told me they were sexually active they'd be confessing to a rule violation. (And yes, that would include activities done without a partner.)

SeaMonkey, they can't diagnose me when they're too busy groaning.

Midwife with a Knife said...

Clink, in prison psychiatry, do the same confidentiality rules apply? I mean, if someone were to tell you that they were havng completely consensual sex with themselves, would you be expected to do anything about it? Or do the same rules apply (no threat to themselves or others)?


Hang on Clink, you're saying that prisoners aren't supposed to masturbate? That's weird and cruel, yet laughable; I mean, you'd have to fit every guy with one of these:

NeoNurseChic said...

Great post! You and Sara both have lots of puns - you both would fit into British society quite nicely, I suspect! ;)

My first therapist (who was a PhD psychologist, well-known around here for her work with adolescents) used to talk about church and religion all the time. But not in an offensive way. It might have even been in response to my discussions about religion since in high school, one of the ways I got through one of my darkest darkest times was by reconnecting with my faith. However, now when I think back on it, it seems kinda odd. I didn't know anything else about her, but she did talk about going to church a lot!

At one point, I made some remark about religion to my current psychiatrist. And he made some comment (I can't remember the exact wording so this might not be it at all - but this is how I remember it) about religion being a crutch for people to get through life. Something like that. I don't know - that's probably not right at all, but it was something that led me to believe he is either an atheist, or else brought up in a religion but doesn't believe in organized religion. Either way - doesn't bother me one bit. I hate when people push religion on me....I especially hated it when at Penn State - the bible belt of Pennsylvania. If you weren't a party animal, then you were a religious fanatic who went to Friday night worship services. Since I wasn't a party animal, I tried the religious scene, but it was too weird for me. Not my thing. However, I have a very strong sense of faith - independent of organized religion - at least at this point!

Sorry for the tangent - just thought the comparison was interesting. My psychiatrist has never again said anything about religion, but it is interesting that both therapists I have gone to for any extensive period of time (I went to a couple people at Penn State, but one was for 1 appt and the other was for like 2 weeks) have voiced their own thoughts on religion in some way, without my even asking.

Now I'm REALLY going to sleep! G'nite!
Carrie :)

ClinkShrink said...

MWAK, in prison the same rules apply as in free society with a little bit extra mandatory reporting, like with regard to plans to escape & other obvious things. I don't know anybody who mandatorily reports masturbation even if it is a rule violation, mainly because custody doesn't really care unless the inmate is doing it in an exhibitionist or threatening way.

SeaMonkey---wow, that picture looks like something that would hurt!