For $70,000 they gave me a Masters in Social Work,
expecting to “Do no Harm”,
be of service, fix the broken
services purported to care.
Got my first job at
County Mental Health Clinic,
hangin’ with schizophrenics
and their voices.
I was in my element.
Politics, bureaucracy, funding
cuts dropped like a rock
on clients puddled in the street,
rippling out to the community.
Homeless for the first time in their lives,
and they let me tell them.
Charged for meds that kept them
“stable”. Complained about
by Christian neighbors
in the grocery line. Boss
chewing us out for our clients
peeking behind the curtain.
Wizard now lacking arms
could no longer deny.
I volunteered for the layoff
so the budget would balance.
Got the second job
to addicts poor and homeless.
Believed it was treatment.
Same curtain, different wizard.
Loved the groups, loved the people trying,
loved to help until I focused.
It was a business.
Charged for dosing.
Methadone eats calcium from bone,
curtain flapping in the breeze.
Clients with walkers after years of “Treatment”
for this illness of addiction.
Taught that relapse was a symptom,
saw them cut the dose to punish.
Withdrawal price for illness, punished for symptoms
by more addictive medication. Curtain billowing.
Relapse. Limit number of groups you can attend
after the hook is set. “Do no harm”
pounded in my ears
making it hard to stop dependency.
I let anyone in my groups that showed up.
Got busted, got fired,
happy now I could “Do no harm.”
Got foster girls, thought I might be effective.
Got threatened. Had my furniture thrown at me.
Asked for me management. Got bit, kicked and hit.
Watched her try to kill my dog, kill her fish.
Never knew there could be so much anger.
Decided I needed to help myself.
Left the program, stayed in bed for months.
Got an e-mail
class on “How To Tell Your Client
They Have No Resources” and “How To Handle Their Frustration
When You Tell Them The Truth”
behind the curtain.
$125 to change your expectations to, “Do no harm”.
It’s a meeting and we’re all required to attend
two hours of discussion barely pertaining to life,
people balancing language like another dog and pony show
giving meaning to the meaningless, justifying their existence.
Artificial smiles arrive at the table, sit there perched
just beyond the glazed empty of authority gone awry.
Nervous laughter, someone else’s idea of social
bounces about in sickening pleasantries.
My team, located at the bottom of the food chain
waits, knowing when it’s over, the ache
of new knives plunged deep into hard working bodies,
and they pay us to “play nice.”
This playground ritual engendered in all of us
makes me want to raise my hand for a hall pass,
barf and run from the building,
set off alarms to cause a diversion,
run away anyplace but here
cause every week the pit of my stomach
pleads for excuse and every week
their pleasant bloodletting leaves the back dripping
every week we show up on payday
cause we still have a pint of blood between us
and there’s plenty of work left to do.
Mary L. Slocum—a shipyard electrician for 17 years with a MSW, is a semi-retired activist. The last winner of the Portland Artquake competition in the 90’s and a winner of Washington State Poetry Association’s humorous poetry competition in the 90’s, Mary has been published in Stanza, NW Literary Review, Upper Left Edge, and Tradeswomen’s Network Newsletter.