Woman Prison Psychiatrist Protected by Inmates

A psychiatrist friend of mine worked in a prison in her younger years. Though she was experienced in her field, this was her first prison job. She was naive in regard to prisons and prisoners. The inmates were not.

A friend of mine, also a physician, worked as what we now refer to as a shrink in a prison in her younger years. Though she was experienced in her field, this was her first prison job. She was naive in regard to prisons and prisoners. The inmates were not.

Rose* was a woman in a man’s land. This was true not only in medical school — at the time admitting few women — but also in the prison in which she worked. There, she was Dr. Rose, the prison psychiatrist. Rose told me once, “It was scary.”

Rose’s office was off a U-shaped hall with only one entrance that was also the exit. The other end of the U did not have a door. This means escape, if needed, could be impossible if the only exit available was blocked. In addition, Rose’s office was isolated. It was not by any ward or where another human would hear Rose if she called for help.

Rose knew this was precarious. But nothing had happened so far in her four weeks working in the prison, so she hoped that nothing would in the future. Her comfort level was increasing.

One day, however, the situation took a turn. She was to meet with a prisoner that had a particularly violent and unpredictable history. This did not alarm her, however, as much as it would have at the beginning of her prison work stent. By now, she was used to dealing with the inmates, some of whom were unsavory.

Rose’s custom was to meet the prisoner that was to be examined, tested or treated at the entrance/exit of the U-shaped hallway. This day, though, instead of the expected prisoner patient, a bevy of her prior patient inmates were waiting for her. There were five or six.

They asked where she was meeting the prisoner, soon-to-be patient. Rose told them in her office, of course, as she always did. The prisoners said that she couldn’t do that; it was impossible. Rose retorted that she had to give this patient the same privacy and consideration she did for the others. She was told “No,” by the prisoners, that she couldn’t be alone with him. Rose then said that for patient confidentially, others couldn’t be present to hear their conversation and that she saw no alternative but to see him in her office.

The prisoners pushed back once again. They said they had a solution. That she and the prisoner could have privacy, but in the cafeteria where the small group of prisoners would sit nearby, not so close that they could hear the conversation, but that they could come to Rose’s aid, should they be needed.

Rose by now, perhaps earlier too trusting, finally heard what the prisoners were saying. She needed to be protected whether she knew it or not.

So it was that in a man’s prison, male inmates, considered by many to be the worst of society, protected a woman doctor from herself. It seems there is good in virtually all of us, but sometimes it takes an unusual and even dire situation to bring it out.

*Rose is not the name of the psychiatrist. She requested anonymity.

Further reading:

Violence against Health Professionals