Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Worthy Battle for Santa Rita Jail

Here I am back to writing this blog, and back in the battle.

All of that wonderful opportunity to work with inmates at Santa Rita jail, as well as recently released inmates, completely went up in smoke with the misappropriation of funds by the governmental organization ACAP (Associated Community Action Program) that was providing us with the opportunity.

I am really surprised. I was expecting ACAP to be run better; the other women that were part of the program kept telling me, "we're paying our dues now, this is what we have to do, this is what we have to put up with". It was the program mantra.

I have found that many recovering addicts carry huge amounts of shame that set them up for possibly being taken advantage of, way after they pay their dues to society. The most insidious of all of this experience has been a Shelter Director and program staff connected to this program that were all pretending to care about us, our growth, but were actually taking advantage of the vulnerability of my colleagues...these incredibly strong, capable women that had this vulnerable spot...and hurting them in a particularly heinous way for recovering addicts. Our supervisors required us to pretend for them that everything was okay while they lied to us and kept telling us how they wanted to help us. Gee, kind of sounds like a pimp, doesn't it?

And, they took advantage of the ignorance many of us had about the appropriateness of their requests, with our desire to help, develop our skills, and make a difference.

We were frequently showing up for meetings that didn't exist, being told to do things that were legally questionable, like work for an entirely different program with recently released San Quentin male inmates in a highly skilled position for which none of us were trained...and then being told we had to do that as our training for our completely different program for which most of it was inapplicable. They wanted us to do work for free for the government that they were paid to do. They also were asking some of us to pick up recently released Santa Rita inmates from the jail in our own cars, until we refused. Frequently none of us knew where the meeting was, and we would roam around Eden Area One-Stop from floor to floor like a herd of bison looking for some lawn. The program supervisor often forgot us, phone calls were not returned, people were promised salaries and then pretended that they were never promised...all of this incompetency and obfuscation of the truth was particularly horrifying to deal with as we were there to help, to truly help others.

So what I did, early on, was to not drink the kool-aid. There's an advantage to being able to withstand not being liked by others, though I have to admit the training program for that particular skill was not fun.

I read their grant proposal for this program, and saw that they were expecting us all to have been previous inmates in Santa Rita jail. They didn't specify that qualification when they interviewed us, they assumed it because they pulled all of the participants from my Substance Abuse Counseling Certification program, of which most of them are recovering addicts. I was honest with them after reading the grant. I then requested that I work with them in a different capacity, as a teacher for my Phoenix Rising Homeless Project. I was very excited with the research I was doing with recently released inmates, and was preparing lesson plans for them. I got to separate myself from the process of the program and do my own thing.

Anyway, it's over, the whole program is under investigation. I am grateful for having been inspired by the possibility of it, for gaining more insight into the self-perceptions of clients, and deepening my commitment and the bonds I formed while standing up for my colleagues, with my colleagues, in the aftermath of it all.

Now I am back on my fiery steed, and will find some other way to get in there.

Friday, October 15, 2010

It occurred to me today that I need to put on my Laban lenses and go inside prisons and jails, that I need to tread where my clients have tread. I need to see where the lives culminate, and then originate. Jail is a pinnacle, a turning point, a destination, an expectation, something to always run from, something to always avoid, a part of their lives. There is a specific culture around it, and a specific way that the female body is dealt with. It isn't enough for me to be viewing homeless women, teenagers and addicts in the shelters, recovery programs or out on the street. Jail is also a trauma for some. I need to see what happens in there, in detail, as a movement therapist.

Now, how do I go about accomplishing this without getting myself arrested? HAHA! An adventure! I bet students do this all of the time.

Actually, I'm a little nervous about it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I have added another shelter, but not as a movement therapist. This is part of my certification requirements for Substance Abuse Counseling, and I won't mention which program it is, for confidentiality purposes.
With this internship, I am spending 8 hours a week at a live-in, intensive, 6-month program with 24 women living in a house. For the first 8 weeks, the clients are not allowed contact with the outside world except for medical and legal purposes. then, you are slowly allowed contact.
At first I was pissed, because, since I am not in a Master's program or PhD program for this certification, I am not allowed to sit and listen to the group therapy sessions. This isn't true for all programs, just this one. I felt stuck sitting in the shelter part of the premises, taking urine tests whenever the clients came in from the outside, doing bed checks, helping to prepare the snacks, giving them their meds and logging everything, searching their purses and bags,
now I have a very different attitude. I am very grateful that I get to witness their daily living, and their personal interactions outside the AA meetings and the group therapy sessions. As I have been witnessing interactions, I have noticed that a performative element is introduced when a prostitute thinks someone who might be important in judging their ability to leave the facilities might be within earshot, a self-consciousness choreography of behavior, and in other programs I have noticed that for many people, group sessions are more about finding the right thing to say than to say what is real. It may be different here, I don't know, but in the position I am in now with this program, I feel like I get to see behind the scenes.
I get to see what their personal hygiene habits are, how they are treated by the people who take care of them on a daily basis, how they interact when the spotlight isn't on them, and also, I am beginning to find correlations between certain meds, certain drugs, and the affects they have on the client's movement. I give them their meds, so I also get to ask them questions about their meds and how they affect them.
When I say I give them their meds, what I do, which is legally appropriate, is, I hand them the bottle of pills and witness what they take and how much, and state it in a log that they sign along with me.
Drug addiction largely involves ritual. Imprisonment involves a certain perception and treatment of the body, which exists in shelters to a somewhat lesser extent, and there's a ritualistic element there too that I am beginning to discover. I think if I weren't a movement therapist, I would now be feeling much more frutrated...when I told my teacher what I was being required to do, he got angry and said I was given the worst job possible.
Like when I waited tables, I really learned,
It's all about your perspective.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

On Wednesday, I had a class at a women's shelter to remain anonymous. I have taught there for almost two years. I hadn't been there in a while, due to scheduling issues. The director is amazing. I love watching her teach mothers how to take care of their infants and toddlers. Many of the children attend this class with their moms, and we find creative ways to incorporate them, but it's a challenge.

It's the second time I have been able to get them to lie on the floor. Sometimes a homeless women won't lie down, because it frightens them to lie down on the ground; it reminds them of a horrible memory. Sometimes it's because they are so weary, and are in a level of pain where they feel like they cannot get up off of the ground; they don't want to put themselves there and then feel embarrassed because they cannot get up. Usually I am teaching this movement therapy class with the homeless women seated in chairs, around a table, with kids swaddled in blankets being passed around the circle.

But then, I have worked with businessmen, scientists, secretaries, that cannot feel the ground underneath them. And I cannot say they were any saner, but I can say they had health insurance, a gym membership, and weren't too worried about where they were going to sleep. I have actually found that clients in recovery take to the work like a duck to water, much more so that someone who is a low-level, functional addict. Their recovery rate is ten times faster, they are much more open to accept neuromuscular changes in their bodies, and the relief they feel is most welcome and nonthreatening. They also are like sponges when it comes to absorbing information about their bodies, asking many questions of me.

Shelters kick people out as a form of punishment, even those that help teenagers. If they find a homeless person being too unruly, the shelters also punish them in varying levels of severity; indoor confinement, single-day suspensions, and suspensions that can last months. This is for the protection of the other clients, and I don't blame them for feeling like doing it, but it makes our work so much more important and necessary. There isn't a home anywhere for them. A major factor in the recuperation of an addict is re-assimilation, re-acculturation into the world. There is a whole societal indoctrination in the world of drugs and prostitution that needs to be unraveled, and the physical relationship to the drugs and the life as it relates to identity needs to be confronted and identitified, as a single gesture has the power to set of a memory association to the drug, and encourage a relapse even years after recovery. The homeless, whether or not they are addicts, need to re-learn how to function in order to join us in a different function.

In the case of many homeless teenagers, they just need to learn how to function period, on the most rudimentary level. They sometimes need to learn how to bathe themselves, because nobody bothered to teach them. Nobody cared. They went from foster home to group home without anybody noticing them. This knowledge has made me look differently at an unkept homeless person on the street. It is quite possible that nobody ever taught him how to take care of himself.

All of this is why our work is really, REALLY important. Nurturing the shelter community is just as important as the physical healing element of the movement therapy, the knowledge and training through the discussions about their bodies, their eating habits, and how to take care of themselves, or the individual expressivity and communication elements with the musical instruments and the dance. It's all about interrelating the body to the self in the world, and it's all important. Our work, I think, is most powerful when the different elements are joined together so that they relate to each other.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Phoenix Rising Homeless Project - Beginning Stages

7/3/2010 Two weeks ago, I mounted "Rain Dance!!!" on the roof of Covenant House, the first dance piece to be created entirely with the staff and clients of a homeless shelter...almost. We ended up including recorded music by Laurie Anderson, Zbigniew Preisner and the Temptations in the end.

I obtained about $3,500 worth of musical instruments for them, and have started collecting musicians for a music program, and I am now carrying this concept into other shelters. Wouldn't it be an incredibly healing event to have these amazing drum circles of homeless shelters coming together and supporting each other? Drums have a power. Hand drums send an energy through the body, and there's something about the rhythmical, repeated striking and the reverberance in the body that cuts through depression and anxiety, with room for meditation. Sometimes, all one can do is sit there and hit something. It's a basic developmental human movement; all infants hit things. For some people whose brains are swimming in medication, it clears them.

Although I deeply believe in the profound effect of Somatic Movement Therapy, and use that in our work, I'm not doing any sort of "Dance Therapy", or "Drama Therapy" or "Music Therapy", and I am shying away from obtaining a Master's degree in any of that, or in psychology (though it might be wise...I don't know). My approach really is based in Laban Movement Analysis and the effect that certain elements of Body, Effort, Shape and Space are utilized and enliven the individual with Dance, Theatre, and Music.

It's odd. I really don't want to be a Dance Therapist. I think it's because there's something in me that thinks that a phenominally therapeutic element of this work is the releasing of creativity and owning expressivity, and that these things are put on the back burner when performance art forms are turned into therapy; the exploration of specific psychological elements for certain psychological results stifles something in the process for me. My Movement Therapy background enables me to see things I wouldn't normally see in certain results, guide the journey of the project for them from a perspective of wondering what will happen next, and a very broad mind as to where to take them.

I am not condoning denial, or saying that therapy doesn't have a place, but sometimes it seems that the best way to help someone isn't to swim around in their demons all day. Therapy is wonderful, but it's also good to get away from it. Sometimes things are just good because they are what they are. I am not a fan of requiring clients to perform gestures that intentionally trigger memories, until much later in the work. It's good to bring new movement experiences to them that redefines their bodies.

But what was most important in "Rain Dance!!!" was my improvisational ability, and my ability to adapt very quickly when all sorts of things happen in the shelter that were beyond anyone's control. Interestingly, my adaptability also had an incredibly healing impact on the shelter, as I wasn't freaked out when they were in lockdown and we couldn't rehearse the night before the show, or when clients disappeared, or when the staff forgot about the show entirely and had to be re-reminded, because they work so hard. I just went with it, and made a yummy stew of a dance piece.

I was happily provided with costumes by the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, and the clients couldn't stop wearing them. They took turns trying them on, not caring about whether it was meant for a man or a woman, and paraded around in them hours after the dance piece ended.

This is also something I am doing as part of my preparation of climbing back into the somatics community, and the Integrated Movement Studies program as I prepare my thesis and presentation. It's been almost five years. I've know amazing scholars who took ten years to finish their dissertation, so I'm not worried.