Years ago I met a young woman who had that job.

Hospital Chaplain.

I pictured a collar, robes. Moving from bed to bed, afflicted to stricken. A friendly face by a bedside.

Prayers before surgery.

Last rites.


She actually looked more like Lily from the cellular telephone commercials, the cute girl next door with the double D breasts straining, strapped down behind the company powder blue dress shirt.

I wasn't sure what they did anymore.

But so, so much can change in the blink of an eye.

Your name, spoken in a voice not really understanding what it's saying.

Eyes that don't make sense.

Slash marks on wrists.


Intake is like a war zone.

A quiet voice from one to the other in code: two numbers.

We are separated, she is asked "did he do this to you."

I use the washroom, and see notices in English and Spanish. If someone is making you have sex for money or not paying you, tell someone here.

Loud voices, angry shouts. Young, angry black men needing to be restrained. Two start the conversation that warns others about an impending fight.

Four armored men with weapons reading everyone's position into walkie-talkies.

Hysterical shouts. Clear case of paranoid schizophrenia. She now wants to leave. But two secret numbers were said. Applied to her like a scarlet A. Now, she cannot leave until someone else tells her she can. Nurses and guards respond to movement and sound, no more, no less.

I get up and am ordered to sit back down. I cannot move more than three feet from where I am.

Later their tone softens: they realize I'm never going to trouble them.

She wonders why I won't leave. The guards think it's that I think they can't handle whatever goes down. They soon realize it's because I know: she's no longer a person.

Unless I'm there nobody has any say in what happens to her, or where she goes, or what people do.

I won't leave. Not even 25 hours in.

The doctor's on her way. She's coming from a different county, she'll be here in three more hours.

In the meantime there's the 12 stations of the Hospital. They deny her name three times.

One person interrogates her, they send her to another who asks her the same questions.

I find no fault in her, but I wash my hands of it. It is up to the mob rule.

Three times they pull fluids from her. It's a show, to keep us busy. Just enough attention

To make us think she's being looked after.

I just know whatever handoff happens will not go smoothly.

I am right.

"They'll be waiting for you" means "try and sleep on bolted down chairs for six hours." This time there are no guards. We are merely locked in, all of us, alone - and watched with cameras. I see the all seeing eyes,

black globes of everpresent indifference in the corners.

My faith starts to fail me, and I start to get angry.

I am told they can hospitalize me too, out of spite. My opinion of their indifference is irrelevant.

I had forgotten they only respond to crisis.

I forget I'm in a jail.

A jail in everything but name.

I'm overtired. I haven't slept in days.

I was looking forward to the weekend, finally sleeping.

But so, so much can change in the blink of an eye.

I've seen war.

I've seen jail.

A client of neither, always the other side of the glass.

There's a reason I have a faith in God.

There's a reason I need a faith in God.

Four hours sleep

Clothes I don't know, thrown into a bag.

Checking all of it for drawstrings, laces, belts. None are allowed. That's my only criteria. I don't care about color or how they match.

Retracing night steps in daytime. On autopilot.

God is everywhere here.

I'm used to wands, used to searches.

Used to lining up on lines.

I've been incarcerated the whole time, too.

But as I said, God is everywhere.

A painting next to me, as I stand holding three labelled and heavily searched paper bags.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.  The 12 steps.

Yes, it's a jail.

Two men are even here carrying cartons of cigarettes.

They know the drill. Either here or where cigarettes are currency.

I had forgotten some people have been ordered to be here.

When she arrives, I don't remember when she does

I don't even realize I'm crying.

I'm blank, staring at the wall.

I fucked up. I'm supposed to hold it together for her sake. Not add to her burden.

I haven't seen a clock in almost a day and a half. No phones, no watches allowed. No clocks on the wall. I'm losing sense of time.

I know this is deliberate.

I ask her if she wants cigarettes too

Even if just to offer people to start a conversation

She declines.

Different smatterings of different conversations

HIPAA can't do fuck all about what you overhear.

I don't understand Hindi but I can clearly understand they don't like "family therapy". There is nothing wrong with their family, or how they do things.

I know the woman wants to hold her baby again

She won't do what she did last time, she promises.

She wants a second chance and a do-over, but post partum depression protocol decides otherwise.

Both sides file out at the end of the hour.

One hour a day, three days a week. Much taken up with lateness and wands and delays.

Single file lines. Every institution, ever. Kindergarten to death row. Lines, head counts, orderly processions.

A man slowly slides to the floor

He doesn't have to hold his facade anymore.

He cries, openly.

Nobody interferes with his grief.

He's been there all night, too. He's been locked up, scrutinized, searched, frisked.

He hasn't done anything wrong.

I ignore him out of habit, as do the rest.

Handing badges to the armed guard at the end of the corridor.

The 12 steps on the walls - like the 12 stations of the cross.

I don't know whose job it is to attend to the well man who is crying.

The non-sick man. The man who didn't do something to a baby, or cut her wrists open, or get blackout drunk when their religion says no

Even the woman whose only crime was showing up in tears and saying "please, please somebody help me. I don't know what to do anymore."

The well man cries against the wall, I don't know how long they will let him.


But I do know one thing. I know one thing with absolute certainty.

NOW I know who the chaplain is really for. NOW I know what they do.



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