I started work in mid-December-- arrived at 8:30 and was escorted back to my unit for orientation. Tara, a wire thin blond with John Lennon glasses, greeted me and escorted me to a small meeting room. A 20-something girl was sitting at the table-- the other new employee. I sat down and Tara began the orientation: ìThe first thing you need to know is that most of our clients are stupid, you need to treat them like children. You are the parent and need to lay down the lawî, were her first words. I looked down at the table. I imagined another month of starving. ìI mean it, youíve got to be firm, you arenít dealing with the best and brightest hereî..... and so it went. She continued like this for over an hour and then left us to read policy manuals for the rest of the day.
It was the same schedule for the next four days: a ìpep talkî followed by hours of reading manuals. To pass the time, each hour I would tabulate the money Iíd just made, and the amount of food it would buy. That kept me going. But I was still hungry. I had to wait a full month for the first paycheck. During that time I was constantly hungry. Co-workers asked me to lunch. I declined and snuck into the break room to devour popcorn, cookies, rolls, and Christmas candy.
The second week was spent ìshadowingî other workers. My first observation was with Lorena, an overweight frumpy woman in her mid-30s who took child abuse reports. Like Tara, she began by warning that most DFACS clients are ìidiotsî. My first observation was of an old man who came to the office to report a case of child abuse. ìOh God, its some old man. I guarantee this is a bogus reportî, Lorena whispered to me.
The man was tall and moved slowly. His face was thin-- as was his skin.
ìName?î, Lorena snarled, as soon as he was seated.
He responded and Lorena continued with the questions, making her way through the intake form as rapidly as possible. When she came to the section on alleged abuse, the Old Man glanced at me.
ìIím sorryî, I said, ìIím training for a job and am observing Lorena. I can leave if it would make you more comfortableî, I said. Lorena shot me an eat-shit look.
ìYes.... if its OK.... yes, that would be good. I donít mean anything by it,... its just that I would feel more comfortable with one personî.
ìNo problemî, I said, and left the room. I waited for twenty minutes and then the door opened, the old man shuffled out, and Lorena motioned me in.
ìI knew it, totally bogus,î she huffed. ìNo bruises, no burns, nothing. What an idiot.î She told me that old people always think their grandchildren are being abused. I smiled and nodded and said nothing. I was hungry and irritible. What bothered me, however, was her contempt for the clients.
This attitude was the norm at DFACS. With few exceptions, the social workers viewed their clients with great scorn. They hated most. Such was the underlying philosophy of the agency.
After that first day of observation, I returned to my original premise: better to starve. I decided to quit. But then I got to thinking.... my orientation was scheduled to run for another three weeks. I had one more week of general training followed by two weeks in the Foster Care unit. Furthermore, Christmas break fell within this period, so actual work time would be only three weeks. I realized I could rake in another three weeks salary... a very good salary by homeless standards... without contributing to the agency in any way. In fact, Iíd be taking their money without doing appreciable work- surely that would be a good deed, especially at Christmas.
I hung around. I feigned interest in policy manuals. I shadowed foul-mouthed workers and nodded to their advice. I admit it, it was fun. I had felt contempt for the agency and the people who worked there. It was fun to take their money knowing I was soon headed out the door. I wish I could have caused them more damage.
I wish I could subject them to the same humiliation they regularly heap upon people who are poor and struggling. As it was, escape was my best option.