Informal-curriculum Nonfiction Reflection


“I’ve been alive for too long,” he sighed. “I will be 200 years old in two months and four days. I was born in 1817, you know.”

“200 years is a long time,” I replied. While he wasn’t 199 years old, the wrinkles around his eyes, the knobbiness of the knuckles on his hand, and his slumped posture made him look older than his actual age.

“I’m an angel,” he continued. “I do what I can to help people, as that is my mission from God.” His thin frame quivered as he coughed into the crook of his elbow. “God sent me down from heaven 200 years ago. People are drawn to me. Animals are drawn to me. They know that I can help them. I give away my food, I give away my cigarettes, I give away my marijuana. God gives me instructions about how to best help people.”

“Would you miss God’s voice if it went away?”

The Angel bit his thin lip before responding. “Maybe.” He looked worried.

“You seem to appreciate the guidance,” I said, though we both recognized that I was actually asking a question.

“Sometimes God says helpful things,” the Angel answered. “Sometimes… not.”

He shared that sometimes demons speak to him, too. They whisper and shout amidst his thoughts, pointing out how his efforts are useless, that no one cares, that there is no value to his life.

“What has stopped you from killing yourself?”

The question had barely left my lips before he answered, “It’s a sin.”

The cases of beer helped to mute the voices of God and the demons, which often became a cacophony when the light of heaven was gone. No, he didn’t think that the beer was hurting his liver; maybe it was even helping it.

“I didn’t get the hepatitis from drugs,” the Angel offered. “I wasn’t feeling good, I was sick. The doctor tested me and said I had hepatitis. He told me that I had to tell anyone I was having relations with. When I told the lady I was seeing at the time, she said, ‘You got that from me.’ I wish she had told me that sooner. I would’ve used protection if I had known that.”

The Angel didn’t know when he was getting out of jail. We discussed what treatment would best help him. When I asked if he had any questions for me, he shook his head.

“Feel free to come back any time to talk,” he said with the same polite manner he showed for the half hour we spoke. He bowed his head.

You can look up an inmate’s charges on the internet. It’s public information. You won’t learn what specifically happened that resulted in the arrest, but you will learn the alleged reason for why the person is in jail: Robbery. Assault. Failure to appear for court. Theft. Domestic violence.

I don’t seek that information before I meet my patients in jail. If patients start sharing their understanding as to why they’re incarcerated, I stop them. My duty is to the patient, not to the court or the attorneys.

When I first started working in the jail, I looked up the charges for all of my patients, as that information has the potential to help with clinical care. What I saw quickly dissuaded me from doing this on a routine basis.

It is uncommon for a man of the Angel’s age to be in jail. Yes, he was reporting and demonstrating psychiatric symptoms, but they alone did not explain why he captured the attention of law enforcement. Why would a man with his gentle manner and feeble condition be in jail?

Failure to report: sex offender.

The Angel had two convictions: One for Rape, the other for Indecent Liberties With Forcible Compulsion. These occurred years apart.

“Sometimes God says helpful things,” the Angel answered. “Sometimes… not.”