Disaster Strikes

After we returned from our vacation in July, life was good. We were still teleworking from home, and I was visiting the prison once per week to drop off new packets and grades, and pick up finished packets. All of the work in the prison was being done for me by 2 very gracious ladies. Occasionally they decided that we could come back into the prison for 2 days per week, then three, depending upon the amount of COVID in the prison at the time. In October we came back full steam, 5 days per week, delivering packets every Tuesday and Thursday, and grading the packets on site on the other days.

On October 15th, I was called in for my second evaluation, and I was devastated. The number of areas needing improvement were now double what they had been in June. I told my supervisor that it looked like I was moving backwards, rather than ahead, and he said, “Yes, you are.” I asked him if I was going to make it through my 1 year probationary period, and he said no, not unless things improve. I went home that night with the realization that I was probably NOT going to make it, and I was NOT going to keep the job that I love. I sank into a deep depression, and spent the whole weekend ruminating on my failure. It would probably be difficult to feel lower than I felt. Self-blame set in and I beat myself up constantly. All of the progress that I made over the summer, was now lost. I felt like I was back to trying to recover from surgery.

By October 20th, I couldn’t even get out of my car in the parking lot, without my cane. I didn’t want to bring my cane into the prison, as it can be a lethal weapon if taken by an inmate, but one of my supervisors told me to call the Return to Work department. They got back to me and told me that I could use it, and I filled out the paperwork to make the cane a reasonable accommodation. It was accepted, but I was in pain most of the time. Going out onto the yard to deliver packets and pick up homework from the inmates was excruciating, as it required walking about a mile, and going up and down 5 flights of stairs. I was miserable. I did some research and found out that stress is the number one reason for the inflammation of arthritis. Once again, my doctor told me to stop taking Naproxen because it was bad for my kidneys. She told me that I could not take any anti-inflammatories for that reason. Instead, I was told to take Extra-strength Tylenol. When I started to take them, I realized, very quickly that the Tylenol wasn’t going to help the pain.

My union rep suggested that I write to our assistant warden and explain what was happening to me. I did, and my rep and I were able to get an appointment to see him. When I told him that I had missed out on most of my training, due to needing to telework because of COVID, he sympathized and said that they were running across the same problem with most of their new hires. Supervisors were complaining about a lack of skills, and yet employees had not been trained well. I felt better after I saw him, but soon thereafter, my supervisor started to harass me constantly, supposedly making up for lost time in training. He came into my classroom everyday, right before the end of the day, with a long list of mistakes I had made all day. I stayed overtime 2-3 hours (unpaid) almost daily, trying to fix everything. Having experienced PTSD with a previous abusive husband, I began to recognize the same type of anxiety when my boss came into the room. It was making me sick to my stomach, as well as causing unbelievable pain in my arthritic hip.

Right before our Christmas two week break, I filed an EEO complaint, alluding to the sexual harassment that I was experiencing. While certainly not sexual in nature, I felt that I was being treated differently because of my gender. He seemed to be saying things to intimidate me. I had spoken to my union, and they had suggested this action, but they also told me to not expect much result from the EEO department at the prison, as they tend to favor the male supervisors. Indeed, when they got back to me, with a letter during Christmas break, they said that they found my accusations to be unfounded, but that I could file a National EEO complaint, which I did.

When I returned to work in January, I was given my 3rd evaluation. While it said that I had improved in some areas, it maintained that I still had a lack of knowledge, and problems learning. This was the 3rd time that those specific areas were used against me. This time I talked back, and said that no, this was not true. I am a woman with an EdD and I am fully capable of learning if I am trained. He continued to maintain that I had been trained, but I told him that coming in to bark some instruction at me for 15 minutes, without allowing me to try-out the new skills, was not training. He wanted me to sign the evaluation and I said, “What happens if I don’t?” He said he would have to add a note saying that I refused. I asked if I could add a note, and he said yes, so I added a note that said, “I do not agree with this evaluation.” That evening, I sent another note to the assistant warden explaining what was happening to me.

The following day, my supervisor came into my room and told me to start my computer. He then proceeded to train me, for over an hour, in computer functions that he had been complaining about. He was kind, patient, and very thorough in his treatment of me. We talked about the different functions, and he gave me tricks for how he remembers the very same functions. I thanked him for taking the time to really sit down and train me. I explained that this is all that I had ever wanted. He told me that he could tell how furious I was the day before, and he never wanted it to be that way. He said that he has been pulling for me all along.

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. That was 9 days before the end of my probationary period. Since then, we have actually maintained a friendly relationship. I have two inmate clerks and we have worked out a method that allows them to alert me if I make mistakes, so that I can fix them and the mistakes never get to my boss. On January 13th, the last day of my probation, he called me in again for my last evaluation, and every area was marked acceptable – not “needs improvement.” Since that time, my body has begun to gather strength. I still walk with my cane, but on some days, I don’t need it much. and I think that, ultimately, I will not need it. I have put in paperwork for another accommodation, to keep me from climbing up and down stairs, and as a part of that, my Dr. gave notice that we are planning to have my other hip replaced in June. Our students just came back face-to-face this past week, so for the time being, I will not be going out onto the yard. I have signed paperwork to begin as a PERMAMENT employee, and those are the sweetest words I have ever heard.

So, just remember…if you are experiencing a lot of pain, look to the situation around you. Are your family, friends, or employers causing you stress? Is there any way to alleviate it? I let it go on for 3 months before I was able to do something about it. Don’t wait that long.

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