Elizabeth Ford - Examining Mental Health and the Prison System in "Sometimes Amazing Things Happen"

May 30, 2017 - Elizabeth Ford 05/30/2017 Views: 14,290

Dr. Elizabeth Ford explains how she became a medical professional for the prison system and weighs in on the mental toll of incarceration in "Sometimes Amazing Things Happen." (4:52)

Watch Full Episode

Dr. Elizabeth Ford.

(cheers and applause)

-Welcome to the show.-Thank you very much.

And let me just say,from the title,

I did not expect this bookto be what it was.

Sometimes Amazing Things Happen.

I thought it was going to belike a fun, light-hearted book

about, how, like, sometimesyou think you have, like,

one piece of chocolate,

and there'stwo pieces stuck together,

and you're, like, "I guess,technically, I ate one."

-But, no, it's not about thatat all. -It's not about that.

No, it's not about that.

If you were to put it inyour words-- because this is

a memoir of your life,but it's also a story

that touches onthe criminal justice system,

and mentally ill patients,

what would you saythis book is about?

Right, and the-the titlewas chosen intentionally,

because "amazing" doesn'talways necessarily mean "good."

-Right.-And it means "surprising."

And this book is, um...relays my journey

learning howto take care of patients

in the criminal justice system

and being surprisedand amazed at every turn.

When I started in this work,I-I, um...

it was sort of happenstance,but I was assigned

as a medical student to havea patient who was incarcerated.

And it was a patientno one else wanted to treat,

which is why I,as the medical student, got him.

And I was initially,um, scared and afraid.

And by the end of six weeks,meeting with him every day,

I felt, like, unbelievableempathy for this man

and curiosity. And he...

And we were havingdaily conversations

that were so warm and rich.

And I thought... I-I reallythought if I could do this

for the rest of my career,I would be absolutely satisfied.

And that's how I ended upin this work.

That-that is a unique ability

that you have-- is to seea situation like this

and then thrust yourself into itwhere most would turn away.

I mean, was there any pointwhere you doubted your decision

to get involved and say,"I want to work with people

"who have been labeledas the most dangerous in society

for the rest of my life"?

I never...I never made that decision,

but I did actually quit the workat one point,

because it was so challengingfor me to h... mostly to hear

all of the traumathat the patients had had

and sometimes to evenwitness it firsthand

in the jail system.Um, and it became overwhelming,

especially onceI'd had my children,

and could sort of more-moreclearly understand

what trauma and abuseand poverty

and lack of education--all of the things

that lead up to this-- what thatcan do to a human being.

It-it became too muchfor me, frankly.

So I... I quit.

I worked in an emergency room,

-which was notthe easiest, either. -Right.

But, um... but missedthis work so much

that I went back to ita few years later.

And-and... and going backinto this work--

you know, what you really dowell in the book is illustrate

the human side of these stories,

because a lot of peoplewould say, "Hey, Dr. Ford,

"I get what you'retrying to tell me,

"but these are criminals,and so I don't understand

"why I should feelsorry for anything,

why I should displayany empathy towards them."

Yeah. But they're human beings.

And I think we forget thatin the whole narrative,

really, about this issue.It's...

There's a lot of statistics,

um, there are a lot of policydecisions that are made.

And what gets lostin all of that are the real...

are the people behind these.

You have a passage herethat, uh...

that, really, I guess,summed up a lot of that.

You say, "A few months agoI wouldn't have turned away

"a patient like Ray. I knewthat a sad and desperate life

"didn't give anyonea free pass to behave badly,

"but maybe it earneda little tolerance.

"I haven't yet met a patientlabeled as antisocial

"who didn't havea poignant story to tell.

"If you listento the story long enough,

"you can figure out whythese patients behave so badly.

Then you can try to fix it."

Many people would arguethat point and say,

"But there are repeat offenders.

You can't fix itwith some people."

Do you truly believe thatanyone's issue can be fixed,

or do you believe that thereis a way to fix, uh, people

that many in societydeem broken?

I believe there is a core,just like you described

in the... the passage you read,to everybody.

And sometimes it's very clearhow to find that,

and other times it takes years.

And some of the patientsI write about in this book--

I would treat themover a decade, coming back

into the jail. And it wasn'tuntil the end of that decade

that-that I was ableto grab on to the thing

that was gonna help.But I firmly believe--

and could not do this workif I didn't believe it--

that within all of us

there is that coreand that desire to do good.

Circumstances and illness

and all sorts ofsocioeconomic issues... conspire

to make it hard to find,

but, yes, it is in there.

I, uh, will say, having youin the system helps a lot.

We're... It's-it'san amazing story,

-and I-I thank you forsharing with us. -Thank you.

-Thank you very much. -Thank youfor being on the show.

-Thank you. -Really appreciateit. -(cheering, applause)

Sometimes Amazing Things Happen is available now.

Dr. Elizabeth Ford, everybody.

All Shows