Thursday, April 03, 2008

A New Use For Gangs

(A BGF tattoo)

I found a new use for prison gangs today. It was completely unexpected.

The patient was a very large, somewhat scarey-looking guy with a history of bipolar disorder. When manic (and psychotic) he got violent. He was transferred back to my facility for refusing to take his meds in a lower security setting. I forget what happened there, but he just wasn't doing well. Back in my facility he was among his associates from the Black Guerilla Family, a well-known prison gang. They respected his size and definitely didn't want him getting sick. They made sure he went down from the tier to the pill line to get his medication.

You'd never guess he had a mental illness when he was well. He was still big and scarey-looking, but he was also articulate. He talked about being able to haul someone into a shower and "mess him up" without guilt or remorse. He talked about staying vigilant, knowing that being part of the BGF made him a target for other gangs. He talked about being bothered by the fact that his violence and lack of conscience didn't bother him. He talked about "wearing a mask" and passing as normal. I could have listened to him forever, and it would have made a good documentary about sociopathy.

But anyway, back to the gang. In psychiatry you hear a lot about the importance of social networks and family support and how this can prevent relapse for people with psychotic disorders. What you don't always think about is how a prison gang can serve this same function. The BGF helped keep my patient well.

He finished the appointment by asking how I was doing and if I was OK, which I thought was rather interesting. It was a bit like Tony Soprano, someone who could execute a guy without batting an eye, being concerned about the ducks in his pool. And I was the duck.