As I was leaving prison today I noticed a man standing on the corner. He was wearing nice pants and a dress shirt. He had a knapsack thrown over one shoulder and was wearing sunglasses while talking on a cell phone. I didn't think anything of it until he looked over and saw me and yelled, "Doc! Hey doc! Remember me? You helped me, you really did. I'd hug you but I know that wouldn't be appropriate."
Frankly, I didn't recognize him at first. I knew who he was after he called my name, but just to see him standing there, well, the context was quite different and he looked very very different from his appearance in prison.
Anyway, he was doing great. He had a place to live, a job, was going to AA regularly, staying clean. He was waiting for his ride to pick him up for AA. His phone rang and he picked it up. "It's my ride," he said. He told his ride: "Hey, guess what? I'm standing here with the doc who saved my life!" His ride pulled up, and the driver immediately started waving and hollering at me too. My patient said, "You remember him? You saved his life too." I had seen the driver maybe twice, just a few days after he had been arrested. I remembered him, remembered that he had never been in trouble before, was facing serious charges and was pretty upset. Then the driver quoted to me, word for word, something I had said to him four years before that had helped him get through incarceration.
As they were driving off they pointed to me and said, "You keep doing what you're doing. You keep helping people."
I don't have any trouble admitting that I choked up a bit and by the time I got back to my car I was in tears.
You see, today was my last day as a fulltime prison doc. After about fifteen years I've decided that for my own sanity I'd need to cut back to part time and go back to doing another job I've always enjoyed doing (more about that later). This was quite the experience to have as I'm going, literally, out the door. It's the experience I'll remember the next time I hear someone knocking docs who do med checks instead of psychotherapy, or saying that prison doesn't help anybody.
It's good to remember that sometimes there are happy endings.