> No More Secrets And Lies: I Call My State Representative and DHS

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I Call My State Representative and DHS

I contacted my state representative and told her about Mary's plight. She listened to everything I had to say and seemed very concerned. She told me she would mention my concerns to her colleagues at the State Capital and then get back to me. I called her a week later and she told me she had talked to her colleagues and their advice for me was to get a lawyer, or file a report with a state agency. This was frustrating because, not only did I think calling her was reporting to a state agency, but also because I thought she would do something herself, especially since it seemed like what Mary was going through constituted abuse, and I thought state representatives were mandated reporters.

I then called the Minnesota Department of Human Services and told them Mary's story. I told them how many times she had been moved, how many times she had been abused, how she wasn't improving, how her workers had lied about her case, and how they had pretty much neglected caring for her in general. They told me they were concerned as well and said would look into it.

I never heard back from them, at least not directly. But then a few days after I made my report, Mary's social worker started one of our meetings with a special announcement:

"We received a call from the State that apparently someone has filed a complaint regarding Mary's case."

She paused and looked around the room but not at me. I remember this well because I was sitting next to her.

She continued, "Of course we have no idea who that was, now… do we?"

She was talking about me but not to me so she had to talk around me and make it look like she was on to me — all the time sounding like a fool. At first I thought she was making a joke, but then I looked up and saw that she was deadly serious and everyone else in the room was scared and sitting perfectly still, or staring down at the table — not at her, and not at me — like they were afraid of something.

We had many meetings like this where the tension was, well, thick. I used to joke to a friend before our meetings that I wondered what topic we wouldn't talk about at today's meeting. There was always some topic — usually something big — that we wouldn't talk about at every meeting. And to me, this was usually what the meeting was about. I'm pretty sure everyone else knew what topics we weren't discussing as well. Almost all our meetings were tense like this, especially if I would talk about the elephant in the room. Sometimes when I did this I would get yelled at — literally. People remember these meetings well. I would say something like,

"You know we still haven't talked about Mary's continual moving and…"

And before I could finish, Mary's corrections officer would stand up, and at the top of her lungs start screaming directly at me from across the table,

"Shut up John! We aren't going to talk about that today!"

I'd look at her like she had lost her mind and almost laugh because I couldn't believe she had actually yelled at me. But it wasn't funny. It was pathetic. And sad. And apparently scary for everyone else in the room. The rest of the team would have their heads down by then, and it seemed as if they would lower them even more if I said something back to her, or, of course, if I laughed. They wouldn't move or blink, and they looked like they were waiting for her to hurl a stapler at me. I was kind-of waiting for it too.

So far my calls for outside help weren't getting me very far. No one was doing anything, and it wasn't clear if my reporting was getting through or not. But I knew one thing — I knew how to tell what the topic of a meeting was.


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