A Racial Difference
So here I am getting checked into Methodist. After a long psych evaluation where they deemed me completely fine they agreed to put me in a psych ward anyway because I was on the run from my parents. They spent a long time trying to figure out which psych ward to put me in. Once I started playing music on my phone it was decided that Methodist was the right fit. If you google Methodist this rhetoric will make more sense.
It was late at night by the time the ambulance had brought me to the hospital and the necessary paperwork was signed. They gave me my hospital scrubs and marched me to my room. It was my first time being in inpatient care in Chicago. My previous two stints at psych wards or psych facilities came in or around the Boston area. This one had a different vibe and lived up to it.
I entered my new bedroom and found my place at one of the beds. There were three beds in this room with a bathroom next to what would become my bed. There was a door on the bathroom, but otherwise it looked like a seedy place. I had just spent countless hours being psychologically examined at Northwestern Hospital and was ready to pass out. I laid down in my bed and the patient across the room from me started the friendly on-boarding process.
It wasn’t that bad of a hazing ritual. To be honest, I’ve been through worse. When I was in Newton-Wellesley Hospital outside of Boston I had two different roommates who both decided they needed to mark their territory in the room and pissed all over the place. My newest roommate in Methodist 5 South simply started grunting and making ‘scary’ noises. He was trying to get a rise out of me. He wanted to show me who was boss. I stayed silent. Eventually, the intimidation factor went silent. The other patient finally spoke to me as if we weren’t in prison. He said, ‘Just trying to fall asleep, huh Will’? He had picked up my name from the nurse who led me into bed. I grunted, ‘Yeah’. He responded with what he assumed about me, and from what I could tell later on was a standard around this place, ‘Beats County, huh Will?’ ‘Yeah’... I shrugged, as if I had any clue.
By the time the next day rolled around I had compartmentalized what I had been through the night before. I was no longer in a psych ward in Boston, and here in Chicago there were going to be different rules. I was fully prepared to accept the notion that I was pretty damn close to prison. It wasn’t that bad. The units were split in half and on one half there were women. We, the men, were not allowed on the hallway where women's rooms were; a precautionary measure that was different then what I was used to at my previous two stints in inpatient care.
The unit was also majority minority black. The white people on the unit stuck out, and not in a good way. Most of the white people were the most obnoxious. Clearly put in 5 South because they needed a reality check that they weren’t the pretty pretty little princesses or princes in the world. The biggest difference that became evident between a white psych unit and a black psych unit were meals.
I loved mealtime on the black psych units. It was all about making trades and was quite fun!! I was focused on how many ice creams I could get at lunch and dinner time. I would load up on grape and orange juice, which generally worked out for even trades. There was never any trading on the white psych units. People never even gave away their extras for free. They would hand in their leftovers and scraps without seeing if somebody wanted it. This didn’t happen on the majority black psych units. It was much more aligned with karma and I appreciated that aspect of my time in 5 South.
Other than mealtimes and the fact that I kind of got a prison shakedown as a welcome to my room when I checked into the facility, the next largest difference came when we would all play games together during free time. Luckily I had an ally in Miss Williams and she got me on the first table to play spades. I don’t mean to brag, but I cleaned up. Nobody on the floor, patient to social worker, was ready for my spade skills. Big ups to my partner Jorge, we sat down and went yard just about ten times in a row and it simply never ended. In white psych units you do puzzles and maybe play a game of Uno or color for fun, but in black psych units you talk shit and play spades -- way more worthwhile. I could tell, I was making a full recovery… why was I in this place again?
I jest at the differences between majority white psych wards and majority black psych wards, but visits to psych floors are never fun. They are draining and they take everything out of you. They break you down and strip you of freedom. There are, however, key differences in the nature of predominantly white psych wards vs. predominantly black psych wards. I have spoken on a few reasons from a white male’s perspective what exactly these differences are. I make them sound fun, sure, but predominantly black psych wards are much more cut throat. They don’t hold your hand through the process. It can be an eat or get eaten environment. I mention this because I have a hard time believing that a proper healing process can occur for all patients despite the color of their skin when they are tossed into this environment. It was fun for me because I got a look at the other side and loved it. It helped that I wasn’t really dealing with any issues at either of my two stints in 5 South or 5C, a psych unit in Methodist that was 100% black male other than me. Should there be changes? Are we treating every person fairly despite the color of their skin? Both good questions to ask as many people use inpatient care at hospitals as a means to their own path toward recovery. Love.