The Gate Keeper

Door of a San Antonio mission

There was something weird going on. I could not quite put my finger on it. Things just did not add up. I told the attending what I thought.

“Was he really asleep?”


“Why did you feel that way? What did you observe?”

He steepled his fingers, elbows on the desk, staring intently at me over the tips. He waited patiently, expectantly for my answer, like Mace Windu the Jedi master. 

Why is he asking me this? 

I thought back to the shackled man in the orange jump suit who had sat in front of me. He was not answering my questions. Then, his head lolled to the side and a soft snore escaped his lips.

“The way his eyes were moving underneath his eyelids, his breathing.”

Back to the Jedi master, I watched his face for a clue. 

Was I right?

“Good work.” He nodded slightly, a subtle tip of his nonexistent hat. “Why did you tell me that you felt he was faking it? You could have just said the interview was cut short because he fell asleep and left it at that. That would have been an easy way out.”

“Seemed important.”

“So then why didn’t you try to ‘wake’ him up? Why did you leave him then?”

“Because he was signaling the interview was over. I didn’t think my pressing him was going to get me any further than I already was.”

“Trust your gut.” He spoke clearly, each syllable measured and distinctly enunciated. I could see that he relished this role of the guru, the sensei. “So then, if he is faking sleep, is he also faking mental illness? Is he really hearing those voices telling him to hurt people?”

“I don’t know. Maybe?” 

“It all paints a picture. Now you have to decide, do we keep him here or send him back to jail?”

Me? I have to decide? I’m the student for crying out loud! I don’t want to be the one to have to decide. But then…. this is what I signed up for. I won’t always get it right. I just have to do my best, right? The universe would sort everything out in the end.


“Send him back.”

He scribbled his signature on the paperwork and it was done.

I carried the weight of that with me for a few days. It was my first taste of what my decisions would mean for lives hanging in the balance.

Did I make the right call?

Later the attending told me that he had seen this fellow multiple times before and each time he presented with a different constellation of psychiatric complaints as an excuse for violent behavior. By then I had decided that forensic psychiatry was most definitely not for me…


45 thoughts on “The Gate Keeper

  1. Wow. That really is the weight of the world. But good for you. My sister worked in a prison for a while as a psychiatric nurse. I never could see how she could do it. Her stories made my hair stand on end. (Confidentiality was respected, though. I don’t want my sister to seem like someone who belonged on the inside.)

    And there really are people — most far less evil than this man — who will manipulate any situation.

    Liked by 3 people

      • My sister was pretty nuts, actually. For example before coming out as gay to our family, she first announced that she had a multiple personality disorder (27 personalities), one of whom was gay. Shortly thereafter (months) she announced she was gay and we never heard from the other 26. As I look back, she had a desperate need for attention.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have my own mental health issues, and with my “recent” life’s luck of the past decade-plus, I’ve grown even more sympathetic/empathetic to those with problems. But I’ve also been around *really* mentally ill folks AND fakers (usually people who were looking to get drugs from the doctor I worked for). Both are just difficult to be around for more than a few minutes, even if you’re sympathetic. I’ve come into close contact, in my personal life, with a couple of psychopaths. I mean, where do you draw the line with being nice and understanding? I sure don’t know. I sometimes think I’m crazier than a :::insert crazy thing here::: and other times I think I’m the sanest person in the room (am I right?). I couldn’t tell if this was one of your fictional pieces or a reporting, but I see from the comments that it was non-fiction. Yikes. The whole thing. Yikes. The environment, the responsibility. The… did I say, “Yikes”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mental health is a tough field, a lot like jury duty. You are trying to make long term judgements based on small snapshots of time, only the facts that someone else wants you to see. It would be nice to scan someone and know exactly what is wrong with them from a mental health standpoint. Gosh, that would be so frickin awesome. Forensic psychiatry was worse. People’s safety is at stake, the innocents. How can you live with yourself if you make the wrong call? Gah.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ya know, when you write about the “gross” stuff, like emesis, pus and god knows what else you’ve come up with, I’m there with ya. Doesn’t bug me. I’ve even had human cadaver studies. I used to work with cancer patients and sometimes people would tell me they couldn’t do that. Now BURN victims? No way, nuh uh, nope nope nope. I knew someone who worked in the pediatric burn unit. Eek. So thank god there are people who *can* do the GAH! jobs. There’s quite a few of those jobs. And yeah, forensic psychiatry…nope nope nope. That, and working for a health insurance company. 🙂 I don’t have the temperament to be a doctor. I’d love the classes. The work/people/hours/people/people would drive me bats (battier). Then again, I’m pretty sure the only vocational temperament I have runs along the lines of “heiress.” (Know of any openings? I’d relocate.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • I really don’t have the temperament. I had it for the PT/MT I did, but that’s a whole different thing than being a doctor. (And no, not a “real” PT, but my area of work had a lot of crossover.) No, I read your stories and a lot of the time think, Nope, I could not do that job.(Notice I’m not arguing the “intelligence” point. 😀 lmao…I crack myself up.)

        Liked by 1 person

    • Not fiction. The experience was rather surreal, though. The attending was a strange fellow. It was the dead of night, too, maybe 0230 and my first up close encounter with the orange jumpsuits…


  3. I absolutely love your writing and flash fiction posts. Congrats on your nomination as I nominated you for the “One Lovely Blog Award.” You can choose to participate if you wish. It’s totally up to you. But, just thought to let you know that your awesome writing is recognized and appreciated! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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