Life Beyond the Phone

Sometimes I forget that there is a world outside of Rubicon when I’m volunteering there. During the hour-long group sessions it has become so easy to simply tap into the lives of the guys in treatment and not consider the implications of their presence in the facility. That is not to say that I forget that they are dealing with substance abuse issues instead I forget that substance abuse issues are not the only issues that they are dealing with. I have no other context for them except for the Rubicon building. But of course they have lives that exist outside of the context of Rubicon. They have loved ones that miss them. They have doctors’ appointments to attend. They have court dates to remember. They have jobs to find. They have lawyers to call. They have visits to arrange. Yet that context is filtered through the limited contact the guys have with the outside world.

There is one phone in the facility that the guys are allowed to use (cellphones are prohibited). Keep in mind, that at any given time there is upward of forty men in the men’s program. The phone is technically only available for use during designated meal times. However I’ve been around for more than a few times when that rule was stretched for a couple guys. It doesn’t seem to be the case that the most well liked guys are given that pass. Instead the phone drama depends on the benevolence of the person in charge of the front desk that day. There are times when I’m the only person working the front desk and one of the guys will come up and ask to use the phone during a prohibited time. In those situations I pull out the “I’m just the volunteer” card and usually can wriggle my way around the situation. When someone does get the chance to make a call, the conversation is usually had in a low, hushed tone and understandably so because the phone is located at the front desk in a high traffic area. They obviously have private matters to discuss with legal counsel, health physicians, family members, etc. and I cannot imagine how uncomfortable they must feel having to discuss certain things around at least five other people at any given time.

While I’ve been lucky enough to move agilely around sticky phone situations, I’ve also witnessed the phone cause heated debates between staff members and some of the guys. As I mentioned before, the guys have lives that exist outside of Rubicon and just because they’re in treatment it doesn’t mean that those lives are paused. The guys just have less access to those lives. The phone is one of the few tethers they have to life outside and when that is splintered by usage rules the guys can get rather upset.

One day T wanted to contact a potential employer. T explained that he had tried calling earlier but did not get an answer. D at the front desk said that the phone was not available for use at the time. T tried to plead his case but to no avail. T’s face turned a shade of red, his brows furrowed and he walked away muttering under his breath.

Situations like those are hard to watch because I empathize with the guys. I see that they want to get things done. I see that they just want to hear their girlfriends’ voices. I see that they want to make sure they have a place to stay when the get out. I see that they want to make sure their moms are doing okay. But I also understand that the policy is in place to make sure that the guys are focused on treatment. However their lives don’t stop because of treatment and treatment can’t possibly be the only thing that the guys are focused on whether they can make calls or not.


One thought on “Life Beyond the Phone

  1. Wow, this is an astute analysis of power. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to go from being on the outside, with relationships and the mundane cares of life, to now having to plead one’s case to one hopefully benevolent staff member to have access to a phone to simply try to stay in touch with that outside life, to keep it from slipping away. I value my autonomy a great deal, and I can imagine that this one rule (but it isn’t really a rule because it is sometimes bent) would weigh on me more than anything else — just the fact that I could not make a phone call unless someone okayed it and whether he or she did could be arbitrary.

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