17 September 2008

He Wore A Suit

Last week, a counselor asked me if I had time to meet with someone and create a resume and cover letter for him; he had a deadline that needed to be met rather quickly and was without either of those items. I scheduled to meet him the next day.

When I walked into the office that day, I was dressed down. I wasn't wearing heels, but ballerina flats, with cords--not my typical attire, but he was my only client meeting that day, the rest of the day I had been planning to spend doing follow-up and applications. I glanced around the waiting area as the security guard buzzed me through and I saw a man, dressed in a full suit and tie, a battered briefcase on his lap.

"Please, don't let that be him", I thought, cursing myself for my casual approach to the day.

I settled in and went to the lobby, "Mr. X", I called, and the man in the suit arose. I was grateful for the long hall that we had to walk down--shame was burning my cheeks--all over my appearance.

I'd asked the counselor to authorize me three hours, thinking that would be plenty of time to meet with him, get his employment history, review the job description and draft the items that he needed. Of course, it wasn't that simple.

"So we're creating a resume today", I asked him. "Do you have the job description"?

He didn't. He began to tell me what was happening in regards to the job, and I could feel my blood pressure rising. The counselor and other staff members had also tried to get the job description, but still didn't have it either.

Turns out Mr. X was a state employee in the Department of Corrections for twelve years. He had been injured on the job, and was placed on long-term disability, and had been recently notified that he was no longer eligible for it. The state wouldn't give him his old job back, because he was apparently disabled enough not to be qualified to work in that capacity any longer. He'd spent his life and career working in a field where he hadn't gained much additional professional knowledge and was supposed to be applying for a job in the corrections department that was in an office setting.

Since he was trying to change career paths, he qualified for the Department of Corrections re-entry program, a program, which at face value, is excellent. It gives dedicated employees such as him accessibility and preference to openings as they try to re-establish themselves. He was given a "ticket to work" and assigned a case worker.

A case worker who, instead of sending a link to job postings sent him random e-mails with vague descriptions of jobs--no companies listed, no submission deadlines, no qualifications needed. A case worker who didn't return the numerous phone calls from his counselor and re-hab staff to get a copy of the job description. A case worker who left her voice mail box full so that you couldn't even leave a message. A case worker who finally returned my call when I got in touch with the receptionist and asked her to relay that if the case worker was too busy to return my call, I'd be happy to speak with her supervisor.

He gave me a copy of his resume that he'd tried to draft. "I guess this is what they are using now-a-day's," he said. He handed me a piece of paper with an art clip of a computer mouse at the top of it, and it got worse after that. And it was genuinely his best effort--he had no idea how to navigate the sea he'd been tossed in, but he was trying to desperately.

I smiled and took it from him, got as much information as I could and told him I'd be in touch with him that day.

When his case worker finally returned my call, I asked for the job description. She couldn't find it. I asked for the deadline. She thought it was Monday. I asked her to email me the link, she took my email, but refused to give me hers.

"So if you'll just submit his resume and cover letter, that would be great," she said.

I lost it, in a professional manner, but lost it just the same.

"Excuse me? Submit it to whom? You haven't given me any information".

"Right. Just get it to me and I'll submit it for him".

"I'll need your email."

"Just send it to him and then he can get it to me."

"I'm confused," I stammered, "I thought that you were supposed to be submitting his resume to appropriate openings for him, as his case worker, and making sure that the recipient knew that he was involved in this program and should be given greater preference".

"I do." She was short. "Just get him the resume and I'll email you the link". She hung up.

Of course, I never got the information, but drafted the best documents that I could.

Monday, his counselor asked me if I had a few minutes. Seems his case worker said that all of his employment history needed to be on there, including three month stints from when he was in college.

I shut her office door and threw the bullshit flag. Tears burned my eyes when I asked exactly who was going to help him, because we both knew it wasn't his case worker. I also reminded her that if I'd had the fucking job description, it would have helped.

"I share your outrage," she said, and I know that she did. Except that she's also mired in the state system of hierarchy and bureaucracy and sometimes, you just cannot risk pissing off the wrong people.

That's the beauty of my job. I'm not a state employee, and so I don't have to worry about the politics of the system for the most part--as long as I'm doing what the counselors pay me to do, I'm secure. Most of my clients have been on their knees so long, I don't think that they can remember how to stand, let alone stand and fight.

The new state budget starts October first.

"He was one of the people I was telling you about," his counselor told me. "When October hits, he's your client".

"Good," I said, still shaking. I apologized for the tears and vehement reaction.

She touched my shoulder, "Don't ever lose that, Jenn. Don't ever lose that."

I smiled and walked out of her office, looking desperately forward to October first. I'll be kicking ass and taking names. And I'll be doing it in a dress suit and heels.


painted maypole said...

my blood was boiling, too.

you, on the other hand...

thank you for what you do

Mama Goose said...

Don't ever lose that, Jenn. Your strength, passion and commitment amaze me. If only more people had your passion to help others... Wow.

bgirl said...

goosebumps over my coffee this morning.

kick as sister. you always do!

jen said...

i am so, so glad you are out there doing this very important work.

Kimberly said...

And one more reason why you are my hero.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for what you do. It means something; it really, really does.

Becc said...

You Go Girl!

Anonymous said...

Frustrating doesn't begin to cover it. I'm glad he's got you in his corner.