Student: Frank Garcia-Ornelas, MSW ‘16
Agency Partner: Suffolk County House of Corrections
Responsibilities at the Placement: The main objective of Garcia-Ornelas’ placement this semester is to work directly with the population of inmates who are living with various mental disorders. Garcia-Ornelas has a caseload of nine individuals, both men and women, all of whom are spending time living in isolation for various reasons. These inmates spend 23 hours per day in isolation; for this reason, once per week, Garcia-Ornelas speaks with them to ensure that they are mentally stable.
From the first day of his placement, Garcia-Ornelas’ supervisor told him that “we are not going to treat you like an intern; you’re a clinician, part of our team.” The team focuses on employing strengths-based therapy (in short, focusing on what the inmates are doing well in an environment where everything they’re doing is so often considered to be wrong).
“Right now, I’m working with a client who initially didn’t want to work with me at all, who had trust issues based largely in a series of traumatic events in her past,” explains Garcia-Ornelas. “But little by little, as we spoke and I helped her to focus on the positives in her life, such as the GED she’d earned since entering prison, and I encouraged her to give herself credit for these accomplishments, we began to forge a strong bond. She even wrote me a letter expressing her gratitude for my work with her, and soon she’ll be getting out of prison with a new outlook. This has meant a lot to me.”
Takeaways: Garcia-Ornelas originally accepted this placement with encouragement from his field education advisor, despite initial trepidations and the realities of going outside of his comfort zone. He still knows that prison social work isn’t for him, but he is grateful for the experience he’s had during his placement at the Suffolk County House of Corrections.
“I’ve learned this semester that this institution built of concrete and bars is broken in so many aspects,” he says. “I’ve also learned that there is a critical need for social workers to help to address the many problems that exist within it. While I don’t feel I’m destined to be one of those social workers, I feel confident that I can take with me what I’ve learned, and apply it to wherever I end up, working with whichever populations need positive reinforcement and care.”