You White People

“Man, you white people don’t know a thing about my life.” The words seemed to echo and hang in the air. I wondered if I had made a bad decision.

It was my first day running mental health groups for an addiction treatment center that housed many of the state’s Prop 36 residents that had been given the choice between treatment and incarceration. Many had already done time.

I took a deep breath and said, “You are right.” She walked out of the room.

Gathering my thoughts, I asked the group to express their expectations of me. It wasn’t what I had planned, but I hadn’t had a plan for this either.

Many shared that they didn’t expect anything. The system hadn’t offered them anything. It had only told them they weren't good enough.

I just listened.

The next week, Mary the Latino woman who had stormed out the first week, returned. I asked her to lead the group. She spoke about her need to be tough, and to never accept help. I asked her where she had learned these things.

“It’s been my whole life,” she answered.

Mary later became an individual client. One night she called me, and left a message, “Claire, I just watched this thing on TV…I sure hope that isn’t you.”

I knew what she had seen. When she came in the next day, she stared at me in disbelief for what seemed like an eternity. Then she said, “Man, your life is just as messed up as mine."

"Do you think we can make it?' I asked.

She grinned, "We already have."


— Claire Nana, M.A.

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