Archive for December, 2009

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Speaking Out – By Carl Bettinger

December 7, 2009

For the past few months  I’ve thought of little but Larry Selk’s story, the profoundly disabled man who was sodomized in a resident care home.  Towards the end of my closing, I told the jurors that I recognized that it is scary to speak up and be heard, yet doing so is sometimes necessary. I should not ask of my jurors anything more than I ask of myself.

During the trial, I was asked to staff Round Top in February.  Normally, I would have signed on without a moment’s hesitation.  I’ve decided not to staff the Round Top program. This is the first time I have not accepted a request to staff that was not related to work or family matters since I began staffing in 2003.  I can go to Texas in February, but I choose not to. This isn’t easy for me, as I believe that the TLC which now exists is one that may decide to remove me from staff for speaking up, a removal that I do not want, but if I can’t say what I want and need to say without fear of retribution, I don’t belong here.

Two months ago, when I showed up to staff the Advanced Program at the Ranch, I was asked by Jude Basile to resign from the Board. While it was deemed a “request”, there did not seem to be any volition involved. I agreed to do so, as I was planning to resign after the Board Meeting in January, 2010. However, I  was bothered by the timing of it, and the disingenuous way it was done. It occurred the first night that staff showed up for the program and without any forewarning. The decision to ask for my resignation clearly had been made long in advance of my arrival. To me it felt as though I had been kept in the dark so that I would prepare for and show up to staff the Advanced without having a chance to consider whether to attend at all under the circumstances. To my knowledge, my “resignation” from the Board, and those of Lynne Bratcher, Katlin Larimer and Fredi Sison, were requested without a formal Board vote.

There have been many changes in recent years at TLC that trouble me, and many relate the extent to which important decisions are made behind closed doors. I am not suggesting that the Board not make decisions, but why are the minutes not available to all alumni? In fact, why does the Board self-select? Why not an election of Board members by the alumni? Since people have questions about the finances, why not simply post the books to the web page so any alum can examine them? When I was on the Board (albeit the shortest tenure ever for any Board member!), I was shown the books. Why not show them to everyone? Why are staff evaluations not disclosed to the very staff being evaluated, and how many of you know this is the practice, i.e., not to show them to staff?

Why are so many decisions, particularly those of consequence, made in secret? Who has been removed from staff, when, and by whom? Will this be formally announced, or will these staff simply disappear? It would seem that Joane is no longer a member of the TLC staff. When was this decision made? And by whom? Why not put it to a vote of the alumni, many of whom return again and again as students?     Why should so many, particularly staff, feel reluctant to speak up for fear of retribution? During Grad II, Fredi Sison utilized a modified psychodramatic  exercise which probably has a formal name, but I will call “Step-in.” The group forms a large circle. A person steps in and says, “Who else here [fill in the blank]?”  Our psychodramatists had used this in other contexts before, usually asking people for a personal sharing. This time, however, the share was not limited. Participants asked wonderful questions, e.g., “Who else here has had to care for a dying loved one?”; “Who has ever lived with a mentally ill person?” “Who considers their body a friend?”   A collection of these would be enough for a book on jury selection. I asked, “Who is afraid to speak their truth at TLC for fear of retribution of some sort?” Many group members stepped in. After this year’s staff training, I suspect that number would be much higher if that question were posed to the staff.

My concerns include the loss or marginalization of those who, to my way of thinking, make TLC possible, particularly the psychodramatists.  It should go without saying that our psychodramatists are the finest of their kind in the world. To say we are lucky to have them is like saying the world is lucky to have oxygen. Yet, they have become increasingly marginalized over the years, particularly this year in the way they have not been fairly compensated. (If money is a problem, I sincerely doubt that the TLC community would not do what is necessary.) The college’s curriculum is unique because of psychodrama, and it succeeds because of psychodrama.  John Nolte,  who had been with the College from its earliest times, has contributed much over the years.  Not only his outstanding psychodramatic skills, but his sense of humor, his compassion, his sense of fair play have made this college a special place for so many.  He told me he had been invited to Round Top, but that TLC would not pay his way (although one Board member graciously offered to pay for it personally); rather he was expected to pay his own way and to teach without pay.  I find that insulting.  Katlin has been responsible for many of the exercises that we use at the college. She has the most institutional knowledge of all, but has been increasingly sidelined. Don is our guru on groups, Kathie our luminary on speaking your mind, and Louise Lipman, our newest, is out of this world. They are part of the very essence of TLC, yet are being treated as though they are otherwise.

My concerns continue with other fantastic staff we have lost over the years. Charlie Abourezk is gone. Garvin Isaacs is gone. Susan Mindenbergs, Cricket. All gone, either by their choice or design. Joane was told she would be asked to staff and she has not been, nor would there appear to be any intention to ask her.  Fredi Sison would appear to have joined this circle of non-staff. After Joane left, Fredi volunteered as the executive director of two programs, Grad II and the Advanced, both of which turned out great. She not only oversaw each program, but she created the curriculum and developed a new exercise (which I referred to in my postings about my recent trial as the “social atom”, but which my notes from Grad II label “Exploring the Cast”).  Are there any public defenders left on staff?

We are losing some of the best people in the college.  Some have left by their own choice, and some have been forced out. Obviously, the leadership can choose whomever they want to be part of the college, be it student or staff.  But they shouldn’t get to do so without anyone speaking up. In his nearly celestial eloquence, Dr. King once said that “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

At the risk of being the latest to be pushed out the door, this is my way of honoring my friends and Larry’s jurors.

Carl

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