Special therapist in Tulare County helps youth find comfort while incarcerated

Special therapist in Tulare County helps youth find comfort while incarcerated

Caroline Ahlstrom and Chance

Not all therapists come from successful backgrounds or grow up in loving households—just like one of our therapists at the Tulare County Detention Facilities in California.

This therapist came from an incredibly abusive home where he was periodically starved, leaving him on his own to find food. As a result, he often resorted to killing small animals in order to survive. Once, he was dragged behind a vehicle, causing severe injuries including exposing the bones in his feet. Finally, his abusive family was brought to the attention of authorities, resulting in an arrest. The story of this terrible abuse circulated around the area, and the local community came together to make sure the needs of this special victim were met.

Two families attempted to adopt/ foster him, but sadly he was returned both times. The psychological damage was perceived as too severe for him to be able to comfortably adapt to his new environments, so he spent the next two years in group care with Tulare County. At that time, he came to the attention of a local probation officer who saw some hope and promise in him. Through the love and caring heart of this probation officer, he eventually became a counselor and an active part of Corizon Health’s mental health team in Tulare.

Chance, as he came to be called, began utilizing his background and experience to become a specialist with youth in detention. His special understanding of youth suffering from PTSD, RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) and severe depression has in fact helped numerous youth who, as a result of traumatic events in their own lives, were never able to attach to anyone. Yet, these youth suddenly found themselves holding, petting and tossing toys to Chance. You may have guessed by now—Chance is a dog. He came to us demonstrating calmness, trust and unconditional love for the youth. Many of our youth suffered abuse from those close to them, felt unloved and learned to trust no one—just like Chance. Chance is a living example that hope is not lost.

Brenda (name changed) was a fifteen year-old who came into custody after years of physical and sexual abuse. Her acute PTSD caused her to suffer from major depression, and she had a history of multiple psychiatric hospitalizations and suicide attempts, as well as complete distrust of others and selective muteness. After her detainment, she did not speak for multiple days. When the therapists attempted to talk to her, all she would do is cry. During one therapy session, the therapist brought in Chance. Upon entering the room, Chance immediately “assessed” the situation, walked over to Brenda, put his head on her lap and began to lick her arm. In silence, the youth began to rub Chance’s face and neck, then put her head down next to Chance’s. As Chance licked away her tears, the youth hugged Chance and stopped crying.

After an hour of relative silent interaction between Chance and Brenda, Brenda told the therapist that she would be okay to go to her cell and that her feelings of wanting to commit suicide were, for the moment, gone. Her only requirement was—to be able to spend more time with Chance the next day.

On that next day, as Brenda sat on the ground and held Chance, she began to talk about her feelings, her history and her life for the first time. The therapist and Chance continued to meet with Brenda, and along with the assistance of the entire Corizon Health behavioral team, the process was begun of leading Brenda away from her constant suicidal feelings and pervasive depression. She also began to learn the tools to help her live with—and properly cope with her PTSD. Brenda made the connection with Chance because they both were neglected and abused. For both, the ones that should have loved and cared for them chose instead to abandon and abuse them.

Brenda is just one example of how this is played out over and over again with our youth. Of course, Chance serves other purposes. Time with Chance is used as a reward and incentive to support behavior therapy. He lives on the long-term unit as a 24-hour example of overcoming a life filled with challenges. Chance is an invaluable part of our Corizon Health Tulare team.

Submitted by Kevin Dooms, RN
Health Services Administrator, Tulare County Jails