Mary Slocum, 11/7/2011

Current Occupation: retired social worker

Former Occupation: 17 year shipyard electrician

Contact Information: A poet since she was 14, Mary Slocum was the last winner of the Portland Artquake competition in the 90s and a winner of Washington State Poetry Assn. humorous poetry competition in the 90s. Mary Slocum has been published in Stanza, NW Literary Review, Upper Left Edge, Tradeswomen’s Network Newsletter, Black Cat, Portland Alliance, Work and Carcenogenic. She enjoys reading more than publishing and has also appeared with a comedy collective. Presently working on a complete collection and some of which is on her website:


Great Expectations

For $70,000 they gave me a Masters in Social Work,
Expecting to , “Do no Harm”,
Be of service, Fix the broken,
Services purported to care.

Got my first job
County Mental Health Clinic,
Hangin with schizophrenics
And their voices,
I was in my element.
Politics, beaurocracy, funding
Cuts dropped like a rock
In clients puddled in the street,
Rippling out to the community.
Homeless for the first time in their lives,
And management
let me tell them they were homeless.

Charged for meds that kept them
“Stable”. Complained about
By Christian neighbors
In the grocery line. Boss
Chewing social workers out for our clients
Making their neighbors uncomfortable.
Peeking behind the curtain
Wizard now lacking arms
Could no longer deny
I volunteer for the layoff
So the budget would balance.
And I can
Do No Harm.

Got the second job
Pushing Methadone
To addicts poor and homeless.
Believed it was treatment.
Same curtain, different wizard.
Loved the groups, loved the people trying,
Loved to help until I focused.
On the  business, It was a business.
Charged for dosing.
Methadone eats calcium from bone,
Curtain flapping in the breeze.
Clients with walkers after years of “Treatment”
For this illness of addiction.
Taught that relapse was a symptom,
Saw them cut the dose to punish for the symptom.
Withdrawal price for illness,
Methadone  more addictive medication than when they started
Do No Harm.

Curtain billowing.
Relapse. A limit to the  number of groups
you can attend
After the hook is set. “Do No Harm”
Pounding  in my ears
Support allowed only once a month
Makes it hard to schedule cravings
I let anyone in my groups that showed up.
Got busted, got fired,
Happy now I could “Do No Harm”.
Expectations filling.

Got foster girls, thought I might be effective.
Got threatened. Had my furniture thrown at me.
Laser shot anger focuses burning through my skull
Laughter dies in my home.
Asked for medication management.
Told it was a once a month privilege
Got bit, kicked and hit.
Watched her try to kill my dog, kill her fish.
Never knew there could be so much anger in
Such a small package, I was paying for their damage by their system,
I too was angry.
Still wanted to Do No Harm.
Decided I needed to help myself.
Left the program, stayed in bed for months.
Lost all faith in humanity to be human.
Lost like dust bunnies under a couch.

Got an e-mail
Class on “How to tell your client
You have no resources.” “How to handle their frustration
When you tell them the truth.
Behind the curtain. That you have no services.
$125 to change your expectations to, “Do No Harm”.


back to WORK

  1. This is a powerful piece. Well done!

  2. A thought provoking and strong image of what it may be like on the other side of the desk – I spent a couple decades on the receiving end as my wife got endless and ultimately worthless counseling for schizophrenia – all the while I, the responsible adult, was being told that things are getting better. Doing no harm often amounted to pretending to do good. Whatever the actual value of the services, the services are being eviscerated.

  3. It is amazing that anyone will still try to be therapeutic or helpful or to do no harm..certainly can’t be done in a bureaucratic system that looks to accountabiity and practitioners are sometimes sicker than the sick person being treated and it never occurs that we could all, no matter what, treat each other like human beings. I like this poem a lot as it’s honest, painfully honest and true….and well written

  4. Thanks so much for all the understanding….please be kind to your social workers wherever you encounter them. They got the degree because they believed they could make a difference, then discovered the bait and switch that is the helping professions.

  5. […] out Ms. Slocum’s past poetry here documenting the vindictive rage of a wronged employee, here where she hangs with schizophrenics, and here in which she goes to a meeting gone awry. What better […]

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