Interview with Our Case Manager

How long have you been working at Safe Harbor?

I have been working at Safe harbor for 21 months

Did you start off at Safe Harbor as a Case Manager?

I started off as a client care coordinator, that’s our term for employees with tech duties. Observing med pass, intakes, discharges, rounds, cleaning the house, taking gentlemen to meetings, running review groups in the evening, being a model for sober life, that kind of thing. I became a Case Manager in September 2019, so it’s been 10 months now.

What’s a typical day like as a Case Manager?

I like to get in a little early, check on the guys. I find that sharing that first cup of coffee and chopping it up is essential to forging that therapeutic alliance. Then I get a list of basic needs from the guys, and as they start their groups I begin to catch up on any documentation, read the shift notes from the previous night, check it with family, referrals, legal team, my BD team, other clinical staff, our medical team; basically, anyone involved with their Tx so that I can stay on top of any changes to their treatment or discharge planning. It’s important for me to check in with every guy, every single day. I guess that’s a luxury of having a smaller Tx facility. I like to keep an open-door policy, so you better believe I’ll have a few impromptu 1:1’s throughout the day. I prep homework for the guys, read homework that has been turned in. I save the homework for the 1:1 sessions usually. Sometimes I do 1:1’s first thing in the morning, some times I do them in the afternoon – depending on the Ct. Throughout the day I’m always looking at both phones for updates from my team or support, and answer accordingly. Then comes group time, and I like to curate my groups to the crowd I’m dealing with, so I can tend to get creative. We keep a pretty tight phone policy at our facility and I like to be there for any calls that may stir up challenging emotions.

Shane Niels, Case Manager

What does it mean to be an advocate in the court system?

Out of all the gentlemen I have helped in recovery I find that the ones with the least amount of advocacy are the guys who are in big trouble, or have extensive legal history. When these guys have the blessing to go to DTX/RTC and have the ability to continue aftercare in California, I make it a point to really drive home the recovery process. I make it a point to refer to my colleagues about the legal process, as oftentimes I find my peers who have been doing this longer than I have a lot of insight and can help make the process smoother. I also have a group of lawyers I have recently started working with that I bounce stuff off of if the need arises, that’s a good card to have in my back pocket. I have a buddy down south who is working with inmates and recently paroled populations specifically, and I am paying close attention to the work he does. THE most important thing I do is keep a line of communication with their lawyer or parole/probation officer. This is crucial, but even more crucial is respecting the HIPAA laws. Working with guys who are involved in the judicial system really gave me a new respect for the ethics involved in what I do. Knowing what to say, and what not to say, and when and how to say it, is important. And as a Case Manager, I am basically speaking on behalf of these guys, so I need to be thorough in any updates I give, and give them on time – there are no excuses.
Being an advocate is also different depending on the case, which states the CT is coming from if there are children involved, etc etc. The South is really tough to deal with.

Can you walk us through the process of advocating for someone within the court system?

We had this guy that jumped parole from a state down south, who is particularly harsh on drug addicts. He ended up staying with us for 3 weeks, but 1 week in, there was a warrant issued for his arrest for absconding. I got on the phone with his parole officer, who was real by the book, and I was getting nowhere, so I demanded to speak to his supervisor. While I waited on the call back I scoured the website for his state’s parole board and found out that he can not legally come back if there was a threat of COVID. Now, I know I couldn’t keep this guy for much longer, but I used that angle to see if I could squash the warrant – and it worked! I printed out his state entire parole board policy manual and read it that night to see if there were any other tricks I could use to keep this guy out of prison, because while his state saw him as repeating an offense, I got a different read from this guy, that he wanted help, and I was going to do everything I could to keep him. I still remember when that lady called me, as she was shoveling panda express in her face on her lunch break. She was so angry and expected me to just send him home with a warrant, all the while knowing that the ball is in her court and ultimately Id have to sing to her tune. This guy had actually been extradited a few years before by this same lady and locked up – so I knew she was serious, and the stakes were high. As I’m having this chat, and she is chewing over the phone, and barking orders, saying he’s being violated and going to serve out the rest of his term all I could think about was how this guy broke down to me the night before about his life back home and how he just cannot seem to escape his cycle of using and prison. I kept my cool, I said all the right stuff, and I got him another week – and the warrant was squashed. When I broke the news to him that he was going to have to go back home, he actually started crying after seeing the parole board manual on my desk, he stated that he had never seen anyone do anything like that for him. I’m getting chills as I write this because it really was a pivotal moment in my career. This guy was in his 40’s, a battle-hardened jailbird, a big boy too. Covered in tattoos with this prison swag you just can’t imitate. He was the real mccoy, stuck in the system. While I didn’t get his parole transferred to California, I got him back safe with no violations or warrants. And sometimes that’s all I can do. I still talk to him, our whole team does, and he has had his ups and downs, but I’m still working on getting him moved. I am working with some lawyers out East who are looking into his case, they work out of Maryland, but I’ve told them about him and I’m not giving up until I know all options are exhausted.

Why is advocacy important in the treatment space?

You know, I grew up in a broken home, where no one was really watching after me or asking questions, and a lot of sketchy stuff can happen in an environment like that. I got kicked out of every school I ever went to, I got beat up by cops, shipped from treatment center to treatment center, screwed over by public defenders, and I never really understood the rules of the game or how to be in a lot of situations until I got much older. Someone had to show me the ropes, not just in the system, but in how to act as well. For some of these guys, my team and I are the only ones on their side, and that’s heavy. But it makes it that much more important. I keep my phone on me and always answer back with good news about what these CTs are going through and the hard work they are putting in. Even if they have hard days, the fact they made it through and stayed another day is a Win, with a capital W, and that doesn’t get the praises it deserves often. So many of these guys come in and refuse to fill our ROI’s for loved ones, lawyers, parents, spouses, etc because everyone else they have run into is just working like the system. I enjoy showing these guys how to maneuver in the system so that they can ultimately learn to advocate for themselves, because one day, they will be out of my care, and they have got to be savvy enough to make moves that lead them to a more fulfilling life.

Favorite part about your job:

When a guy starts to open up, for real. I can see the doldrums of standard trauma stories these guys tell, it plays like a broken record. I’d hate to put it like that, but many of these guys are burnt in the treatment process. They feel hopeless. They feel like lost causes, and sometimes they actually are. Parents have given up, spouses, relatives, friends, and here they are. In front of me. And now I have to do this dance, and rely on the rest of my team to get this guy to crack. To lay it all out there. And my team and I are pretty good, I’m grateful for that. But my favorite part of the job is when they start crying. In a silent room, one on one. Because I know how they are taking part in their own recovery, trusting my team and the process. I’ve seen the catharsis many times, a ritual of recovery taking place. That bonding moment, the conversation that changes a life. It’s an honor to be a part of that. These things are tough, you know, traumas. But how do we fix what isn’t there right? If we don’t shine a light on these challenges we are facing, these things will keep dictating our life from the shadows, like a sadistic puppet master inside of us, fueling the cycle that keeps us sick.

The most challenging part about your job:

Is it morbid to answer death? I mean that’s what we’re all thinking right? That’s always really rough, but unfortunately, I don’t ever just get the phone call. I hear it and see it. I’ve been on phone conversations, 3 way, with parents and someone who is on a run, and It’s hard to stay positive in situations like that. With the Mother crying, the Father screaming he wishes his kid would just die already, and the kid screams obscenities and threats. I mean, what does someone do in a situation like that? You pick the guy up if it’s possible. If he’s willing. If he’s not, then you try and get some sleep and it’s time to get reoriented for the next day because other guys need the help. Then you wait. If I’m lucky, I mean real lucky, I get an email or text from my BD team that he is coming in, and we get prepared. If I’m not that lucky, then, I grieve in my own way.
Seeing these guys leave treatment too early, or not following a continued lower level of care always gives me anxiety, because while recovery isn’t really a science, I’ve seen enough success stories to know that a guy needs more than a 30-day crash course of rehabilitation. Community building, spiritual healing, work on traumas, 12 step work, mending relationships with families, getting a job, car, seeing kids again, finishing up court obligations, paying fines; these things take MONTHS! And I didn’t even mention working on the anxiety, and depression, PTSD, sleep, self-esteem, maladaptive behaviors, etc. This stuff just doesn’t happen in 30 days, and more often than not when a guy doesn’t work down to lower levels of care, over an extended period of time, something gets missed and they come back to me saying ‘I don’t know what happened!’.
So yeah, I guess those are the most challenging things.

A brief overview of Shane’s personal experience in recovery

This time? That’s where ill start. I’ve got a few years now, and I feel good about the work I’ve put in. I moved out here from Chicago and got involved with a treatment facility that was all-male and had all-male staff. That was a big change for me. And It didn’t take place in a facility. It was what they call ‘holistic’. I had never experienced anything like it. I committed to 6 months and did the damn deed. It was rigorous, and I’m blessed with the opportunity. I got a sponsor right away and began working the steps, but I didn’t hinge my entire recovery on it. I knew there was stuff I needed to work on that only a therapist could help with, and I had 2 of the best in the game. I connected with them, and still keep in touch with them. I began to build a sober community around me, and took a leap of faith, and put my recovery in that group. I share everything with these guys, the heartbreak, the anxiety, family troubles, fluctuation of motivation. All that good stuff. And I’m lucky enough to have a group of guys around me that cares. And then I got this job at The Harbor, which is not recommended for someone in early recovery, but I made it through the gauntlet. People always talk about helping others and ask me why I don’t sponsor people. Sponsoring people just isn’t my get down. I think the opportunity I have to help is sufficient for giving back. For the first time in my life, I have real freedom. I am not involved with the courts anymore. I don’t owe anybody money. I have a car. I’m going back to school. But today it’s still important for me to remember that I am a work in progress, and there is always room for improvement.

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