Sometimes Amazing Things Happen
“If you have ever been a correctional psychiatrist, no account before Elizabeth Ford’s Sometimes Amazing Things Happen quite adequately conveys the vexing challenge of caring for these immensely complex patients at the cross roads of psychiatry and the criminal justice system. These patients are tragic exemplars of the worst mishaps of childhood adversity, human cruelty, and neurodevelopment run amok. The simplistic notion that psychiatric patients in jails and prisons are merely displaced occupants of shuttered state mental hospitals is thoroughly dispelled by Ford’s extraordinary account of caretaking for these deeply disturbed men who do bad things. She shows their human complexity, sadness, and impulsive rage, poignantly revealing the struggle of a physician to try to heal enough of what ails them in order to offer a chance at freedom. This is an illuminating account of the lives she encounters, her challenge to humanize the jail hospital environment, but moreover an unadorned exploration of how a doctor maintains hope and perseveres in the face of overwhelming human and institutional dysfunction.
—Marvin Swartz, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University School of Medicine
Welcome to the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward, a maximum-security hospital and inpatient psychiatric unit for the inmates of the New York City jail system, with its hub on Rikers Island. It is a world of heartbreak, violence, and pain, where severely ill men are often lost in a tangle of courts, jails, and bureaucracy. It is also a place of challenges, redemption, and surprising joy, where tough, hardworking doctors and staff fight to care for and keep safe a population that many would like to forget. This is where Dr. Elizabeth Ford, now the Chief of Psychiatry for Correctional Health Services for New York City’s Health and Hospitals, found her calling.
Dr. Ford shares her stories of caring for these patients—from one of the most hated and alienated inmates at Rikers, who cries when discussing his abusive childhood, to the writer, who agrees to treatment in exchange for Dr. Ford’s take on the opening chapter of his book, to the twenty-four-year-old schizophrenic whom Dr. Ford later encounters on the streets of Manhattan, happy and healthy after finally finding the right medication.
Ford’s riveting memoir is marked by explosive crises, episodes of violent psychosis, but also moving stories of compassion and hope in the face of overwhelming dysfunction. Eloquent and urgent, her indelible chronicle offers affecting proof that sometimes amazing things happen.