Whose Phone Is It Anyway?

Date: January 3, 2020
Image: a render of a Wall phone by Brunno Tozzo, courtesy Unsplash

unsplash-logoBrunno Tozzo

When you mess with something, you should understand what you're messing with. Be humble enough to know when you're out of your league and back away from the product. I did not always heed this advice, and it created a situation that I regret immensely about eight years prior to the story I'm about to tell.


Summer was winding down in Battle Hill. In spite of all the suffering I had suffered on New York City streets, I felt it was important to share my progress with others. I shared most of my progress with the Yonkers Service Center until I put my distance in August 2016. The facility was being defunded, and people were getting agitated. I didn't want to be around when someone's anger got the better of them.

One thing I resented was the new leadership, who was led by [#a3t72m]. I think she was a bad fit and was driving her colleagues away because they felt devalued in her presence. I watched this play out as longtime psychiatrists gave their notice to her, one after another. I experienced it as our peer specialist submitted his notice. I eventually started questioning the disinvestment to her colleagues, but they always tried to change the subject.

One day, the phone system changed, and nobody knew what to do with it. It blindsided everyone, including [#a3t72m], who did nothing to allay the concerns raised by her subordinates. They were stuck with a system they knew nothing about, and no idea how to dial each other internally. I immediately recognized the system, as it resembles one I broke, a story I shared with them BEFORE they let me offer my help. It felt great to be trusted, and I didn't break anything this time because I followed the advice set out in the title inset.

I discovered that new extensions were assigned, so I took note of those. I then populated the labels on each phone receiver, and noticed that they would populate receivers elsewhere, meaning people could now see each other, even if they did not know their extensions. I successfully created a local address book by gaining and not misusing the trust of 80% of the faculty. I felt great.

However, [#a3t72m] was embarrassed, and as she scolded me, she constantly rolled her eyes, and her eyebrows made some weird dance. I didn't regret it, and proceeded to say what was on the mind of her subordinates, who could not speak freely. Instead of admitting wrongdoing, she made everyone's jobs harder. Earlier that week, I was trying to secure a letter of recommendation from my therapist, [#a9t44f], explaining that my independent spirit should afford me a greater say in the SPOA process. Out of spite, [#a3t72m] asked [#a9t44f] to withhold the letter.

I want people to know that I reached out to those best positioned to help me when I became homeless. I did not start this journey with the belief that I could go it alone. I felt that with that action, YSC could no longer be a partner in the recovery process. I shared this story with a state liaison and a SSA representative during recertification, and explained that I can't work with an entity that obstructs my progress out of spite. They accepted this argument, and I proceeded to pivot to another approach - finding work.

- 🚏

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