for a moment, that you are working in a maximum security psychiatric hospital that houses mentally ill and disordered male convicts who are placed in your facility by the courts.
In particular, you work with patients (inmates, really) who are involuntarily committed because they fit the criteria for the Sexually Violent Predator Program. The men in this program have completed their prison sentences, but are deemed too dangerous to allow back into society because they’re ‘the worst of the worst.’ They are sexually-motivated predatory stalkers — serial rapists, child rapists and sexually sadistic stalkers. Most are diagnosed psychopaths.
As an employee, you are well aware of this. You received training about psychopathy along with warnings that they would attempt to manipulate and victimize you. You were trained to recognize it.
That would be enough to keep you or your coworkers from any chance of being manipulated, seduced and victimized … right?
Wrong. Many still end up being duped and losing their jobs, their professional licenses, their money and even their freedom (because sex with an inmate or patient is a crime). It’s a persistent problem in forensic psychiatric facilities.
In this post, I interview a woman I’ll call “Gabriella” who worked in such a place for eight years. Her story is at once fascinating and disturbing.
Gabriella worked at Atascadero State Hospital in California, an all-male, maximum-security psychiatric facility, as a licensed psychiatric technician, part of the mental health treatment team that included registered nurses, psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists.
According to the law, a “sexually violent predator” means a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense that included a predatory relationship with one or more victims, and who has a diagnosed mental disorder that makes them a danger to others in that it is likely that he or she will continue to engage in sexually violent criminal behavior. Twenty states allow civil commitment of violent sexual offenders deemed likely to strike again.
Here is my conversation with Gabriella.
Adelyn: What kind of training did the facility give the staff regarding psychopathic patients? Were you warned of the dangers?
Gabriella: We were given a lot of training. We were taught about psychopathy, and we were warned that they were very manipulative and would try to victimize us. They taught us to spot manipulative behavior.
A: But they were able to manipulate staff members anyway?
G: Yes! During my eight years there, hundreds of my coworkers were ‘walked out’ (meaning they were fired and removed from the premises) after it became apparent they developed relationships with patients. Many of them lost their licenses.
A: Hundreds? Wow. What positions did they hold?
G: They were psych techs, kitchen workers, psychologists, social workers, nurses — lots of nurses!
A: How did the psychopathic patients manipulate them and/or seduce them?
G: The patients had nothing else to do but watch us. They were always watching, always listening. Their minds were like blank slates. Nothing but predators. They would start by testing boundaries — they’d be friendly and give compliments. If someone was receptive to these small things, that was a green light for them to go further. They would ask for a favor, or sometimes get someone to break a rule for them, such as giving them a cigarette. If they got them to break a rule, they would often blackmail them by threatening to report them, so the staff person would have to keep doing them favors to avoid getting in trouble. The patient owned them at that point.
If they wanted sex or someone to pay for a legal defense, they would get the staff person to fall in love with them. They would end up having sex with them in their rooms.
A: How would a patient — whom the staff knew was a psychopath and a sexually violent predator — get someone to fall in love with them?
G: These guys were charismatic, good talkers, good looking, they worked out…they would tell their target stories of how they were just misunderstood, of how they had terrible childhoods filled with abuse…then they would tell the staff person they were the only one who truly understood them…they would make the victim feel special. They put them on a pedestal! They were made to believe the patient could be saved, that they only needed unconditional love and someone to believe in them. Psychopaths morph themselves into the perfect person for their victim. There is no reasoning with a person who has fallen under the spell of a psychopath — they just need to be physically restrained until the chemicals wear off. What it really came down to was hypnosis.
A: Tell me more about the hypnosis.
G: They took over the victim’s minds somehow. You could see it — the person wasn’t there anymore. They were out of their minds. It was obvious. And they would start dressing nicely, wearing makeup, losing weight. You could not reason with them at all. They really believed that everyone had the patient all wrong, that they were really a nice, wonderful person. One of the patients seduced more than 12 women, who were all fired. I was friends with a psychologist who worked there. She fell hard for one of the patients, and left her job before she could be fired. She paid for his legal defense and actually got him released. They moved in together, and in less than a year she lost everything. Her money, everything. She was so embarrassed once she realized what had happened. I never heard from her again.
A: What do you think made these staff members vulnerable to these manipulators?
G: They were insecure. Lonely. Some were overweight or single parents or newly divorced. They didn’t have good boundaries. Some were even married with children! Many of them had that caregiver mentality.
A: Did you ever fall victim to their manipulation?
G: No, I didn’t. I could see it, it was obvious to me.
A: What do you think it was that prevented you from being victimized?
G: I’m a confident alpha! And I was in a good relationship. I was in love.
A: Do you think you could tell if a new friend or acquaintance was psychopathic?
G: Well, not right away, probably not. But I think I’d figure it out before long.
G: I’d be wary of someone who was super-charismatic. Or too un-selfish. Anyone who was too good to be true.
A: What lesson or message is there in what you experienced?
G: People need to be educated! There needs to be more discussion. It needs to come out of the closet. No one really knows what a psychopath is. Psychopathy is a disorder. A neurobiological disorder. They’re born with it, and there is no cure. People need to know the danger.
“In jail settings, the rule of thumb for therapists is that if you genuinely like a patient and want to advocate for them to have a lesser sentence, then you need to ask yourself if the person has psychopathic traits.”
It is my belief that those of us who were victimized by a psychopath (and became fully aware of what happened) would not fall for a sexually violent psychopathic criminal confined to a psychiatric hospital. But it amazes me that people who are educated about psychopathy, and who know the people they are dealing with are psychopaths and sexually violent predators, can still be victimized.
I’m not blaming them — I’m simply trying to make a point about the level of manipulation psychopaths are capable of.