Schizophrenia, Prison Visits, and the Morgue

I was thinking after last week’s Non-Immigrant Visa exam that the tough part of ConGen was behind us and that we’d have a relatively easy final two weeks focusing on American Citizen Services.  I obviously didn’t look too closely at the syllabus.  American Citizen Services, or ACS, covers all of the areas in which the consular section helps U.S. citizens abroad.  Unlike visa adjudication, the answers to each question are not necessarily laid out in the Immigration and Naturalization Act or the Foreign Affairs Manual.

Consular officers tend to either love or avoid ACS work.  It is by far the most emotionally charged and it requires the most improvisation.  Physical and Mental Illnesses, Victims of Crime, International Child Abductions, Arrests, Destitution, and Deaths are just a few of the problems we will have to address.

This week we’ve been doing a lot of ACS exercises.  Although the vast majority of my legal career focused on intellectual property and antitrust litigation, while doing pro bono work in Boston, I visited a few clients in prison.  The exercise, however, was something new.  While others watched (and later evaluated), I spent a 1/2-hour session in a prison cell interviewing a schizophrenic who alternated between incoherent shouts at phantom voices with pleas for the return of his guitar apparently lost on a train after he was arrested for riding without a ticket and resisting arrest.  Apparently, a number of U.S. citizens in prisons abroad have some struggle with mental illness so the scenario is not very far-fetched.  It was just an exercise, but I was exhausted afterwards.

Today, we spent the morning working on telephone exercises in which we had to notify husbands, wives, and parents that their spouses or children had been killed during a vacation abroad.  I’m very glad to have had the experience of doing it in a controlled environment (and watching others) dealing with grief, denial, and anger.  I don’t think anyone is prepared to do that the first time, but practice definitely helps.

In the afternoon, we had our last field trip, traveling to the DC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.  We met with grief counselors and learned about the autopsy process so we can explain to our clients (not nearly as glamorous or sterile as CSI).  Like the exercises, they also wanted us to see a dead body up close here, before we have to deal with it in the field.  Nothing like a trip to the morgue to lighten things up before the week-end.


5 thoughts on “Schizophrenia, Prison Visits, and the Morgue

  1. Just had the honor of working with a CONS officer in ACS this past weekend. She helped us out immensely when we needed to get an entire aircrew out of the country a day after their visas expired (their plane broke). She helped on a Saturday with a smile on her face, never complaining that we called her several times at home. Wonderful.

    1. Love to hear those stories. It is amazing how quickly we all associate ourselves with our colleagues abroad. I don’t pretend that life in Ottawa will be as challenging as most posts, but I will no doubt have similar situations from which a citizen’s or visitor’s view of the foreign service, embassy community, and the United States will be formed.

      Glad the crew got out of town efficiently!

  2. Daniel, your stories are amazing and I look forward to hearing all about what you are doing. However, this one make me want to have a drink at 7:39 am. Really tough! You are doing a great job and we all look forward to you stories in Ottawa!
    Take care and lots of love from PA.

    1. Thanks, Michelle. I admit I had a couple of scotches last night (as could probably be detected from some of the sloppy writing of that post, since corrected).

      Congrats on the new endeavor. It sounds like a fantastic move. I know you’ll do great things there.

  3. That sounds like an improvement from my days at ConGenRossyln. No field trips were involved, so had I ever done ACS work, my first morgue trip would have been overseas.

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