In summary, I have a harmless, mentally-ill person who calls me regularly from prison.
So, as I mentioned in a previous post I work at a government agency call center. The thing about call centers, ESPECIALLY the ones serving the government, is that repeat tin-foil-hat crazies are common place. Shortly after I started working there a few years ago, the big-importants up at the top decided to ban the term ‘FREQUENT FLYERS’. When I say banned I mean banned! If you were overheard telling someone about a crazy caller (and calling them crazies or frequent flyers) the manager would call you in to speak with them.
Those on top believed that it put the customer service rep into a bad mindset by encouraging negative stigma towards callers who repeatedly call back due to mental illness. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about ranting mentally-ill people who waste time by tying up the lines hundreds of times a day instead of getting real help…but apparently the answer is not negatively. So, ever the brown-noser, I made a genuine attempt to play by the rules.
I began affectionately referring to repeat-crazy people as ‘buddies’. Management can’t say anything to that because it sounds just so damn friendly. In fact, I have a great manager and supervisor who think my way around the stupid rule is hilarious. Weirdly enough, over the last couple years I’ve genuinely begun to develop a fondness for some ‘buddies’.
This story is about one of my favorite ‘buddies’.
A lot of our repeat callers have been calling for years, some of them as long as fifteen years but this lovely fellow cropped up more recently. Everyone at the office associates this guy with me, sometimes even going so far as to call him ‘*my name*’s caller’, because when he first started this pattern I was the one who got him. I ‘discovered him’, as it were.
So lets go back in time a year and a half (or so) ago. I’d recently switched departments and was learning a new job so they sat me next to my supervisor for the first six months. It had only been about two months when he called for the first time.
“Thank you for calling. How may I help you today?” I made sure to use my best customer service voice.
THIS DUDE TOOK OFF.
It was really difficult to make out what he was saying because he had a really bad stutter. Now, there’s nothing wrong with stuttering. In high school I used to volunteer with children who often had speech impediments. I know how to deal with it and I’m nothing but patient. But this wasn’t just a speech impediment – this guy’s stuttering was like listening to techno music. I’d never heard anything like it. I remember my mind just going blank as I panicked thinking ‘omg! What is he saying!? What does he want? How do I help him?’
So, somehow, I managed to get his account number and look it up but I was still completely confused about what he was hoping to accomplish. At one point I thought I had made out the word ‘stolen’ so I wondered if he was calling to report that his product was stolen.
“Are you calling to report your _________ lost or stolen?” I finally asked.
“I-I-I-I N-N S-S-S-S WH-WH-WHAAAT’S MY NAME?” He asks me. I am lost.
We have privacy policies in place that prevent us from releasing information, we can only confirm information. In other words, you need to tell me your name before I can proceed and I can’t tell you your name. You need to tell me your name so I can verify you’re…well….you. Thus commenced a game of ring-around-the-rosie for four minutes as I attempted to get him to tell me his name.
For obvious reasons I will not disclose his full name but let’s just say…everyone in my office knows his name by heart. This guy has a compulsion where very time he tells someone his name (and he has multiple middle names) he needs to give you an example of a famous person which makes his name really easy to memorize. If that was his goal, he accomplished it. For the purpose of this story, let’s call him Don ‘as in Donald Trump’ (following his pattern of giving a famous-persons name every time).
So, after some agonizing minutes, I eventually manage to decipher that he thinks someone has stolen his name and his purpose in calling is to get a ‘government official’ (who he thinks is me) to confirm that his name has not been stolen. And yes; he means physically stolen. As if a person walked up to him, reached out, took his name and ran away. Once I figured this out I remember feeling so unbearably sad for this individual and the world he must live in.
Now, I deal with mentally ill people frequently and the truth is it’s made me a bit of a hardass. I’m pretty good at shrugging it off and moving on with my life. I rarely contemplate what their mental-worlds must be like. I think I felt bad for him mostly because he wasn’t screaming at me, or ranting, or cussing at me. He just had the world’s worst stutter and seemed to be the harmless brand of mentally ill.
So, once I manage to wheedle his information out of him so I can confirm his identity, I satisfy his odd compulsion by I repeating his name back to him a few times in a calm and level voice. I reassure him that it is indeed still his name because that’s what I see in the file. It’s still there and no one has taken it.
After a couple minutes the call ends.
“T-thank you, *my name*.” He had been in such a fit it was remarkable he could remember the name I’d introduced myself with, “You have a good day.” His stutter, in the course of me reassuring him of his name had all but disappeared. I tell him to have a good day too and I hang up, extremely confused by the interaction.
Weird call, right? Can’t get weirder, right?
Now, as I mentioned, I was new in that department and sat next to the supervisor so her spidey-senses had started tingling and she’d walked over to stand next to me. She asked me about the call and I told her the details, venting about how weird it was. This guy’s information (name, address etc.) is still up on my screen as we’re talking.
“That address…” She said, “I know that address from somewhere.”
I shrugged it off when she said it because the address was in the city where the call center was located. I had noticed when I was talking to him (I had to verify his address to proceed) but I hadn’t though much of it. Lots of people live in that city….hence the high-volume call center.
“No, no.” She insists, “I know that address.”
She disappears over to her cubicle and I hear her typing while I gather myself, getting myself a drink of water. The call had been a little frustrating and disorienting so I needed a really quick second to myself.
“Omygod.” She whispers, “*my name* come here. Come look at this!” She appears surprised and extremely amused.
She brought his address up using google maps.
It was the nearby federal prison. This guy had called from prison. And not just ‘oh i got arrested for a bit of weed’ level prison…it was ‘i killed a man and ate his ear’ level prison. It was medium-maximum security prison.
So, whether I liked it or not, my relationship my ‘prison buddy’ began. He calls back at least once a month and will call repeatedly until he gets me. Some of my other colleagues, including my supervisor, have tried to talk him down using the method I gave them but it doesn’t seem to work for them. However, as soon as he talks to me, he stops calling and we don’t hear from him for another month.
His stutter is unmistakable, and my email starts ‘blowing up’ with warnings that he’s calling, so when I do get him I can always say in a kind tone, “Good morning, Don. How are you? You know the drill, your account number please.”
To add to the weirdness (and slight hilarity) sometimes when he calls he is being supervised by either a guard or a staff member at the prison (we’re not entirely sure and we don’t exactly make conversation), who my co-workers can hear saying things like “No, Don, you can’t call again. We’re done today.” or “Don, for goodness sake.” I only ever interacted with a prison staff member once who said ‘my lord I am so sorry about this’. I kind of laughed it off.
I just hope that if Don ever gets out of prison, I’m right about him being harmless, he remembers how nice I’ve been and doesn’t come find me to eat my face or something.