The Witness


I contacted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and got from them test protocols.  I took these to Dr. Sidney Orgel, a psychologist on the staff of Upstate Medical Center.  He had a private practice run out of an office in his home and it was there that he did the testing.  Typically, when a psychologist does testing, he has the report prepared within two weeks.  I waited several weeks without hearing anything, then called Dr. Orgel.  He put me off.  I waited, and called again.  Again he put me off.  Thereafter, my calls would be taken by his wife, who would put me off.

After two months of waiting, I would have turned my back on Orgel, taken the protocols and found another psychologist to do the testing, however, Orgel had the protocols.  I would have to start over with the FAA.  After waiting three months, Orgel finally produced the report.  Meeting in his home office, I read the report and found it to be about what I expected.  No surprises.  Neither good nor bad, just a report that ended with a sentence to the effect that Dr. Sidney Orgel recommended me for a pilot’s license.

At this point the highly observant psychologist said, “You seem angry.”

I agreed that I was, indeed, angry and murmured something about the length of time he kept me waiting for the report.

Orgel replied, “No, I think you’re angry about the report.”  As a professional psychologist, there was no doubt that the test results would support every word he wrote in the report.  As a human being, there was no way he could justify holding me incommunicado for three months.  And an immoral therapist uses psychological manipulation to avoid responsibility for his actions.  And I, recognizing this as a no-win situation for me, got up and walked out.

A week later, I got Orgel’s bill.  Three months later, I paid it.

And why was John now asking if I knew Sidney Orgel?

Ah, because John had learned that Dr. Sidney Orgel had gone to Richard Sheeran’s defense team and volunteered to testify against me!  I was shocked and appalled—even more so because there were now other witnesses who also would be called to testify in the hearing and I would not be present.  Initially, John had been uncertain about whether or not to have me attend the hearing, but his position had solidified behind “or not.”

I wanted to be there.  It was my life.  Doctors who were privy to my innermost thoughts and feelings would be testifying about me.  I needed to be there!  I needed to know what was being said about me!  John quietly and firmly stood his ground and said that I would not be present.  Basically, I think he needed to be free to question the witnesses without risking upsetting me, and I’m sure he didn’t want the defense attorneys to get any hint of what might upset me lest they use it in trial.

But it was bloody awful for me.  I would spend my days in my small, dark office at work with my mind in the courthouse.  The hearing was taking place in odd bits and pieces as it was convenient for the witnesses and the judge.  Were they meeting in the judge’s chambers or the courtroom?  John said that an attorney always wanted his witnesses to testify in the judge’s chambers where it was somewhat informal and the witness would feel more comfortable.  Conversely, an attorney would want the opposition’s witnesses to testify in the courtroom where they would be intimidated.

Who was testifying and what were they saying about me?  Your therapist knows more about you than your mother or your best friend—and what did these people who were testifying know about me?  My mind would go back and forth, searching every contact I’d had with them, trying to remember every word I’d said, everything they knew about me—everything they could say about me in a hearing where the seal of silence was meaningless.  From the therapist’s mouth to the front page of The Syracuse Newspapers!  What might I—and tens of thousands of others—read about me on the front page of tomorrow’s paper?

I was in torment—and I was alone.  I had had episodes of depression since I was fourteen, and depressed people don’t have many friends.  My mother was the only person with whom I spoke about the investigation.  I was withdrawn, introverted, and afraid.  I couldn’t trust anyone.  If a therapist could voluntarily choose sides and testify against me, then who could I trust?  After work I would go home, eat supper, sit in bed and play three games of solitaire Scrabble, and then go to sleep—or try to.

The trial of Richard Sheeran started without me.  I did not know it at the time, but the prosecutor’s had planned to call me as the first witness—call the little typist, whose Marine Corps fiancé had recently died, to tell the jury that her boss tried to get her to buy tickets to a political function and ended by saying “Now you can say you’ve had your first shakedown.”  The county bosses knew what they were doing; they were extorting money from civil servants for the Republican Committee.  What they were saying, as reported in the newspapers, was that it was just like asking employees for contributions to the United Way.  Putting me on as the first witness would frame the case for the jury:  the defendant knew what he was doing and knew that it was wrong.

And then Willie called me back to the prosecutor’s office for another hit:  the defense attorney had gotten the judge to order that I had to submit to an interview by their psychiatrist.  And their psychiatrist was a relative of Ed Gerber, the lead defense attorney; they thought she was his sister.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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