The Psychiatric Interview


I was about to be subjected to the manipulations of the defense team’s psychiatrist.  This was not going to be some impartial, neutral psychiatrist who would try to be objective.  This would be defense attorney Ed Gerber’s chosen psychiatrist who would feed him everything she got from me.  John assured me that Willie would go with me; Willie would be in the room while the interview took place.  Dear Willie, whom I adored.  Prior to attending law school he and some friends had formed a rhythm and blues band they called Margaret Sanger’s Rhythm Boys (Sanger was the mother of birth control and established Planned Parenthood).

Going to the Special Prosecutor’s Office, despite the horrendous things that they had to tell me, always was a pleasure.  In the first place, the staff members, without exception, were happy people.  From the secretaries up to the boss, they were smart people who were cheerful and funny.  The secretaries always greeted me warmly.  The investigators, while quiet and close-mouthed, were kind.  The attorneys, even as they did hard things, did them with humor.  Clearly, they all were friends and liked each other.  The Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office had been a snarly place of bitterness, acrimony and petty egos.

In the Special Prosecutor’s Office, right, truth and justice prevailed.  The attorney’s—Peter Andreoli, Guido Viseone, John, Willie and X (the fellow who constituted the “appeals unit”) actually were men of honor and integrity.  It never was about winning; it always was about doing the right thing.  There were no manipulations or shortcuts; there always was the law and the truth.  They prosecuted for The People and they never once for one moment forgot that.  The prosecutor and his staff were, without exception, revolted by the behavior of the men of the Onondaga County government and Republican Committee.  The locals in Onondaga County had taken the sacred trust of the citizens and perverted it into personal power and the prosecutors had every intention of seeing some justice done.

And Willie would go with me to the psychiatric interview—except that he wouldn’t.  During preparation for the interview, which consisted of John and Willie going over ever possibility they could think of as to what the doctor might ask, John told me that Willie had to be elsewhere so Matt (?) would come with me.  Matt was the so-called “Appeals Unit.”  When John had decided to call for the hearing, Matt had been brought in to listen to my story and then draft the order that they put before the judge for his signature.  I’d met Matt, so it wasn’t like I was going blind into the psychiatric interview.

So the day comes for the interview and I show up at Upstate Medical Center—and there’s Willie, lugging a heavy briefcase and having a flushed face.  He said he’d gotten finished with his previous business in time to come for the interview but—more bad news—Willie wasn’t allowed to enter the interview room with me, however, he would be right outside the door.  And I could, at any time, stop the interview and come outside to consult with him.  Willie, sitting outside the door with his big briefcase, ready to defend and protect me.  It was a really good feeling, so I went into the interview with equanimity.

The doctor took me through the usual details of psychiatric history.  It was all in my hospital records, which we assumed they had subpoenaed, so there was nothing to hide or hold back.  I reiterated all the information that they already had.  It was tedious, not pleasant, but do-able.  But after about half an hour or forty-five minutes, the psychiatrist asked me to tell her what happened that day in Richard Sheeran’s office.

This wasn’t about a professional assessment of my psychiatric condition.  This was a doctor abusing her position in order to give the defense an advance look at my testimony.  Son of a bitch.

I calmly said I wasn’t sure I could answer that question and I wanted to confer with the attorney sitting outside the door.

The psychiatrist withdrew the question and ended the interview.  The whole thing was a set-up to find out what would be my trial testimony.  And the psychiatrist had no more morals than anyone else in this awful mess.

Whenever John could, he would share with me funny stories, partially because he had a great sense of humor and partially because he and Willie were working overtime to try to keep me from melting down.  They understood that there was no action I could take to better my position—all I could do was react to whatever the defense came up with.  It was a terrible position in which to be and I was falling apart. 

One day a graduate student sat down by my desk at work and seriously questioned me about what I was going through and what my options were.  Then she strongly suggested that I see a therapist.  I laughed, close to hysteria.  Trust another therapist?  There was not a doubt in my mind that if I started seeing a therapist, the defense would find out and use it as evidence that I was unfit to testify.

I had become a pawn in the court system.  It wasn’t about me or anything that I wanted.  It was about the “justice” system chewing me up and spitting me out.  And I kind of suspected it was the same way for Richard Sheeran.  Dick Sheeran always had been a bit odd—what in years to come would be called “lacking in social skills”—but he had some humor, some kindness, and certainly was reasonable.  He wasn’t an evil man.  I did not for one minute believe that he had dreamed up the horrible things that were making me suffer.  I thought that he, too, probably had become a pawn, a piece to be moved around in a system that was greater than both of us.

All people share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions that affect their lives together.

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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