In the maximum-security prison where Quita Griffith worked, it was common knowledge that being called to the chaplain’s office meant that someone had died. Griffith had moved to the US from Trinidad with aspirations to become “the greatest therapist in the world,” and she was following her passion working with individuals in corrections. But the prison system was its “own weird ecosystem,” she says.
“When you’re on the inside, people on the outside forget all about you,” she explains.
One of Griffith’s clients had just emerged from the chaplain’s office. His mom had died. And as a new inmate, he was still facing decades of serving time. Tears streamed down his face, but he did not make any noise. Griffith wanted to hug him, but she was not allowed to touch him. “He knew that was it for him. There was nobody else in the world that knew he was alive,” she says.
Suddenly, a swarm of correctional officers were sprinting down the breezeway. The inmate had climbed to the top of the dorm and had thrown himself onto the concrete.
“In that moment, I realized that I needed to do more. What I was doing wasn’t sufficient,” says Griffith. In prison, she watched patients struggle with manageable conditions who could not access care. “There’s a misconception that inmates have free health care. There was a two-dollar copay to see a provider, which doesn’t seem like a lot. But when you only make 89 cents a day and have to choose between seeing a provider or buying a pair of socks because it’s freezing, you always choose the socks,” she says.
However, Griffith did not want to be a nurse, and with a young daughter at home, the medical school and residency route did not seem feasible to her. She did not know what a PA was, but when she had a conversation with one who worked as a medical provider at the prison once a week, it clicked. “I thought, huh, this could be the thing!” she says.
Now, Griffith is in her second year of the Yale Physician Assistant Online program. She is grateful for the program’s support and willingness to “entertain her madness”. While she says she no longer has this idealistic view of changing the world, she hopes to continue making a difference for people who have been forgotten. “I want to take care of people who don’t get taken care of.”