To Have And To Hold... Or Not

I have written some about where I work before - a law firm that specializes in assisting people with Social Security disability claims.  Our clients are not your typical folks filing frivolous lawsuits or engaging attorneys in high-dollar divorces.  Most often, when someone secures our services to assist them with their claim, they have been disabled by illness or injury, and have been out of work for a period of months or even years. They have often tried to negotiate the Social Security Disability paper maze on their own, and have been unsuccessful.  A high percentage of disability claims are initially rejected by the SSA.  

We assist with initial filing (step 1), requesting reconsiderations (step 2) and hearings (step 3), and Appeals Council Reviews (step 4), and our firm is generally quite successful.  However, our attorneys are not miracle workers or magicians, and they cannot pull a rabbit out of the hat.  Contrary to popular belief, we have no way to move a claim faster thru the Social Security system, or to circumvent Social Security Regulations. 

Our clients are often in extremely difficult situations both financially and emotionally. They come from all walks of life, but now find themselves with no source of income, dependent on family and/or the pitifully small amount of government assistance available. They are sick, and often getting sicker; some are terminally ill. They have injuries that are irreversible, or cannot be repaired without expensive surgeries that they have no means to pay for.  They feel worthless because they can no longer work and provide for their families; they are losing or have lost their homes and their vehicles, and sometimes their spouses who can't cope with the long term problems they are facing. 

Many of our clients suffer from various forms of mental illness, and/or are addicted to drugs or alcohol.  Some have low-functioning IQ's, some have a been recently incarcerated.  More than a few are homeless, in and out of local shelters, and living on the streets.  Some feel so hopeless about their situation that they have attempted suicide, and a few have died waiting for their claims to be settled, which can easily take a year or longer. It is the nature of our business, and it's not pretty... it's tragic. 

Generally, I love working with our clients, both on the phone and in person.  I feel like I can make a difference in a small way in their lives by treating them with dignity and compassion.  I am ever mindful that there but for the grace of God, go I.  I am the friendly voice on the phone, or the smile behind the desk in the reception area, willing to take a few extra minutes to ask them how they are doing and show them someone cares enough to listen.

This can also be a brutally hard job, and it takes a toll on me.  Day after day I receive calls from  people who are at the end of their emotional ropes.  They are in pain, they are out in the cold, they feel despair, and they have no one to focus that anger and frustration on other than their connection with the Social Security system... us.  I explain as patiently and kindly as possible, that we are a law firm, that we are there to try to help them win their cases, but we are unable to help with food, housing, and medical needs.  We refer them to what agencies our city has that might be able to help in some small way, but it's rarely enough to be of real assistance.  To say they are desperate is an understatement.  They don't know which way to turn, and we have few, if any answers.  The Social Security Disability process is a waiting game.  Waiting isn't easy when your survival is on the line.

Now let me tell you about our offices.  We lease a suite of six offices on the ninth floor of the bank building downtown.  Our offices occupy the West end of our floor.  Due to the layout of our suite I cannot see anyone coming down the hall  until they are just outside of our door.  Along with the entrance to my reception area, there is only one other door, for exit purposes only, which is just on the other side of the reception area at the front end of the long row of offices.  Our head attorney's office is across from mine.  Once you head back down the hallway to the four remaining offices, it dead-ends.  There is no emergency exit, nor is their a means of window exit... nine floors is a long way straight down.

The point of this post is to provide you with a background regarding an issue that has come to the forefront lately... our safety.  While we have a security guard in the building for five of the nine hours it is open, he is not issued a gun! He carries a flashlight, pepper spray and handcuffs.  Although semi-retired, he is certainly strong enough to subdue trouble makers, but... that would not be effective against someone with a handgun.  Also, the time it would take for him to take the elevator to our floor would not make for instant intervention, should we be able to summon him. 

We recently dealt with an upset employee that had been terminated, and we encounter agitated clients every day who feel that we have not done enough for them. I sit at the reception desk, I am first in the line of fire.  I pride myself on being able to deal fairly well with most folks who are upset, and am generally able to calm them down to a more rational level of communication.  But.... if someone was looking to make the news as a final statement of desperation and came down the hall with a handgun, I am a sitting duck, or more likely, a dead duck. 

We've been talking about it at work lately.  If the staff in the offices heard a commotion in the reception area they could call for help, but it would be highly unwise for them to come charging down the hall to assist me without some kind of weapon at their disposal.  A can of pepper spray can't stand up to a gun-wielding crazy person! It would likely mean the loss of more life.  So I have instructed them not to be valiant idiots, but rather to lock their doors, crawl under their desks, and summon help.

Yesterday we had a visitor to our office who was clearly there for purposes other than just to inquire about obtaining our services.  When he entered downstairs, he asked the security guard where the restrooms were, and was directed to the 2nd floor. (Oddly enough, we have no public restrooms on the first floor.)  The guard watched the hallway/elevator monitor cameras and noted that the man did not stop at the 2nd floor, but came to our floor instead.  So the guard quickly came up and followed him down the hallway as he entered our office.  The man sat in the chair in front of my desk as I responded to his questions and explained disability regulations and the process of filing claims.  He said he was 62, and thus would automatically qualify for early retirement benefits. 

Only myself and one other co-worker were present in the offices at the time, since it was shortly before lunch.  I went over the facts and issues with him several times, and also discussed the worker's comp claim papers he had gotten from the state employment service.  He was unhappy with his treatment there too, claiming no one would help him with the forms and that no one there spoke Spanish, which is highly unlikely due to the large Hispanic population here, and the volume of Spanish-speaking people government agencies deal with. 

All the time I was talking with him,  the security guard was standing just on the other side of the doorway listening.  The visitor was nervous, eyes darting around, and asking more than once if someone was knocking at our other door.  Finally he accepted that I was unable to assist him and as he got up to leave he asked where the restroom was.  I directed him to the one next to the elevators on our floor.  He left, but did not go to the restroom.  The security guard watched him get back on the elevator, ostensibly to leave the building. A short while later security cameras filmed him exiting the elevator on the 11th floor, clearly  roaming the building for some reason - possibly looking for a  place to sleep, as we have indigents frequently trying to hide in the building overnight to keep warm.  We have a couple unoccupied floors that make this possible, if one is very careful and clever.  It has happened before. 

Sooo... we had no further problems with this visitor and he didn't reappear, although we all were on alert.  But once again the issue came up that if someone meant to cause harm, or was emotionally unstable, it could have quickly become a very bad situation.

Our senior attorney, in his mid-thirties, is talking about obtaining his concealed carry handgun permit, and for the first time, so am I.  I have a handgun, an awesome Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm semi-automatic.  I use it strictly for target practice, and for security at home.  John has a concealed carry permit and  his handgun is with him when he is away from home; he has encouraged me to do the same, but I have been resistant to the idea.  I have never felt the need or desire to obtain a  permit or to carry my gun.  Old woman packing heat... it all seems kind of surreal.  The whole idea really disturbs me, to think that we are now living in a world where folks need to walk around armed.  And yet... given my work environment, maybe it's not so dumb after all.  

Do I really want to  just sit there unable to do anything realistic to defend myself and/or my co-workers should the need arise? I believe in the sanctity of life, and in co-existing peacefully in the world.  I  believe in using communication and all other means of diffusing a situation before resorting to violence.  But if the situation demanded it, if my life was in jeopardy and there was clearly no other option... could I retrieve a handgun from the shelf under my desk and use it?  Maybe.  I'm still contemplating it.  I'll get back to you on it once I decide.


  1. What an amazing post to not only learn about what you do up close but to offer up a very reflective avenue for the current issue of guns and gun control. Let's hope all who comment here remain civil.

    I grew up around guns. I have hunters for uncles that don't hunt for sport but for food. They are also in law enforcement. I grew up in a house with a gun, and I was taught the dangers, how to use it, and how to not point it, even a toy one, at a human being. I also retrieved that gun when I was about 13 because I was a latchkey kid and thought someone was outside peering in my windows. I put it away safely, but not without dropping a bullet on the floor and my mom found it and LOST it thinking what COULD have happened. This kept me from having guns in our house while our children were small, particularly with a curious boy in the house.

    However, I am now a card carrying gun owner and have my own. I can not honestly fathom having to use it, but if faced with a situation like what you described, I think that a trained individual could prevent a situation and save many lives.

    This world is changing Josie. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but something is amiss. I am like you, I believe in the sanctity of life and would rather exist in peace, but times seem very different now.

  2. From one old woman to another: Given a shoot-out, a wrestling of crowbars and bricks, you and I would be out of our league. The person planning the attack has the advantage. They KNOW what they are going to do, and when.

    We will ALWAYS be taken by surprise no matter how armed we are.

    Carrying a gun is about more than having a 9mm somewhere on your body. It starts with being ALERT. The feeling that makes your skin crawl. INSTINCT is our only alarm and we need to be in tune with our surroundings.

    I don't know just when things took such a wicked turn, but it happened when we were lulled into a false sense of security.

    My blog has been discussing some bazaar situations I've found myself in lately, and the momentum is picking up speed.

    If ALL good people carried guns with the proper training under their belts, it would increase our odds, but not lessen the dangers. INCREASE YOUR ODDS, dear lady. The danger already exists.

  3. Hi Josie,

    I think that maybe, when we were younger, and guns were a more accepted part of our life, we had a respect for guns that we learned and grew up with because they were more tools than playthings. Both of my grandfathers hunted to supply food for their families. One ran a trap-line for some time. It was that time, and more socially acceptable. And it was because of the fact that they were needed to survive and always around, that proper safety and care was passed on to our fathers and then to us.

    I'm not certain, but I believe that the did-connect happened when there was a generation of non-gun owners and then their kids picked up on firearms being glorified by video games and movies and becoming a status thing rather than the tool it was intended for.

    I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I believe you still have those responsible gun owner values. You work in an environment where, at times, you have a feeling that your safety is in question. I can't help but get this feeling inside of me, that having a gun available to you would make you MORE determined to resolve any situation that might arise, by means of reason and your words, because you are fully aware of the consequences, when it comes time to use that gun. Yet having that choice there would certainly ease your apprehension and allow you to do your job to the best of your ability.

    I know that this is a touchy topic these days. Here in Canada as well as in the USA, where you live. I can see the argument for both sides of the coin on this issue. It's my opinion though, that the greater portion of the blame for the things that seems to be happening these days falls on the media. For constantly hammering these items in the news until it's the only thing we hear, that some lone gunman did some horrific thing. I realize that it's the news, and things need to be reported. But the less airtime these whack-jobs get, the less glorified they will feel toward trying to make a name for themselves. That's just my thought.

    Thanks for making me think this morning Josie! :)

    1. Wow - my friend Ken!

      I have honestly not heard that bit of wisdom ANYWHERE in all the talk and clamor about this issue and all I have to say again is WOW. You may very well be right - that there was a gap in generations along the way from responsible gun ownership and use to very little gun ownership to full-blown glorified gun violence being depicted in the movies, tv and video games. I read that and went, 'ah ha!'

      I agree that there are valid points on both sides and I DEFINITELY agree that the media shining spotlights on the deranged individuals that carry out such heinous acts needs to stop. I am also of the believe that the issue of parenting and mental health also play a huge factor in it all. It is just far too complex to slap a set of laws on and think that it will alleviate the problem.

      Gah, I love getting to think about new perspectives on things, so thanks Ken!

    2. Wow, indeed, Ken! Your response was amazing,by far the best rationale the situation I've heard to date! I totally agree with all you said, and I'll be sharing it with others. I appreciate so much the time and energy you put into these thoughts! Now if we could just figure out how to get media coverage under control under control without government censorship, it would be great. You would think they could self-police their coverage and the social effect it has, but then that wouldn't sell like the exploitation of subjects and individuals. Sad world indeed.

    3. All kinds of wisdom and things to think about here, Carrie. With the clients at our firm, mental health and emotional stability play a huge factor. Folks that once had normal every-day lives, have found themselves in very difficult situations over which they have little control and insufficent outside resources to help them cope. They act out in desperation. If address those issues, it wouldn't get to this point. We need better ways to identify those at risk and to find them real help before violence becomes their solution.

  4. Bill & I were discussing guns recently. We actually had the same things to say that Ken did. It is not a safe world now, but we created it. We have to find a way to live in it, and that means being safe.

    1. I am coming to the conclusion that is true, McGuffy Ann, we can't go thru life with rose-colored glasses pretending that it is like we once remember it. We have to find pro-active ways to deal with it. One doesn't stand in the road and hope the cars won't hit them, and one can't stand in the face of unstable people and hope they aren't going to over-react in dangerous ways.

  5. I concur with Ken, get you carry license you work in an area tht is very emotional and if the mentally ill can shhoot in schools, shopping malls and resturants what is to stop them from shooting in a business like yours where their entire livlihood is dependent on results your firm may or may not obtain for them. Protect yourself.
    Remember guns don't kill people, people kill people
    A gun does not remove it's own lock and safety,
    a gun does not load itself with ammunition
    a gun does not pull it's own trigger!
    People do!! Be safe Josie that is the utmost importance trust your gut always.

    1. Absolutely true, Len. I strongly considered not posting this issue as I expected a bunch of screaming pro-gun control responses. I should have known that most bloggers are intelligent and thoughtful and realize there is a time and a place for self-protection. That particular incident was the first time I can truly say I felt that I was not in a good situation, and that I would have felt unprepared to deal with it had the security guard not been present.

  6. Sounds like you might be in the right frame of thinking in arming yourself. Today's society is pushing people beyond their limits and there is no telling when a person might snap and perform violent and desperate acts.

    I agree with everyone else...protect yourself!

    1. That is so true, Dan, people are being expected to deal with situations far beyond their capacity or resources, I see that every day. What would you do if you couldn't work, lost your home, couldn't feed your family, and couldn't obtain the medical help you needed? It wouldn't take long for a feeling of desperation and hopelessness to set in, would it? It breaks my heart every day to see how we are caring for those in need while our govenment dishes out millions for things far less urgent. I am seeing that I am left with few options other than to look out for my own safety and that of my coworkers as well.

  7. Welcome to Texas! That sounds bad and I hope that never happens at your office, but I think your right about there needing to be more security. Maybe they could bring in more security guards, or something. I don't know, stay safe! : )

    1. I hope I never have to be confronted with that situation either, Joseph, but the environment certainly creates that possibility. I definitely agree that more security is needed in the building, particularly for businesses like ours, which deal with distraught clientele. Having a bank on the main floor, wouldn't you think the one guard present would have a gun at his disposal? That totally shocked me! Nor does he have the capability to be everywhere and watch everything at once! We are left to our own resources, sadly.

  8. The security guard for our thirteen-floor building works from 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM. After that, the answer is to "Call 911". Seriously! As Papa Bear says, that means that help will arrive just in time to do a body count... and he's right.

  9. Truth is, the world isn't much different than it ever was. We're just a little more aware with the 24 hour news cycle reminding us of how dangerous the world is every second of every day.

    1. Probably true Monkey, though I do think that the pervasiveness of violence in both our news media and entertainment (movies, games and such) has created a generation who are numbed to the horror. In the old days, if kids in school had a disagreement it probably resulted in a fist-fight on the playground, now one is likely to carry mom or dad's handgun into the classroom and threaten the fellow student or teacher or a bunch of folks. That really didn't happen often in the past, though you have a point that when it does we hear about it over, and over, and over in minute detail. It reaches the point of glorification.

  10. I think your safety has to come first, Josie, and if you feel safer with a gun then you should do what you have to, to have one on you. People in desperate situations will do heinous things and we have to do what is necessary to defend ourselves. I hope you never have to use the gun but it makes me feel better knowing you have a means of protecting yourself. What a world we live in....

    1. I deplore the fact that our world is fast becoming one where we must walk around armed and on alert, rather than in a spirit of peace and harmony, Selma. Still, I am more frequently encountering individuals at work who have the potential for meltdown and it would be tragic to lose innocent lives because of that.


Your comments are always appreciated... they make me smile! :-)