Experiences with Hurricane Katrina survivors in Austin, TX
Katrina survivors in Austin, TX in 2009
Effective trauma counseling
Role of Victim Services
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RAYMOND: [inaudible] So, let me say that we're back. Dr. Petty made me a cup of coffee, which I really appreciated. We've had a little break and this is the
beginning of tape two. November eighteenth with Dr. Petty. Ellen Morrissey behind the camera. Virginia Raymond speaking. Thank you so much.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Thank you.
RAYMOND: So just right here, we were talking about the ministry of presence. And the question of—you know you encounter a lot of scenes or a lot of times
there are many people, there are multiple people in pain, and how do you know who to go to?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Okay, what immediately comes to mind are a couple of different scenarios. Some of them are very common, some of them less common. The more
common ones are when bad things happen in public. That's far more frequent. Bad traffic fatalities.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Unfortunately some of the more public suicide gestures where just by fact of being close to it, seeing something, hearing something, being
close to somebody who saw something, heard something, you have multiply affected people. In those situations immediate family members, intimate partners, of course you would expect to be those
who need the most help right away, but that's not always the case.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Even the identified victim may say "I'm okay, but I really wish you'd go and talk to my seventeen year old. He has shut down." There are
those who the police officer will point you towards or the detective. There are those who you would expect to be the most affected, but sometimes it's a matter of following your nose.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Either who is approaching hysterics versus who has stopped interacting totally. Both those are of concern to us. Even in some cases where
you have very large extended families and large circles of friends and associates—and there are things like home fires or even expected deaths, where you can have within a matter of thirty
minutes, you can have a group approaching seventy-five people who are freshly mourning.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Part of that is group processing and they're supporting each other, so we find ourselves looking for a couple of things. One is, in
addition to who is the most impacted, but also who is impacting everybody else as well? If the person who is throwing themselves into the street wailing and gnashing against the curb is proving
to be upsetting to everybody else, then that changes the dynamics of what's needed from us at that moment.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: My attention may very abruptly have to shift towards this one person because of the effect they are having on everybody else. Which is at
first which is somewhat counter-intuitive to me, but it becomes apparent if in order to get back on, if there is such a thing,
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: -- on a path of normalcy or at least let's try to corral these emotions, for lack of a better word, to keep this from
exploding, if the one person who for whatever reason is just overly emotive, maybe this is a person who we can step over here with and attend to them separately, or we can call in for
backup and lots of times our crisis counselors will have volunteers with us.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Okay, if you'll stay with the family, I'm going to check on Mr. or Mrs. [inaudible] because this really seems to be really, really tearing
them apart. This is a separate issue. So now we basically have two scenes.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: What I started to talk about earlier was on a different part of the spectrum is when you have mass disasters, and you have— and people are
there because they are affected by really bad events whether it's in the immediate aftermath of a bonfire collapsing or an explosion in Oklahoma City.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Or the most recent one is when you have to transport thousands of people away from a natural disaster to a point of safety. But the
experiences of the last, past several days and some might argue the years preceding that make this a truly, truly traumatizing event, and added on top of what it is they've lived through, now
they're in a place they've probably never been before and they can't find their daughter, can't find Mom.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Everybody there is going through something that's difficult, and you can't serve four thousand people all at the same time. So triaging,
you know looking to see— in the hierarchy of needs, there's certainly those who need some sort of physical care, and everybody has some emotion wrapped up in this.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But who seems to be the worst, either by the overtness of their grief or by the absence of interaction. So I can remember going through
the [Austin] convention center back in 2005 [when refugees from Hurricane Katrina were coming to Austin, among other places] and not only were we there for those who had the wherewithal to ask
for help but also those who had ceased communicating.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: They'd be the person who would sit on their cots for hours on end and wouldn't move unless you made them. Looking out at kind of that sea
of humanity and several cases the person who is disturbing the least or calls the least attention to themselves were those who at that point had experienced, at least from an intra-psychic
standpoint, a great deal of pain and anger and fear and everything.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And just needed—all we could really do for them other than the resources that were brought in—would be reassuring.
RAYMOND: And so of course we're talking about Katrina, for the purposes of the oral history, and I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what happened
when— at the hurricane and as it became obvious that people had to leave and that a large number were coming here to Austin. What happened here in Austin with respect to yourself and other
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: The way that that whole tragedy unfolded from an Austin perspective— like I can't even tell you what it was like to be in New Orleans or
to have loved ones even in New Orleans at the time.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: When it became apparent to us over the weekend that we may be receiving large numbers of displaced people— not people who had left ahead
of the rest but the people who had actually lived through it— that was a first for a lot of us.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We were accustomed, in some fashion, to going where the action was, but we were bringing in thousands of people, literally plucked off
I-10 and in whatever condition they were in after those days of being in that place, that's the condition they were going to arrive in Austin.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We also knew that in this, I wouldn't call it a frenzy, but in this haste to get people out, we also knew that decisions were being made
about where a person was going to put their feet down while they were in the air which meant that if you didn't happen to be on the same plane with the people who you were associated
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: ...even though you may have thought that you were both going to the same place, decisions were being made in the sky of who was going to
what city and to what state. We also knew that people were going to be arriving who were separated from their medication, separated from their family.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But the hurricane and the levy breaking kind of washed everybody out as they were. You didn't get a whole lot of chance to prepare and to
pack the stuff that you needed.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So we were, and we had been watching the despair on television, but it's one thing when you're watching that sad event over in Louisiana
and going, "Okay, now they're in route here, and my job is to help them." That's a completely different reality.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: From the moment that people started to arrive at the convention center, the first thing is get folks cleaned up, get folks fed, get folks
their prescriptions, get the people who have the greatest amount of physical ongoing needs in a place where they can— bring in all the resources that you possibly can.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And then that left the rest of the thirty-five hundred or so in these cot cities in the convention center. You get a group of mental
health professionals— most people who do this sort of work either they're in private practice or they work for some sort of agency. And God bless social workers.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: They will actually go out and do stuff, as opposed to "Well, if you can make it over to me then we'll see you for the time period." But to
have the— it actually did, it took some guts for folks to kind of go out into these emerging communities.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: By communities I meant how people just arranged their cots and their belongings to kind of identify family or people who were now
establishing families or what block did you come from. These are people they were over in this corner.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: They put their cots up such that this was a living room and this was a front door, and you don't just walk through somebody's living room.
So this was a different creature emerging and evolving right there in front of us. So the rules of how do you respectfully engage people in their own space, which is what this now was, threw
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I mean symbolically it still existed but it just looked so different. So of course we set up what we thought would be— the thing that
comes to mind is a Peanuts character, Lucy. "The psychiatrist is in," you know, "five cents." People can come to you and do that, but when you're in this big box and you have you're little sign
up "APD Victim Services," people weren't coming.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: What do you want to do? Come sit in front of your entire neighborhood and be weak? Do we put up a sheet or something like that? A
mourner's corner? So we really had to re-tool on our feet, how do you be most helpful to the people that need it most as unobtrusively as possible.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Even though this is very clearly a household here and it's a matter of garbage bags filled with belongings and cots, there are no walls so
that you can have the privacy of letting people if they need to just break down. So keeping in mind that one of our ethics is "above all do no harm," above all else, we didn't want to create a
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: This is now a closed environment. Every "Lucky Lou" who can get in is here, and if they can bring a camera with them they will, and the
one thing that they want is this face of despair. And that is not— while that may have its benefits for how the media treats— what they offer the public, that wasn't our role which was to
provide these emotional moments to be captured or to be witnessed by everybody else.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: As much privacy as you can eke out and without walking away leaving somebody more raw than when you sat down and talked to them. True
empathy. There's not a whole lot that I can do in order fix that particular thing, but this is what we can do. What is it that you need?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Do you just need to tell this story for the fifth time? Go. I'm right here. I've got hours. I'm listening. If you just need— if what you
need is to really lament about how forsaken you feel, you don't really want anybody to do anything. You just need somebody to bear witness that this thing now is six days old, and this is how
it has left me.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And you just need an attentive person to normalize the fact that you're pissed off, that you're afraid, that your anxiety is now through
the roof, or that your depression, which you thought was a long-gone friend, is now back or coming back in full force.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And not only do you not have medication but you don't even have a mental health professional who can evaluate and prescribe. And you've
been down that road. More to the point, those old schizophrenic symptoms; you know what they feel like. That what you thought was bygone bipolar disorder, you know when it's imminent, and here
it is now.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And you're in the worst possible place to have an episode, and you can't stop it. Again, even more frequently, is "I haven't had a panic
attack in ten years, and every trigger in the world is wide open right now and I don't even have the luxury of being able to hide."
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Along the same lines, "I almost had my O.C.D. under control. All those rituals I need to do in order to keep the world from falling apart,
or at least my world but at least when I'm gonna do it I can do it in the privacy of my own home, or in the privacy of my own car, or the privacy of my own bathroom...
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: "There is no privacy here at all anywhere at any time, and I'm afraid I'm going to start my rituals, or I'm going to have a panic attack,
or I'm going to have a heart attack. And there are going to be five thousand of my closest friends here to watch it, and probably it's going to be on the national news."
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So, those sorts of things which— and I maybe I can help you with— well, first of all I can get you over to the C.D.C. which we brought in
house, but I can also help you with breathing exercises. We can get up and go around the corner and do that.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: If you want to show me pictures of all of your grandkids that you don't know where they are now, we don't have to do that and then start
the bawling out here in the middle of the floor. Let's walk around in front of— what's that place, Fogo de Chao, which is a block away, and we can cry all we want to.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Just that kind of practical assistance became— that really was what we could do. We couldn't find loved ones. We can get you in the
network to find loved ones, but we can't to do that. We can't take you out of here and put you in housing.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We're developing a system to do that. But we can listen. We certainly can empathize. We can certainly advocate for those needs that you
have, and we can certainly connect you with this— One of the more touching memories that I have of this rapidly evolving community was these were largely African American men and women.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And hair care is its own industry and livelihood, and when you spend— I think the enemy of good hair care is unexpected water. And they
were in lots of unexpected water. And these women— a lot of women were now at the convention center, and they had no way to adorn their crowns, as they say, and I remember our acting chief at
the time, Cathy Ellison, recognized right away.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: One of the things— we can't fix your home. We can't give you a new home. We can't find your kids right away. We can't guarantee any
privacy, but we can get your hair done. So they kind of brought in the beauty shop, and they used beauticians who had been displaced to give them that sense of agency and to be
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And that was one of the more practical ways of helping out in an unconventional method that I could have thought of for that group of
people was at least they can look good. We can't give you much more than that. You're going to get second hand clothes. You're going to get ill-fitting shoes.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You're going to sleep on a cot, but you can feel at least good about your hair. That's something that we can do. So I was going to say
when I talked earlier about— from inside this agency you can see people at their very best and people at their very worst and sometimes a huge overlap of the best in people emerging from
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: In other arenas people who will go way out of their way to assist a stranger. We have all the reasons in the world to barricade ourselves
or protect ourselves against possible harm and danger, particularly leaving ourselves vulnerable to harm by strangers, but to see people move past that and open their door to somebody because
of their obvious need.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And that's not even something I advocate because there is such potential harm behind it, but to see somebody who can actually discern that
this is the real thing. This person is in real need. This person really is hurt, and the least I can do is to put out my hand and say, What I have, I can give it to you.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And maybe the best I can do is make a phone call for you and give you a safe place to be for the next few minutes until they get here. And
something even as insignificant as that just goes such a long way in making our town a community.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And we see instances of that even though it doesn't get any press or it doesn't even get a whole lot of conversation. We see those things
on a daily basis, and we get to kind of put them in our little pouch of good things that people can do for each other to kind of counterbalance the bad stuff that we see.
RAYMOND: I'm going to break a rule of, one of my own rules and just say that Ana Sisnett and Priscilla Hale were two of the women who first—even before
the city put up the beauty shop— who recognized the need for African American hair products and who mobilized a whole bunch of—
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: That's beautiful.
RAYMOND: Ana died earlier this year, so I just feel like I need to say that. And that the project was called Shug's Hair, after the character in the Color
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Oh Shug, Shug Avery.
RAYMOND: Yea, Shug's Hair. Yeah.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I did not know that.
RAYMOND: Yea, so I just, I had to say that because she's passed now, but her memory is so important. But thank you for that. Well while we're on the topic of
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure.
RAYMOND: and its aftermath. Where are we now four years later in Austin with those people to the extent that you know?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure. There are some agencies that existed or that have since been created whose job it was was to assist what, for lack—evacuees. And so
they would know who came from New Orleans, who is still here, and what happened to them.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You know within about a year after people coming from New Orleans to Austin of people who stayed here, of course we would still have
contact with them as a law enforcement agency, but the event that got law enforcement there wasn't such that would have a need for them to identify themselves as coming from New Orleans.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But it didn't stop it completely and it still doesn't to this day. What— well because I work with a police department, we tend to
see bad things more often than good things. People don't call us to come to the house because they're having a birthday, or because somebody's graduated, or because you've made this enormous
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You call because something has gone wrong. And so when my folks or when the officers, at least when they document that this person came to
Texas from New Orleans after Katrina, unfortunately and even now it's going to be because of an ongoing mental illness, a death.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Generally when people identify themselves as having come from New Orleans it is because it has become a part of their narrative. It played
a role into why we're at their house or why we're talking to them at that point. Mental health decay that has been untreated or incompletely treated.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: History of assault and abuse and it got worse when I got taken out of my environment. We had our extended family who was all within a
three block radius, and we're dispersed now and my safety nets are now gone.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: The people who would protect me are now gone, so it works its way into how they got here. And I know that there are probably ten times
more positive stories of how coming to Austin from the Gulf Coast became a positive part of your narrative or that journey. It was just one of those milestones, but it wasn't necessarily a
permanent turn for the worse.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But we respond to people in distress, and so in our line of work the stories we that we hear that include Hurricane Katrina and
evacuation, how that event turned their lives in a direction that wasn't positive which resulted in the police being at their door tonight. Sad, but that's our reality.
RAYMOND: So this is one of my fundamental questions or our fundamental questions is when tragedies happen, when catastrophes happen, whether it's a huge
public with many individual stories such as Katrina or an individual, smaller tragedy that has a direct impact on maybe one family—
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Very localized.
RAYMOND: As a counselor and particularly as a person who's on the scene, what factors do you see or have you seen from your experience that help make the
difference between people who that tragedy becomes sort of the end of their narrative or the defining feature of their narrative and those people for whom this tragedy is a part of the story
that then makes up who they are but is not the end of their story?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: If I can be a bit of a nerd for a second.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: The variable which seems to work more in people's favor of taking a tragic event and folding it in with all the other good stuff and still
having an upward trajectory: resilience. What was your glue?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I can talk about structure, internal structure which kind of keeps us shape and form, but I can also talk in terms of glue, whatever it is
that's on the inside that keeps us from falling apart. Whichever way you want to look at it.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Whatever it is that gives an individual or a couple or a family or a community structure already to where one incident, whether it's small
or whether it's large as long as it's not fatal doesn't damage the whole being, they have the ability to grow and repair. Right below that, and I'm being serious about right below that, is
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Some people who are in horrible shape already can experience something which could be life-ending, seemingly life-ending from an emotional
standpoint, but if they get high quality intervention, I'm talking about something different than what we do.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We may see—a lot of the people that we see, we will see in person only once. We may talk to them on the phone a lot after that. So I'm not
by any means trying to say that we are the intervention of choice for turning lives around, but in the mental health community as a whole there are some truly gifted clinicians out there who
can give a high quality of short and long term help.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But I would certainly place how this person is emotionally constructed as being the biggest predicting variable of how they're going to
integrate this event into the rest of their lives and how it's going to shape their story, their journey, their narrative.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Put more simply, people who are able to— who have had the fortune of having lots of positive events in their life that they can recollect.
You know, life isn't all crap. I had great times here, here, here, here, and here. And they can bring that memory of great times with them to where it kind of levels out the harshness.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: It doesn't paint your future in the grey tone of the current because you have these other splashes of red and yellow and green and fuchsia
and purple that you can throw in right now and at least the next few steps don't seem quite as final.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: The only thing ahead isn't hopelessness and helplessness because you know better. You've had all these experiences that you've brought
along with you that disprove that or at least can dispute that and can at least contest it and conflict the current situation. Being able to foresee a good outcome.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And who knows where that comes from. A lot of it has to do with what are the other things that you've experienced which, again, can paint
a future outlook somewhat brighter than if all you knew was despair, and failure, and abandonment then you can pretty well project what this particular event, how it will bode for you.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I'm accustomed to rejection. I'm accustomed to being abandoned. I'm accustomed to being disbelieved. I'm accustomed to being abused. If
that's your life experience and you're going to tag the future of this in those same lights.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But again if you have lots of or significant experiences, let's say even when something goes wrong it doesn't necessarily have a
devastating outcome or a life-ending outcome. That's the one thing that seems to be the most predictive of being able to do something with this other than stop living.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And the one thing that we can't give our clientele on a scene or even during the course of a domestic violence investigation because there
is so much to it after we've done our part, we can't give you resiliency, but we can certainly help you tap into it if you have it.
RAYMOND: Beautiful. Beautiful. One of the things, and I'm not sure how to ask this without being too directive here.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Oh.
RAYMOND: You had mentioned that one of the things that Victim Services can do is connect people with a broad array of services for different kinds of
needs so that they can have hopefully different kinds of effective intervention. What does that range of services look like?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Okay. I could put end points on lots of different spectrums out there, but let's just talk— let's use one as age. The needs of a
child alone to not be passed around from several strangers in this next couple of hours, to see the face of someone familiar and trusting or at least know they're in route, to be told as
appropriately as possible for me what's going to happen next:
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Where's mommy? Where's daddy? And after that they've been placed with somebody who can provide supervision or they've been placed in the
hands of the State in temporary foster care. At least in that time frame for young children, until we can muster something that's a little more permanent than you being with us, we're just
going stay with you.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We will take you to the police station where we're away from all of this. We'll give you a nice little friend that you can take care of,
give him a name, and they are going to be here with you. And if there are things you don't want to tell me, you can certainly—what's his name? What's her name?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You can certainly tell her and if you want her to then she'll tell me, too. You're feeling scared, okay, well Grandma's going to be here.
Probably—she's coming here from San Antonio, so she'll be here in a couple of hours. You wanna play Uno? What's your favorite video?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: That feeling of safety and a little respite from the chaos that just took place, whether that is a very good thing that even a kid can
recognize—Okay, all the things that have been going on the last past several months, at least now they're over.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: This may not be any better because now the police are here, and dad's going to jail or mom's going to jail or something like that. But at
least all that stuff— the screaming, the yelling, and hitting— that's over. I'm glad about that, but I'm very uncertain about what's going to happen next.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I can't fix that in the amount of time I'm going to spend with a child who has been removed from the home, but I can make that transition
as un-traumatic as I possibly can. Well, what's going to happen next is we know that Auntie can be here probably in the morning because she has to fly in.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But what's going to happen tonight is we're going to find you a place where there are other kids about your age who have been very well
taken care of, and you're going to be safe and you're going to be warm. And then tomorrow morning you will be with family members.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: That's what they will tell us that they need. If you were to ask— we do this quite often, is outside of the heat of the issue, go back and
ask people who've been victimized, or been through traumatic events, what would have been most helpful to you back then?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: What was done that really made a difference? Or where did we screw up? When there's been some distance from the things that other people
have gone through, so that we can kind of craft our practices based on what people tell us.
RAYMOND: And what do they tell you?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: They absolutely first and foremost need to feel safe. They need to be able to have somebody to listen to their emotions, what it is
they're going through without judgment, without advice giving. I don't want to do anything except just listen to me.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And that you know what's going to happen next, either tonight or throughout the life of this issue in the criminal justice process or in
the event of somebody's been injured and they are going to go to the hospital, tell me what to expect so I can start to get my mind around it.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Those are the three things that we hear routinely when we focus is: get me somewhere that I know that I'm safe. Tell me, lay this out for
me in terms that I can understand and appreciate what's going to happen next. And just listen to me.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Without editing. That comes later, kind of reshaping the meaning, but we're not going to do that here at the emergency room. But I can
listen with compassion at you and say, "That was frightening, you're right. I can't imagine anybody in your situation would have done anything other than to be motionless and just cry and
shake. That's what human beings do when we're in shock." Normalize that sort of stuff.
RAYMOND: Thank you this is really helpful. So what I— for one thing, when you mentioned little friends, you're going to give a kid a little friend, I think
we know what you meant, but for the oral history—
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure.
RAYMOND: Can we show a little friend?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure. Well we have— there are so many of them. Not all hidden, but—
RAYMOND: Are any of these in this room?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Absolutely. Not the battle bats, but all the little bears and stuffed animals. These are just—
RAYMOND: May I hand you some? Oh you can see them.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Absolutely.
RAYMOND: Or maybe you can show some.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: None of these have names, and all these are subject to be given out at any moment if by chance a child should wander into my office. But
we keep a stock of these on hand. They're all donated.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Just for the purpose of—because we know we're going to be in at least temporary custody or control of children anytime of the day or
night, whether they speak English or whether they don't. And we know that the fact that we have them meant that something really bad has just happened.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Whether it's an arrest or whether it's an emergency commitment, or they're just gone— but one of the ways that we can help children feel
safe and have a little of what I said earlier, respite, is give them their own little brand new friend. And they get to name them; they get to tell 'em whatever they want to; they get to
keep their secrets.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: If I need to tell them something that's about to happen that they're not particularly going to like, I can tell him, and he can tell them,
at least in their eyes. They have lots of different uses. Kids exist through play when they need to. And this is one of those tools that we can use to facilitate the healthy
play, the healthy imagination, in light of a very real situation, and it seems to work. And they get to keep 'em.
RAYMOND: Thank you.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure.
RAYMOND: Thanks. So—
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I hope we never run out of stuffed animals.
RAYMOND: Who donates them, may I ask?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We get them from primarily— well, more so than any other kind, these, the biggest stock, come from the Austin Junior forum [holding
small bear with green shirt] And they hold fundraisers throughout the year, including a Teddy-Bear Picnic,
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: the Christmas—Oh, where they auction off celebrity bears and they use that money to buy huge stocks of these and they donate them to us.
They even keep them until we have space for them, so we can go out and get them a couple of boxes.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And we keep them in our cars with us so that whenever we have kids that are brought in or that we have to go see, we start dragging out
the bears. We've doing that for probably twenty, twenty-five years now.
RAYMOND: So the, that— is that Freud?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: That's Sigmund Freud, yeah.
RAYMOND: Sigmund Freud. That's yours? [Laughter]
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: That's mine.
RAYMOND: That's not a give-away.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We wouldn't give him out for a toy. [Laughter]
RAYMOND: Okay. Well, this is great. Thank you.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You're welcome.
RAYMOND: So, what I heard you say about resources—
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Mmm-hmm.
RAYMOND: in the moment, the resources in connecting people are yourselves.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: That's the primary tool, resource that I have to take with me is me.
RAYMOND: Yourselves, your "ministry of presence,"
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Mmm-hmm.
RAYMOND: your calmness, your poise, your reassuring, normalizing presence.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Mmm-hmm.
RAYMOND: The little friends—
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Mmm-hmm.
RAYMOND: for kids of the right age. You refer people to public agencies, and you also bring in family.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: We refer people to— a lot of people that we work with who don't have their own resources readily at hand, attorneys, therapists, are not
rich. So it doesn't help me to refer you to my friend who's a psychologist out in Westlake who is going to charge you three-hundred bucks an hour.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But your need for mental health counseling is obvious to both of us so what I need to do is make—making a referral is its own talent. But
I need to know what's out there, and then I need to assess how do I refer you to them in a way that you most likely will use it.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Giving somebody our pink form with one thousand different numbers on there and saying, here take a look at this, you might as well not
give it to them. But if I can at least on the front page put a place where I can say "here is who—" No, if it's something that's open, I'm gonna call them with you.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: "Here I've got somebody here who I think could really use your services, this is kinda what's happening and now he wants to talk to you.
But most places aren't twenty-four hours like we are but I can write the case number, and I can write who I am. I can write the investigator's name if we know who that's gonna be and I can
write this very, very short list of people that you really should contact tomorrow morning.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And if it would help for me to follow up with you by phone tomorrow night, or in two days, I can do that, too. Because what you've heard
on the scene, in the midst of the shock and the horror and just disorientation of some of the things that people go through, you won't remember that tomorrow.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: You may pick up the piece of paper that I gave you, "Oh yeah that guys name was William he was really nice. What did he say? I have no
clue". So if they want to come back and ask me, "Tell me again what you said, I can't even read what I wrote down."
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: So being a twenty-four hour resource, we may not be the direct resource, but they can certainly know whether we're here in the office, or
whether they can call our emergency communication to get in contact with one of us. We always work. And another part of using community resources well, is you gotta know who does what and who's
doing it right now.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: If you need a neighborhood referral— food bank, clothing, transportation— what was up and operating for the last past five years in
Blackshire neighborhood, may have closed last month. And so my list is already outdated. But the people at Mount Zion have started child care, so it's a very organic beast this community
RAYMOND: And so you mentioned Mount Zion, and this is a question I've been wondering about because both in terms of immediate needs— like a food bank or
childcare, and in terms of resilience and structure, some people already have religion—
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Mmm-hmm.
RAYMOND: Or already have some kind of community. As a public agency, you can't be telling people what kind of church to go to or to go to
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Oh of course not. Of course not.
RAYMOND: But on the other hand you know that there are resources in the community. How does that all— how do you negotiate—
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Sure.
RAYMOND: Those issues.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I am so comfortable asking you what in the past has been the place that you've seemed to find the most— I would never say the word sucker
and nurturance to people, but that's basically what I'm saying. What feeds you? And if they had it in Houston we've probably got it in Austin.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: If they had it in Guanajuato— in Mexico. We've probably got it in Austin. It might go by a different name, have a slightly different core
mission, but if the people at El juence meritano, if their particular service delivery is what you believe in, what you think will help, what you're comfortable at least talking through, talk
to— we have lots of counselors who are at least bilingual but also bicultural.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: If la curandera, if that's what's going to do it for you, it might not do a thing for me because I was born in central Texas. I was born
and raised Baptist. But if that's what you find helpful, I'm going to figure out a way to get you in contact or put them in contact, mostly you in contact.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I'm not gonna give anybody your name and information. But I'm gonna tell you exactly, Okay, they're open at this time, I know they go to
get breakfast tacos at nine-thirty so that's not the best time to stop in.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: But these people over here, are the closest that— based on kind of what we've talked about and what you think is gonna be helpful, or what
you've described is gonna be helpful, translated into Austin terms, I'm thinking that this may be a good place to go next.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: And I can't think of a single— yeah I can— with the exception of close liquor stores, I can't think of anything that a person has told me
that I wasn't completely comfortable doing the hookup. Whether it was spiritually based, or whether it was medicine based, or psychoanalytic based, or if you just need some boys, some girls to
hang out with, who's doing that and not getting in trouble at the same time.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: The easiest one is churchs. We have tons of those in all flavors. But church and religiosity isn't what people always find helpful, so
we've gotta have more things. We have a much stronger referral base than just psychotherapy and church.
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: Huge gap in between those things.
RAYMOND: Sure, sure. How are we doing on time?
ELLEN MORRISEY: We have about eight minutes.
RAYMOND: Eight minutes. You know what, I have some more questions. Do you still have time?
DR. WILLIAM PETTY: I do. [End of tape 2]
Video 3, of "Interview with Dr. William Petty."
At the time of this interview in November 2009, Dr. William Petty was head of Victims Services at the Austin Police Department in Austin, Texas. In Video 1 of this interview, Petty describes how he came to work in Victims Services and the difference between what counselors can do during a crisis or tragedy as opposed to months or years after the fact. They can offer resources and also -- more importantly -- what Petty calls "a ministry of presence." Petty also talks being a Black man working for an institution that he, and many other Black people, have had strong reasons to distrust and stay away from. He discusses, as well, self care and changes that have taken place in policing and victims services. Video 2 includes a discussion of what happened among people who found themselves at the Austin Convention Center after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In Video 3, Petty talks both about being an advocate for victims for marginalized people as well the pressures on police officers, chief among these being attitudes of the public and accusations of misconduct, and the stigma associated with seeking help.
2 of 3
William PettyRole: Narrator
Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Virginia RaymondRole: Interviewer
Ellen MorrisseyRole: Videographer
Jennifer MorrisRole: Transcriber
Courtney LandesRole: Transcriber
Alexa SkillicornRole: Transcriber
Virginia RaymondRole: Transcriber
Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Proofreader
Maurice ChammahRole: Proofreader
Texas After Violence Project
University of Texas Libraries
North America--United States--Texas
North America--United States--Texas--Austin
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