On the Edge

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Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from The Rules Breakers, the true life story of Peri B. Mann, a petite female social worker, untrained to deal with violent and often volatile patients, who chooses to work with male psychiatric patients, drug addicts, and criminals. Listen to an excerpt of the recently audiobook or read an excerpt below.



On The Edge

I sat in my small office inside an outpatient methadone clinic in New York City, listening to Michael speak of his past crimes. I’d known him for a few months. This being my fourth job since graduating college, I felt confident I could handle whatever was presented in my sessions with him.

“It was a robbery,” he said. Not unusual to hear when working with drug addicts in a treatment program. He described how he came up from behind his female victim and put a knife to her throat.

“You know…like a surprise.” This said as if he were bestowing an unexpected birthday gift on his victim.

He continued telling his story; but soon our time was up. He walked toward the door of my office to leave. I stood up and followed to close the door behind him. Suddenly he swirled around to face me. I barely had time to stop before plowing into him.

His six-foot frame loomed over me like a dark cloud waiting to erupt.  From the corner of my eye, I saw a glint of metal,

then I heard a click as the knife opened. In a totally casual manner, Michael raised the knife toward my throat, letting the sharp edge linger in front of my Adam’s apple like a hummingbird hungry for an insect.

Michael didn’t move, I didn’t move.

Over the course of my career counseling murderers, rapists, domestic abusers, and the less violent perpetrators of burglaries, embezzlement, and
con games, Michael was my first psychopath: a living, breathing showman of great emotional mimicry, hiding an undercurrent laced with streaks of sadistic violence.

But one thing I’d learned on the streets of Brooklyn: never act like a victim, because that was a surefire way to become one. But, I thought, What do I do now? I didn’t know what Michael wanted, or why he was holding a knife to my throat and threatening me. He’d never been violent when he was alone with me before.

I stared into his eyes—and saw nothing. No clue whatsoever. By this point in my career I was skilled at reading people, but

Michael’s essence displayed only stillness. I had but a few seconds to make a decision. I grounded myself and returned his stare without flinching. Then, I said:

“Is the test over?

I guessed that as he continued to hover over me, his need to display dominance over women was in play. He stared into my eyes for maybe two seconds. Then a broad smile of recognition crept slowly across his face, and I knew I was right. He started laughing lightly at first, then in spasms. I stood still until I saw—and heard—the knife being returned to its original place in his pocket. I stepped back.

“Now, get the fuck out of my office,” I said with as much aggression as I could muster. He laughed  himself out the door. I stood for a full minute on wobbly legs, shaking. Then, I collapsed into my chair.

My career as a clinical social worker in New York City, had begun on an all-male unit in a thirty-day detox hospital. From that position I moved
on to working as a probation officer; when laid off during New York City’s financial crisis, I interned for my clinical license at an all-male psychiatric prison. When the financial crisis ended I returned to the probation department; eventually I became the assistant head of the counseling department
in the outpatient methadone clinic where I met Michael.

Despite my education— master’s degree in social work, six years of post-graduate education engaged in clinical work to become a licensed clinical social worker—none of what I learned prepared me for the situations I would actually encounter on my jobs.

I tried to get a “normal” job when I was about to graduate from a college in Manhattan, where I majored in theater with a double minor of sociology and psychology. Not exactly a recipe for landing a lucrative career.

I worked at temp jobs all through college: a receptionist, a billing clerk,  clipping coupons at a department store, adding numbers in a research department at a financial firm. And what did I learn from all that? I was not cut out to work at a traditional job behind a desk.

The Rule Breakers is available in print, eBook, and audiobook and is available on Amazon and booksellers everywhere.


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The Three Tomatoes Book Shelf If you love books you've come to the right place. Here's where you'll find great books that our Tomato reviewers have read and think other tomatoes will love too. Enjoy.

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