10 (or so) questions with...Don Lewis
By Steve Lange
Chief Psychiatrist for the Federal Bureau of Prisons
Rochester Magazine: Since you’re a psychiatrist, I’m going to give you one of the cheesy psych tests I give people. I’ll tell you what your answers represent later.
Don Lewis: Great.
RM: Name your favorite animal and give me three words to describe it.
DL: Squirrel. Three words to describe it? Smart, innovative, and cute.
RM: Same thing with your favorite color.
DL: Green. Bright, sharp, crisp.
RM: You’re in a white room. All alone. No windows or doors. How do you feel?
DL: Claustrophobic. I could come up with a lot of other stuff, but mostly claustrophobic.
RM: OK. For the animal, you said “smart, innovative, and cute.” That’s supposed to represent how you feel about yourself.
DL: Pretty damn right. Spot on.
RM: The color—you said “bright, sharp, crisp”—is how you hope others perceive you.
DL: Again, spot on.
RM: The white room is supposed to represent your feelings on death.
DL: I should use this test. It’s better than some of the tests we give patients.
RM: Do you deal directly with prisoners?
DL: Not too much anymore. It’s mostly administrative. I travel to different prisons.
RM: Did you start off dealing with prisoners?
DL: Yes. I was the staff psychiatrist at first.
RM: How was that?
DL: Awesome. Prisoners are fantastic patients. You see every kind of psychopathology possible, which is a very attractive thing for a psychiatrist.
RM: Do you have an interest in private practice psychiatry?
DL: I did that. I did two months of it in Arizona. That’s as long as I could last. I did my residency here. I did my fellowship in addictions. I went out to Scottsdale for private practice. Bought a house, did all of that. Two months, that’s all I lasted. It was horrible. You’re on call 24 hours a day. You don’t know where your patients are, and I worried about them.
RM: After I’m finished asking the following question, I will count to three. You must answer before I get to three. What’s 4 cubed? One ...
RM: Another one. 6,000 divided by 20. One, Two ...
DL: 300. I was a math major.
DL: I was an actuary for a year. So at least I lasted a year in that job. I worked in New York City for Met Life. I hated being a Dilbert. So I went back to school. I wanted a job where I could see people and talk to people, and the exact opposite of actuarial science is psychiatry.
RM: You’ve now been to all 50 states and all seven continents.
DL: I finally made it to Antarctica. I had to hit all seven continents by the time I was 35, and I just made it in 2007. I booked an online adventure on a passenger ship. You fly to Argentina and take the cruise. They stopped at different places and you’d go on shore. You’d see a penguin, and be amazed. By the third stop the penguins all looked the same and the ice all looked the same and the seals looked the same. It got old after a while, but I’m glad I did it. I had a great time.
RM: Is it your favorite continent?
DL: No. It’s probably way down on the list. There are no Starbucks, and the Wi-Fi sucked.
RM: You and your partner became the first couple on Rochester’s domestic partner registry.
DL: Yes, in July of 2010.
RM: What did that get you?
DL: It’s supposed to be a wallet-sized card that you show hospitals or businesses if they ever ask if you’re together. It came in the mail, and it’s this size [holding up a napkin], laminated, crooked. You can’t even put it in your pants pocket, because it doesn’t fit anywhere.
RM: Quiz question that you’d better get right: When was your commitment ceremony?
DL: October 19, 2007. I put it on my Google calendar to remind me.
RM: Is there a meaning behind October 19?
DL: No. It was the day available at the Mall of America where we could book the ballroom for the cheapest price. That’s where we had our commitment ceremony. ‘The Most Holiest of Institutions,’ as I put in the vows.
RM: Did you use the wedding chapel there?
DL: No. We were more in the food court area. You could get Pronto Pups and Sbarro right after, so it was great.
RM: You partner, Michael, has written one of the five funniest letters to the editor to Rochester Magazine, and we do rank all letters based on their humor. He was arguing about a Dolly Parton song.
DL: We went to Dollywood for our honeymoon. We have a Dolly Parton shrine in our house.
RM: You have a shrine?
DL: Michael does. I relegated it to the water heater room.
RM: What does that entail?
DL: Records, a juke box, pictures. It’s next to the water softener salt, so that’s the only time I go in there to see it.
RM: You were in one of Rochester Magazine’s “Single in the City” issues. You wrote this great letter in a follow-up issue, you said “I was described as cute (code for overweight), which I was. I have since lost 90 pounds and feel so much better! S o the article was really good motivation to get in shape.” How’d you lose 90 pounds?
DL: I went on Atkins, and two years later I’d lost 100 pounds.
RM: So Rochester Magazine was directly responsible for your weight loss?
DL: Well, I mean ....
RM: And you met your partner through your story in the magazine?
DL: No. We actually ...
RM: Let me rephrase that. And you met your partner through your story in the magazine?
DL: Yes, it was amazing.
RM: Wow. So the magazine is directly responsible for your weight loss and your love life?
DL: Yes. Thank you, Steve, so much for all of that. You’ve given me so much. How did we forget to ask you to the wedding? RM: I was wondering that.