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Hello to all I the A.I. Universe.
I was given an article recently by Katie Rose Quandt and Alexi Jones titled Research Roundup: Incarceration can cause lasting damage to mental health. The article went in depth about the effects of our current system of penology on the mental health of those affected with mental health issues prior to being incarcerated. But what was most fascinating for me was the evidence that those who previously had no mental health issues were being subjected to such cruel conditions that even those leaving prison are experiencing lasting detrimental affects to their mental health. The affectation is known as “Post Incarceration Syndrome.”
The article took into consideration what I have found to be the most prevalent factor surrounding the mental deterioration in the carceral environment… STAFF. I will always remain fair in my assessments and never place all staff in the same category, but like the inmates, the staff that make the incarcerative experience a pure living hell, as opposed to a corrective endeavor, without a doubt have the most influence, and hence, the biggest impact on the mental health of prisoners.
A recent experience may explain. I am currently housed at a prison in Lake County Florida, appropriately Lake Correctional Institution. At this prison there is no library, no law library, nor any vocational education programs. There is space for a limited number of prisoners to work on obtaining a G.E.D., and a recently-begun wellness education program. There are also some religious volunteers and someone from Toastmaster’s International that comes in once a week to facilitate a group known as the Gavel Club. I am a member of the Gavel Club and the Wellness class. Unfortunately, although the Wellness instructor is very adept at relating her subject matter, almost none of the material is applicable to prison life. We have wellness education in the morning, and a coinciding recreation period in the afternoon. On this particular afternoon after walking several laps around the rec yard I sat my arthritic self on an incline in the grass to rest my knees. The next thing I knew two newer officers, officers, arroyo and stewart, were standing over me ordering me to get up and get moving. I attempted to explain that I had just walked several laps around the rec yard and was resting because I suffer from arthritis. None of the precipitating factors made any difference to these two officers. I know this because they said so when they replied, “I don’t care, get up and get moving like I told you.” I then tried to explain that the Wellness instructor is aware of my situation but was again informed that that held no weight with these two power hungry officers, that they had given me an order. When I asked if they would treat their grandfather this way that was all the reason they needed to whip out the handcuffs and begin the walk of shame across the rec yard with their quota of radical senior citizens in tow on the road to confinement where I would begin days if not weeks…yes you guessed it, doing nothing but lying on my back. The worst part for me would not be the loss of what little stimuli we do have by being placed into confinement, it was being essentially arrested by these two officers simply because of the power play that was created by them in the first place. When we reached the captain for approval to “lock me up,” thankfully he was somewhat level-headed and had the presence of mind to inform the officers that “the thing that started the whole thing,” my laying in the grass during recreation, I was actually allowed to do. The captain left it up to the officers whether or not to place me in confinement and I have no idea why they declined but by that time the damage to my psyche had already been done. While removing the hand cuffs the other officer had to get in one last jab by making the statement, “and wipe that smirk off your face.”
Now mind you, I’m sixty years old being ordered around by two recent high school graduate misandrists because FDC has lowered the recruitment age to 18. What can possibly be accomplished by placing an 18 year old in a position of authority over a sixty year old? The only thing to be accomplished is having a body to fill the position. There is absolutely zero rehabilitation even if that were the goal. Which it is not. The end result was that I was ordered to leave the rec yard and return to the dormitory. So instead of hitting what they were shooting at, me to be physically active on the rec yard, I went to the dorm and proceeded to lay back on my bunk doing nothing. Not only was my physical well being completely disregarded by officers arroyo and stewart, but it was literally days before my mental functioning began to process the event without anger, depression, and the feeling of degradation. And to be quite honest I still have not gotten completely over it because I find myself doing everything possible to avoid these two officers even in passing. The real question is will I ever be able to deal with life on life’s own terms again whether inside or outside these fences?
It is not surprising the recidivism rate is as high as it is as mental illness appears to be the touchstone of the largest incarceral system the world has ever known.
By the way, did I mention Lake C.I. is a designated mental health facility. A lot of good that does.
Peace and love. Namaste.
Everyone knows of him. He’s the guy with the white beard. He’s in his late 50’s and still manages a pony tail that he can braid. Some guys are envious of his hair. He carries a comb in his back pocket like a kid from last century. He talks about his mom like she’s his best friend. She comes and visits almost every week, you know, just ask him. When he tells it, she’s his only friend.
Life has escaped him, forgotten him, but he tells himself it’s ok. He still has his mom’s kind love. But from time to time, he stresses about her health. He knows she won’t live forever. Then what? Who will care, then? His appeal to the court should come through any day now, then he can help take care of Momma. Lord knows she could use the help at her age. Those sharp attorneys just about have his final sentencing argument ready, from his understanding. Then he’s getting some of that time back. It’ll be over with for this separation from Momma. She really needs his help.
He’s been in prison almost 40 years for a vicious rape that happened after a hard night of drinking. He can’t begin to remember who she was or what even happened. All he knows of her young face are the brutal photos the police took. All he knows of how it happened was that they knew a few of the same people at the same party and he came on to her. He has no idea how or why things escalated to such an event. Not really. He was way too trashed that night. His memories don’t exist. All his information of what happened came from police reports he couldn’t read until months later, before his trial.
What he does know is she’s a success. She has been for a long time now. His momma told him that at some point. She graduated college, married a banker and has four kids that make it home for the holidays. He’s glad she turned out ok. He’s glad he didn’t go so far that he ended her life. He just doesn’t know why he hurt her or how he got to where he went with it, so violent and not himself. In the moment, he wasn’t what Momma raised. What he does know is he did something awful to that young lady. He also knows that she hurts somewhere inside today because of him. He still doesn’t know how to reconcile with himself or how to feel about himself over it.
It’s that time of day again. He has to get in line for the phone. He has his notebook ready in case the paralegal has any new information for him. The laws about sentencing change all the time and people get some time back for those court rule changes. It’s his turn, now. He dials the phone and waits. No answer today. Man, he was hoping he could talk to the paralegal today. He knows how busy his lawyer is, too. Momma needs him to have good news, though.
The sad fact is, the paralegal doesn’t answer because the lawyer working on his appeal hasn’t been in practice in over ten years now. All of his appeals had been exhausted decades ago. His 53 year sentence still stands. He stays hopeful for that appeal because he’s broken. He’s certain that he’ll help his mom soon because he’s broken. His life has escaped him because he’s broken. Maybe he crossed that line a long time ago because he was broken then, too.
In reality, Momma has been gone for a few years now, too. It was heartbreaking for us to see him fall apart when the prison chaplain told him. He’s paid quite a price for being this broken. He committed a crime he never could remember, and remembers things that quit happening so long ago. His mind has disengaged from reality years back and now it’s like this for the sake of his own salvation. He might live to see freedom someday, but probably not. No one would care anymore, anyway. All because he’s broken…
When we think of asylums it brings to mind images of poor medical care, unfair treatment and abuse. Asylums were the very real horror story of the 1800s and beyond. Now, they still exist, and prison is the asylum by another name.
Each year in the United States 2.12 million prisoners are housed, out of these, 1 in 5 have a disability. Not to mention, “32 percent of federal prisoners and 40 percent of jail inmates report at least one disability” according to idaamerica. This is a hugely disproportionate number, and why is that? Because they’re asylums, that’s why.
Reverby finds that the “deinstitutionalization of patients in the state mental hospitals that had begun in the 1950s affected incarceration by the 1970s” and that “the mentally ill were swept out of hospitals, into the streets, and then into jails and prisons” as a type of social cleaning.
Many, like Becky Crow, author of Orange is the New Asylum: Incarceration of Individuals with Disabilities, believe it is a way to remove the disabled from society. Her research goes as far as to demonstrate a “school-to-prison pipeline” shunting these people out of societies way, just as the wardens of the past did. This corroborates Reverby and many others.
Why else could the prison numbers be so high? And things are just the same as they were back in the day. Maybe they don’t force people into boiling baths anymore, but slotting them in a dark hole, limiting contact and electric shock treatment are still very real practices. Humans are suffering, not just any humans but those already at a disadvantage.
When it comes to learning difficulties Gormley, author of The Hidden Harms of Prison Life for People with Learning Disabilities, finds that there are “multi-faceted and nested forms of harm that people with learning disabilities encounter while in prison as a result of direct and indirect discrimination.” This is completely out of order.
Prison is hard enough at the best of times, with the Bureau of Justice Statistics finding that “30% of jail inmates reported symptoms of major depression”, so imagine the strain this puts on those with disabilities. Incarceration is a catalyst for decaying mental and physical health at the best of times, to place the mentally disabled here is dangerous. Perhaps even devastating since suicides are up by 22% according to prisonpolicy.org.
They need specialist care and although legislation states reasonable adjustments will be made, the term is ambiguous and poorly executed – if at all.
The point is that “modernization in the provision of health care had eluded prisons and jails” (Reverby PhD, 2018) which has led to a halt in progression of society, especially for those with disabilities. All “incarcerated people were perceived as prisoners, not patients” and so disability, both physical or mental, is not accounted for. There is a very toxic view that prisoners deserve what they get, but often people forget that their time is their punishment and that these are human beings – just as we did in the bygone eras. It is no wonder that Brecher and Della Penna said prisons were stuck in the “horse-and-buggy” era.
And let us not forget how so many disabled people are coming into the prisons – why? A lack of support in the courts and the problems only get worse in the next stages.
So, if you’re the sort of person who gets a thrill from watching movies about asylums, remember that for the disabled, the asylum exists. Those horrors are more real and closer to home than you thought.
According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, in 2012 the United States had 10 times more mentally ill individuals in its prisons than the amount who are treated in psychiatric hospitals (356,268 in prison, vs. 35,000 being treated in a hospital).
The unique and stressful environment created in prisons can many times actually enhance symptoms of a mental disorder and make its side effects harder to manage. Having these individuals in prison instead of a mental facility has many negative repercussions.
Below is a letter from a prisoner in Ross Correctional Institution in Ohio.
The state of Ohio has effectively gutted its Mental Health obligations in prisons and untrained and unprepared staff are left to pick up the pieces.
In November of 2014, six of the eight mental health professionals turn in their notice at Ross Correctional Institution. Three months later, the head of the Mental Health Department and five others leave. The prison does not have a plan in place to replace the much needed Mental health workers despite having 90 days notice. Many inmates are automatically kicked off of the Mental Health caseloads, not because they are stable, but because there is no one to see them.
I was one of those inmates and it took a year to get back on the Mental Health caseload. After two short visits I find myself kicked off of the caseload again because I do not have a recent suicide attempt or hunger strike. I suffer from manic depression, fugue states, and auditory hallucinations. While I do admit I need help, I do not wish to hurt myself or others at the moment. There are others here that are not so lucky.
I recently had the extreme displeasure of sharing a cell with a 58 year-old man in the grips of severe dementia.
Mike is three years into a seven year sentence. By his own admission during the times he is a able to communicate, he was a career alcoholic, smoked crack, and drew Social Security because he had severe memory issues. Mike must have staff and inmates constantly tell him when to go to a meal, when to stand, when to sit. Mike has no concept of time. He will often try to go on a pass the second he gets it. We get our passes a day before we are suppose to go. Mike will try to go to a 1:15 pm pass at 7 am. He will ask you the same question six times in ten minutes. His personal hygiene habits require him to shower two to four times a day, and he often puts the same soiled clothing back on.
When I celled with Mike, it was not uncommon for me to have to scrub the walls and floor around the toilet while he was in the shower. Mike will wolf down his food as quickly as possible and then stare at you while you try to finish yours. He has been known to lie about missing chow and then go begging for food. Sometimes people will toss him a soup only to see him wolf that down and go begging at the next table. Mike would ask me every two minutes after I turned the light off at night, “are you awake?” He will do this every two minutes for hours sometimes. He often gets angry and rude if you try to correct him. He goes to chronic care medical visits every two weeks where he is asked if he is willing to go to a camp for older inmates with issues. Mike does not believe he has any problem and that all of the inmates and guards are working together to make him look bad. Ross is not equipped to handle my issues, let alone somebody like Mike, who recently asked me when his son was going to pick him up, because he didn’t care for this hospital. Mike has a whole block trying to keep track of him. The state knows he needs to be in a different type of facility but because of the added expense, refuse to do the right thing.
I had to move out of the cell Mike was in. He is not suitable for anyone to cell with unless they want to care for a man who acts like a spoiled two year-old with potty training issues. To be honest, Mike is the kind of inmate who could die in the middle of the night due to natural causes. Nobody wants to wake up to that or spend a week in the hole while waiting for a cause of death to clear themselves. I wish Mike the best, but elsewhere.