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Prison Points of View: Mental Health Treatment

It is a well-known fact that prisons and jails have been the catch basin for the mentally ill for decades. Equally familiar is the manner in which the government’s War on Drugs has disproportionately targeted the poor and addicted and yet almost never busts the real players in the game. Addiction is often closely related to mental illness and so it is not a big surprise that prison is filled to overflowing with the mentally ill and addicts. In my 30 years of dealing with prisons in three different states, I can honestly say I have met very few bad people.

 I cannot fault the government for taking people who are committing real crimes off the street. It is not okay to allow someone to assault another person or to steal their stuff or any other real crime. Mental illness and addiction are not free passes for bad behavior. No, the fault is not that the government is trying to stop innocent people from being hurt or victimized, the problem is that they are not trying to stop it.

 If we agree, and I believe we do, that mental illness and addiction are the root cause of most if not all the “badness” then shouldn’t the government be focusing on healing the mental illness? Punishing someone for being sick seems to me to be evil. No one wants to be vomited on. If a sick person threw up on you would you punish them? Or would you try to help them to not be sick anymore? Mental illness is no different.

Punishment, not treatment? What is worse is that by the government’s antipathy towards treatment it is ensured that the sick people only get worse! Then they are released back into society. How does that keep anyone safe?!

 I am currently involved with the NHDOC Mental Health Team. I called them “team” because it is not mental health treatment. It is not even called Mental Health Services, it is called Behavioral Health Services. Allow me to translate: dog training. Trained to obey the rules. That is the goal. Dealing with emotional pain, depression, racing or suicidal thoughts, panic attacks, phobias, PTSD, bipolar, a total disconnection with reality? Not as important as making sure you follow the rules. It seems like, at first glance, a reasonable idea, but the main flaw isn’t thinking that someone in the throes of mental illness has a choice.

 Let me give you an example of the system in action. My friend Danny has PTSD, depression, anxiety and impulse disorders, and bipolar. He has been in one treatment or another for over 25 years. There is no question of the legitimacy of these conditions. He is on Depacote,  Prozac, and Trazodone.   All serious medications. He was kicked out of treatment for having an altercation with another inmate. He has been actively seeking help from mental health for months. I know because I’ve been writing his letters. He’s trying to get back into the anger management program. He was told by the Administrator of Behavioral Health to stop wasting her time. He is being denied treatment for exactly the reason he needs it so badly. Because his mental illness is symptomatic and has manifested in rule infractions he has been refused to help.

 It seems crazy. Sorry, no pun intended but this situation could be possible. But given the circumstances, it is really no surprise. What circumstances? There are simply not enough clinicians in the prison to deal with the Mental Health crisis. I spoke with one staff member before Thanksgiving and I found out that she was the only clinician working for the entire Concord prison population, over 1,000 people! The other clinician was on vacation.

 2 to 1000? Where are all the clinicians? Where are all the rehabilitation programs? The answer is simple but difficult to explain. In short, the prison kills their spirit and drives them out. They just don’t last. No one gets into the mental health field without the desire to do good, to alleviate suffering, to help people. Prison doesn’t have much room for any of that nonsense. Here it is all about guilt, shame, and suffering.

 Therein lies the true Crux of the matter. Many,  most?  People believe that prison should be all about degradation and punishment. That the bread and water B is enough. That prisoners do not deserve any rights or privileges. We have transgressed and therefore we should burn.

 I will not point out all the very many flaws. The immorality the borderline sociopathic minds that requires. I’ll leave off the fact that our legal system is incredibly flawed allowing up to two hundred thousand innocent people to be convicted of crimes they did not commit! Or making illegal things I simply should not be. I’ll ignore all of this and point out the one fact that should bother everyone.

 90% of all prisoners will be released one day. Now if a person goes into Prison with becomes one.

 I have to watch Fox News because they hate me. I am all they despise a prisoner, transgender, Pagan, Native American. I like to see what they say about me. This week I heard them say that transgenders were crazy people running around in dresses. Why are you being catered to?

 I’m blown away by this half the country at least believe what Fox News says. Most of the country agreed to simply lock crazy people up. So now being trans is almost a crime?!

 I being dramatic to establish a point.

 If we all do not treat people as people that want to be saying about ourselves? If we take the easy way out and allow things to remain as they are what are we saying about ourselves? If we do nothing then what does that mean for our future?

 I am a mentally ill prisoner. I am a person. I laughed and I cried. Sometimes I want to kill myself. Cuz I wish you’d kill me. I get lonely. I get hungry. I am no different than anyone else you know except I have a few issues that knocked me off balance occasionally. PTSD, bipolar, some schizophrenia. the only crime I’m guilty of is being poor and having a mental illness. The courts be damned. If I can sit in prison, innocent, then so can anyone else. It is such frustration that no one believes or cares until they are sitting in the hot seat. Until it is too late.

Advocate for mental health treatment in prison. Real meaningful treatment. Advocate for the humane treatment of humans. Please do not sit by and allow the status quo to stand unchallenged it is self-defeating to do nothing. It may seem easy but it can cost you everything. 

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