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3 Reasons Mental Health is Critical Post- Incarceration

Did you know that across our nation, people with severe mental illness are 3X more likely to be in jail or imprisoned before being in the care of a mental health facility?

So basically, our country locks up individuals battling mental health or have unaddressed mental health issues, they do not get the treatment they need during their incarceration (because prisons aren’t focused on mental health) and then…. 90% of incarcerated individuals are released back into society with worsening symptoms due to carceral environment, disconnection of loved ones, complete loss of everything that gave them sense of purpose and not to mention the complete suppression of your emotions and thoughts because let’s face it, being incarcerated is not a place for vulnerability.

Let’s evaluate that correctly, 90% of individuals who have gone through the criminal justice system WILL be released ONE Day. That means that we are trusting these “FELONS” back into communities, schools, jobs, society but have not created the correct pathways, support or recognized the fact that POST INCARCERATION SYNDROME is a real diagnosis.

Our society has lacked addressing all factors that lead to recidivism, healing individuals and creating new mindsets. Makes absolutely no sense…..

We truly believe that Mental Health should be accessible to every single person that has experienced the criminal justice system.. This is what 300 Letters envisions across our country. Even prior to entering a jail or prison, incarcerated individuals are more likely to have experienced abuse and trauma in their lives than people in the free world.. 79% of women in state and federal prisons have reported being victims of physical abuse. This is heartbreaking for them, their kids and the people who care to see individuals & communities grow and understand their trauma. No-one can change what happened before but we can all contribute to the safety of our people returning home. Nothing in this world is linear, we are all interconnected meaning if I do better at my job, rather it be as a parent getting her child’s homework done, then the teacher has an easier time teaching and locking in the lessons.

Top 3 Reasons Below

1. P.I.C.S: This is probably the first time you ever heard of it & that is the MAIN ISSUE. Post Incarceration Syndrome:
Post Incarceration Syndrome is REAL; also known as a form of PTSD. This is caused by living in an oppressive environment for a prolonged period of time.

Legend and I experienced a few of these symptoms. I had no idea I was battling depression until I started therapy.I couldn’t process my new title of FELON and was scared that my sons would judge & be upset with me. I didn’t know how I was going to succeed in professional endeavors with this label.

Symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Reduced capacity to trust caused by living in a fearful environment
  • Social withdraw ( loss of hope)
  • Insomnia ( being woken up by loud noises and C.O.’s screaming)
  • Diminished Self-Esteem ( Now i’m a felon and don’t amount to anything)
  • Self- destructive behavior ( same patterns, same mindset since no-one cares)
  • Anti-social traits ( internalized coping behavior to survive)
  • Substance use disorder ( to cope with a lot of these symptoms and it likely existed prior to incarceration)

This is most severe in people who have been incarcerated for more than a year, have had little or no access to education or rehab and have experienced trauma prior to prison which is MOST of our people.

2. Mental Health is the MOST common UNMET need for children of Incarcerated parents.
The parent-child relationship is the most fundamental and critical relationship for a child, nurtured and ongoing since the day of birth. When a child loses a parent to incarceration, it has been compared to losing a parent to death or divorce (other traumatic life experiences that society accepts).
60% of women in U.S prisons are MOTHERS and the primary caretakers to their children prior to prison.
92% of parents in prisons are FATHERS.

As a mother who has never been separated from my child for more than a week, I felt depressed, guilty, and a lot of pain. I never adjusted to being away from my son just like all the other mothers that were in prison with me. NOT one of the mom’s I knew had a criminal charge that was related to their child YET ALL the mom’s I knew were FIRST time offenders. Incarceration puts a huge toll on your mental well-being, not knowing how your children are doing day to day and also hearing about the way they act out their pain. It’s a tough pill to swallow, to know you can’t do anything to help them with their frustrations. Coming back home and learning to transition back into that parental role is not something you can guide alone. You have to consider that now someone else in your family has taken on the role and responsibility of providing for your child & have created strong bonds with your little ones. You return home and your child isn’t the same age as they were when you left… new little person with different interests and routines.

Only a professional was able to guide me through this & identify the emotions I was going through for so long after I returned home.

3. The Intergenerational Trauma of Incarceration:
In the U.S the most common and societal response to crime, poverty, substance use and mental disorders has been Incarceration & this is why families suffer from Mass Incarceration in the U.S.
Disproportionately; a systemic and criminalization of hispanic and blacks have led to Incarceration being a very common experience in these communities.
There are mostly NEGATIVE intergenerational effects on families who experience this.
1 in 12 children have had an incarcerated parent during one point in their lives.
Children of Incarcerated parents are 6X more likely to end up in prison themselves.
It is a cycle of resentment, frustration, mindsets & behaviors being passed down generation to generation because of these Incarceral traumas being left unaddressed on human and policy levels. These traumas are deep rooted and in most instances unrecognized by our own selves.

My biggest fear as a mother is that my kids end up incarcerated.This is why for so long, Legend and I brainstormed on how we would educate them on this matter. We were transparent with our boys, especially the oldest one from the very beginning, we shared our errors and took the leap into trying new things with our faith and therapy.
Our approach with parenting has always been to have them involved in what we do and not to baby them at home because society won’t. I remember the day of my sentencing the judge said to me “ You should’ve known better and this is why I am going to make an example out of you”. My first time ever being in trouble and given a prison sentence made me feel like I was going to die. This country and system did not even give me ONE chance. My father has also experienced Incarceration yet he didn’t know how to handle it when I experienced it and ended up not communicating with me until I returned home.
This was painful for me but I learned to understand that it was his way of coping.

Therapy variations such as Art Therapy & Family Therapy have proven to be extremely effective for the incarcerated individuals just as much as their family members. Therapy allows for exploration and understanding in a way we could not do alone. Confusion, anger, resentment are some emotions families go through during and after an incarceration experience and it limits us from mending relationships since we don’t know how to tackle these emotional and communication barriers. These deep rooted issues; linger & develop into bigger issues down the road for parents, their children, families and communities. It is critical to start the healing process inside of prisons, nurture families in order to ensure societal success and prevent intergenerational incarceration.

If YOU or someone you love, have experienced Incarceration, and have minor children, please reach out to 300 Letters. Our program treats Incarceration as a Family Affair. The program application is on the website www.300letters.org.
If you would like to share YOUR story to uplift & let people know they aren’t alone Email: info@300letters.org so we can connect .
The power of storytelling is unmatched. We, humans, have more in common than you can imagine