Every single day, within the prison system, there are thousands of people who deal with the stress, anxiety and mental duress… that come with incarceration. These aren’t even the thousands of others, who suffer from some form of (diagnosed) mental illness and are simply medicated and warehoused. That’s a much deeper and larger issue that’s plagued the prisons, especially since the closings of mental hospitals has created a need for housing of these individuals. No, I’m talking about the “average” prisoners, who generally have a clean bill of mental health. Those who face situations that can be so stressful and anxiety-ridden, that someone outside these fences could never understand. Put it like this, at one time a person leaving prison could file for Social Security Disability, just because they had been in prison. (I do not believe this is still the case?) Just as there have been studies done on the impact of incarceration, on prisoner’s mental health. The one I remember, specifically, was one that showed 95% of people coming out of prison show they are suffering from some form of P.T.S.D. (post-traumatic stress disorder).

**quick disclaimer- my memory is very bad, and I was unable to really do follow up research, to provide that actual study… I do, however, encourage anyone to do the research for themselves! **

So, now you have a large number of prisoners who would most likely be considered in good mental health… facing some of the most stressful times of their lives! On top of that, a lot of people in here would not and do not seek any help for what they’re going through, because of the stigma that can come with it. So, what do you do to help the problem and assist those prisoners, who suffer varying levels of mental distress daily?! This is where we as a community must try and be there for each other… ideally at least!

Now, I realize that people dealing with serious mental health issues should really seek professional help. But, what about the large percent of us, who run at such a high stress level and try to function through chest-gripping anxiety… or just those who suffer from the stress’ and struggles of being in prison. That alone is one of the biggest stress factors I’ve ever faced… and it’s one that we continue to face every day we wake up inside these fences. Then, to top an already stressful situation off, we all face the events of the streets… family issues, money issues (in and out of prison), deaths and the loss of family & friends or the HUGE majority who are just dealing with broken relationships and love lost?! Too many times with these cases, we try to deal with these ourselves… albeit, not very successfully most the time. I mean, I’ve been in this situation more times than I care to remember! But I’ve been lucky enough to form bonds with guys in here, built on respect and trust, that have allowed me to open up and talk about some of the things I’ve gone through. As times gone on, I’ve found that I have that same respect and trust from others that allows them to feel comfortable enough to seek out that same type of relationship and open up, to me. Honestly, I’ve had at least a 1/2 dozen of these sit-down conversations, in the past week… about how our perspective from prison often changes some of our principles we so adamantly stand-on; about growing up & maturing as we do our time in prison; most recently, dealing with the death of someone’s children’s’ Mother. And I write about them here, because of the super-high frequency at which these “talks” occur… confirming to me that there’s a real issue, that’s being ignored and allowed to fester. Creating anger, depression or some other toxic emotions, that in turn fuel some very destructive thoughts & actions (I know this, because I’ve done this before). Even worse are the ones who bury it and let it build up until they go home… and then act out and fall into the repetitive & endless cycle of returning to prison and reinforcing some beliefs, that more warehousing is needed… when some people just want to be heard and helped! These opportunities have become an important & integral part of my own growth and a priority in my day.

One reason these have become so important is that it just feels good to try and promote some positivity in a world, that’s overrun with negativity. As I said, in my “About Me“, I’ve really tried to make every effort, to make any positive impact I can in the lives of others around me. So, that if I do have to spend the rest of my life in prison… that it won’t be for nothing or be a waste. If I can play any part (big or small) in helping someone navigate their way through this… from my own experiences, then I did my best. Just the same as if I was able to play a part (big or small) in preventing someone from coming to prison OR from coming back, then it’s a win amongst of pile-up of losses! And, a lot of that depends on how these guys get through prison and what they’re able to take away from it.

Secondly, through the use of proper & positive communication, anyone can efficiently maneuver this world. I’ve personally seen some potentially VERY dangerous situations be averted from some potentially VERY dangerous outcomes… with the use of effective communication. Especially when we live in an environment that’s based on principles that have been manipulated and reworked by prison mentality. And all too often as men AND as some very prideful Alpha males… we can allow our pride and emotions to dictate our actions. Where any slight can be seen as an act of straight disrespect, which can provoke varying degrees of a response. On too many occasions, I’ve seen the smallest situations begin to snowball and grow into some monstrosity… that quickly gets outta control and becomes unmanageable.

I’ve learned that one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal is the ability to listen and effectively communicate… unfortunately, both can seem like a lost art-form at times. This is why I so quickly encourage and advocate for people to listen & talk… to understand & be understood. This is the foundation needed for change, especially in prison where it’s too often underutilized and replaced with simple violence.

One of the greatest perks for me, with these conversations is the therapeutic effect they have on me. Through the many talks that’ve come up on the different things we all face as men… as men in prison… issues on the yard… issues with family and loved ones… dealing with pain… and working through depression. Through all these, I’ve been fortunate enough to take away a lot of what others are struggling with and see those same things in my life… then apply what we talk about to my own healing or overcoming of that issue. By trying to help someone else, I ultimately end up helping myself, too. A win-win situation! This has been key to helping me identifying and beginning to understand the things within myself… that have been causing me my own struggles. Some of which I touched on, in my post on “Depression“… an issue that’s still a very active work in-progress, that I continue to work on internally and through the help of others around me. But’s it’ this understanding I get when talking to some of these like-minded people, that’s allowed me to grow & improve.

Another thing I wrote in my “About Me”, was an opportunity that was given to me… when I participated in a prisoner-to-prisoner Mentor Program. This was sponsored through the Mental Health Services and the purpose of the program was to offer younger and at-risk prisoners… who were either serious management problems, were suffering from mental health concerns or facing difficult situations… find a safe space with people they could relate to and open up about them. In this program, the Psyches hand-picked prisoners to come in as mentors… these were mostly men with some time in, whose experiences and history could help them relate and assist those coming in as mentees. It was very effective, because it allowed for a trust & respect level, that might not be gained between some of these prisoners and their psyches or other staff members. For example, in my group there was 1 mentee and 5 mentors… all of the mentors were serving LIFE sentences and had at least 20-25 years in already. Each of us with different experiences, perspectives and backgrounds. However, not all prisons offer programs like this one… like the current prison I’m at, for example. Which is unfortunate because this was a very effective tool in dealing with a lot of behaviors and attitudes that really stemmed from the struggles and emotions these guys were having to deal with, but really didn’t know how. It was a safe space, to talk about those things that were affecting their thoughts, actions and behavior.

So, I brought that Mentor Program into this conversation, because it’s along that same premise that we’re trying to open up communication and create a safe space, for each other. And, I like to think that it’s been my character, reputation and the general way I carry myself… that’s played a role in the Brand I try to create for myself… that’s earned the respect and trust amongst my peers in prison and let them feel comfortable enough to open up and talk to me. There are SO MANY guys in here, with SO MUCH bottled up… that are screaming on the inside to let some of that shit out and be heard. But, it still goes back to the mentality, of prison, where vulnerability is seen as a weakness… that prevents a lot of these guys from seeking help and instead just act out or try and find some alternative source (usually a substance) to mask whatever their going through or feeling.

This is why it’s been so important to me to encourage and maintain these conversations… almost like a pop-up therapy session that strives to stimulate growth and change! I mean if we ever truly want to see change in here or within ourselves… then it has to start somewhere and by far the absolute hardest part is just asking for help. Especially in prison!

Source of featured image: Loner Wolf Background Image

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