A Curation of Essays Reflecting Incarcerated People’s Experiences with Mental Health

Selected by Julio Demb, Elisabeth Donoghue, Charlie James, Scout Winer


Under the current United States criminal justice system, approximately forty-four percent of incarcerated people report suffering from mental illness (Hahn, 2022). In reality, the number of incarcerated people suffering from mental illness far exceeds this statistic, as many cases go unreported (Armour, 2012). For many incarcerated people, writing provides one of the only outlets for sharing their personal experiences in the system.  Though each individual has their unique story, prison writers share similar experiences regarding mental health and incarceration.

Some writers specifically focus on how their mental illness led to their arrests and subsequent incarceration. In Section 1 of this curation, incarcerated authors describe how they felt targeted by courts, and how the current policing system is built to punish mentally ill individuals. Research supports the idea that mental illness acts as a predictor of incarceration, particularly as mental illness is often correlated with abuse, homelessness, poverty, and minority status, all of which are risk factors for incarceration (Armour, 2012; Hahn, 2022). Writers within this section express their frustration with the system as well as their desperation to receive proper treatment. Many represent their experiences by describing their childhoods, which were often marked by numerous interactions with a court system that rarely provided help.

Many formerly incarcerated people describe their experiences with mental illness inside prison. Due to the harsh conditions and traumas that occur during incarceration, mental illness is often aggravated or even newly developed (Armour 2012). Section 2 of the curation includes the work of incarcerated people who write on the bleak environment of the prison and its interaction with mental health. Some illustrate their own mental deterioration under the stress of incarceration, and how abuse from staff and other incarcerated people contributes to this destructive process. Other works bear witness to the struggle and victimization of fellow incarcerated people.

Many writers focus on the detrimental effects of solitary confinement. Compiled in Section 3, these writers illustrate the toll that extreme isolation takes on the mind. For some, they describe how their previous mental illness was exacerbated by these conditions, while others develop PTSD and other conditions from this experience. Throughout their work, these authors express a common perspective of desperation and rage at the treatment of incarcerated individuals.

Incarcerated writers also heavily focus on the lack of proper treatment of incarcerated people with mental health issues. As seen in Section 4, not only does the environment of prison negatively affect the psyche, but the prison fails to even attempt to adequately address this issue. Across the United States, most prisons that do implement some mental health care programs in their facilities do so in a manner that is widely ineffective. Many programs lack experienced leadership and are riddled with staff shortages, overcrowding, and lack of funding (Brooker & Ullmann 2008). Incarcerated writers often represent these programs as being utterly useless at combating mental illness in incarceration, and others illustrate the difficulty of obtaining even the most basic standard of care. Some describe experiences in prisons where the treatment provided is inhumane and torturous, contributing to the dehumanization of incarcerated people.

Due to the lack of proper treatment, the burden of managing and healing from mental illness falls largely upon the individual. Several writers who received long prison sentences, describe their personal journeys to finding hope. Section 5 of this curation includes authors who have developed strategies for coping with mental illness while incarcerated. This hope gives them motivation to keep going and can help combat issues such as suicidal ideation and depression. Though many of these authors strike a more positive tone throughout their writing, there are still undertones of frustration in the system for failing to provide even basic mental health care.

Whether one enters the prison in good mental health or with existing mental illness, the carceral institution wages a constant war on the mind of each person within. A great body of prison writing is dedicated to documenting the mental battles fought within the walls of the prison, and the extreme adversity that characterizes them. This curation consists of pieces that highlight common experiences with mental illness in the criminal justice system. Across these sections and excerpts, feelings of rage, desperation, and frustration with the current state of the system prevail. Collected in this curation is merely a fraction of the work produced by prison writers documenting the lived experience of incarceration in the United States.

Section 1: How Mental Illness Leads to Incarceration

“Warehousing the mentally ill”
Efrain P. Morales

This essay describes issues with the current court system relating to the mentally ill. Rather than acknowledging the issues faced by those who are suffering from severe mental illness and helping them, the court system punishes their behavior as if it is voluntary. 

According to a 2013 report, when prison population dropped after an almost four-decade policy of mass imprisonment, all but one state succeeded: Connecticut. In that same year Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder proposed reduced sentences and compassionate release for drug offenders to quell prison overcrowding.

Interestingly, courts deem addiction as mental illness. But these aren’t the only categories of mental illness that swell Connecticut’s prison population. Unfortunately, also falling through the cracks of the judicial system are bipolars and schizophrenics, to name a few. This should prompt attention, but to the contrary: Courts, as a mechanism for punishment as deterrent, minimize precursors to crime for the career-building notch in the–prosecutorial belt of justice.

In response to the “get tough” practices of American criminal justice, retired Chief Judge Wald said, “Unduly long and punitive sentences are counterproductive and, candidly, many of our mandatory minimums approach the cruel and unusual level as compared to other countries and as well as to our own past practices.”

It would behoove society to question the ethics behind prosecuting without impunity the mentally ill as if they were in full mental faculty when transgressing the law.

Nevertheless, the throw-away-the-key mentality persists rather than increasing alternatives to incarceration. Unfortunately, the pro-rehabilitation alternative — which can offset recidivism– continues being deprioritized in Connecticut.

“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” Holder said last August. Perhaps he’s on to something.

“The story of James Brown, 1985-2018”
James Brown

This essay offers a personal account of how the author’s mental health history led to his incarceration. Instead of receiving the treatment he needed, he was met with punishment that only worsened his mental state. 

My background is a boy of 8 or 9 placed in mental hospitals due to a life-long diagnosis of schizophrenia. I can recall being placed on heavy doses of antipsychotic medications and my mental illness progressively worsening to a point of executing gunshot wounds and stabbings on myself. At my criminal trial, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office sought to kill me by Death Penalty. Judge Lynn Abraham presided over my trial and did everything in her power to prevent the jury from hearing evidence of my mental health history. The exclusion of this evidence significantly impacted the truth-determining process in my case because every crime requires specific intent and my particular illness includes daily bouts with hallucinations and hearing voices in my head. Throughout my life I have been involuntarily committed to mental hospitals by judges and doctors, dating back to the 1960’s. Throughout the entirety of my criminal trial, I was heavily sedated with psych drugs with the knowledge of judge Lynn Abraham, who ultimately condemned me to death by incarceration where there are no platforms for intensive care. With the exception of this revelation, I have never spoken publicly about my condition or history out of shame, ignorance of the law and lack of resources to make myself heard. When I did seek treat, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections buried and isolated me in punitive segregation cells for years under conditions where the so-called toilet was a hole in the center of the floor infested with the bugs and insects that would make their way on my body when I squatted above it to defecate. There were times when my bed was a cold slab of concrete without a mattress or linens and the metal handcuffs ripped through my flesh for hours leaving permanent scars on my body and mind.

The DOC denies me, and thousands of other, treatment to save money and, in many cases, steal money from the government by pretending to provide treatment to prisoners with mental illness. I don’t want to suffer anymore and am now reaching out for support from the masses asking that you take the time to be our voices concerning relief for lifers in Pennsylvania using my story of how the system doesn’t always get it right. Don’t let me die another statistic in this living hell.

“The history of my gambling addiction” 
John Schmidt

In this excerpt, Schmidt writes about his history with gambling, which began as a hobby and eventually developed into an addiction. Schmidt explains how this addiction eventually led to his incarceration.

Going back as far as I can remember, my first encounters with gambling occurred when I was about seven or eight years old. I bet horses at Delaware Park with my Dad. I also bet horses at Brandywine Raceway with my Mom. But I remember playing the football tickets with my dad on the weekends the most. I’m not sure which one was first of these three activities, but I remember feeling pretty cool when I did any of them.


Gambling became my validation.


I also started drinking late in my high school years. But it was the women that kind of catapulted me to a different level of behavior when it came to gambling, drinking, etc. My academics were pitiful. I barely passed any of my classes. I spent so much time trying to impress the girls and my male peers with all of the gambling lingo, war stories about winning bets, and making up other crap, just to fit in. This was all a ploy to attract everyone. I wanted to be popular for all of the wrong reasons. But at the time my boys would jock me and give me mad props for doing my own thing when it came to gambling, staying out late, etc. There was constant reassurance that I was on the right track. So I kind of bought into the hype.


After high school I moved to Atlanta for a sales job. No supervision. I gambled profusely, unchecked.


I met a girl where I worked and she left for college at Florida State. In 1995 I went down there to live with her. I frequented Biloxi casinos a lot with co-workers. I found bookies down there but ended up losing a lot of dough and had my 8 month old car repo’d. I moved back up to Atlanta with my roommate. I was working at Outback when I met a guy who turned me on to a bookie who took a lot of action. I got in over my head one particular week in late October I996. I was also fielding bets for a few friends. We all had a bum week and tried for an all or nothing move on the MNF game. Lost it all and found myself down over 17K. I ended up panicking and getting drunk to rob a bank.

I guess that is where you could say things turned for the worse.

I was sentenced to 46 months in Federal Prison. But I got to prison and really started gambling a lot. I also told everyone many stories about my life, achievements, money, school, etc. that was not even true. Even in prison I was seeking validation from my peers by continuing in my self—destructive behaviors. I was convinced (and had this thought reinforced by others) that my gambling woes were just a streak of bad luck. So I operated off of that notion.


I was put on probation. Even my P.O. minimized my situation by saying “Don’t go to DP or AC.” Like that was going to stop me. From there I went all out. I started going to Atlantic City. I was promiscuous with several women and lied to them all about my life. Again, I did not feel comfortable in my own skin. I would come to learn that so many of these actions were shame-based behaviors. Inadequacy and fear of abandonment were always front and center in my life.

I started bringing girlfriends, co-workers, and other associates with me to have a good time in AC. I only gambled big in front of people that I wanted to impress. I loved it when big crowds of people would flock to the table I was at. I would always up my bet to evoke reactions from the on—lookers. A couple of my girlfriends did not like me betting large sums of money, so I would go off somewhere else for obscene amounts of time and go hard at a roulette, blackjack, or craps table. I would often ask these women to hold my money so I would not spend it. If I lost my money I would get hostile and aggressive to the point that I scared the girls into giving me back my money. Not in my character at all. But I felt desperate to get my losses back. I always felt that way.


My need for attention began to snowball into a constant need for fuel to gamble. Once my work money began to wane, I immediately knew that I could go to a financial institution and solve my problems. I began to feel a lot of pressure from my girlfriend because my lies and my actual living arrangement did not add up. More panic set in for fear of me losing her. I had too many people that I was desperately trying to please and impress.

I slowly began to distance myself from family because I knew I was doing wrong. I kept thinking that after I robbed a bank my problems would go away. I just did not understand the nature of what was going on. Right at the end I was gambling insane amounts of money at the casinos and with my bookie. It was like I was trying to punish myself subconsciously. Right before a trip I was planning to go on with my girl to AC, I was arrested and incarcerated for several bank and hotel robberies. My life was officially over.

“Angry Man [Baby] Syndrome”

An incarcerated man explores the causal relationships between childhood stress factors, mental disorders, and incarceration. For an explanation of how related insight enabled the author to engage in self-improvement, refer to another excerpt of the same essay filed under Section 5: Coping and Rehabilitation.

One of the most demonstrative behaviors I have witnessed in prison, I have labeled, not so affectionately, the “Angry Man-Baby Syndrome”. I developed this label after being the recent target of extreme emotional outbursts from fellow prisoners whom had somehow felt wronged by my desire to take early morning showers:


These outbursts, loud enough for me to hear without directly speaking to me, as they usually are, occurred despite the existence of 9 other shower heads and me personally having never witnessed either individual seeking to awaken prior to the opening of the showers at 6 am (…) I set out to explore possible causation(s) of the Angry Man Baby Syndrome.


I delved into the field of psychology (…) While it may appear that our brain comes in pre-installed with a self regulation system, the system can be overloaded by environmental factors. The brain’s Prefrontal Cortex controls what is referred to as our “Executive Function”, which determines our ability to self-regulate. Factors such as poverty and highly dysfunctional homes during the early stages of our lives, as well as numerous other factors, may inhibit our ability to self-regulate our temperament, impulses and urges (Babcock, Beth: “Why Do Some Children Respond to Intervention While Others Don’t; Ted talks video series). These early childhood stress factors can cause a lifetime of maladaptive behaviors and mental disorders:

Studies have shown that the inability to manage stress levels in adults tend to arise from unaddressed disorders, i.e, complex PTSD or “DESNOS” (disorders of extreme stress not otherwise specified). The most common of these disorders, in order of frequency, are separation anxiety (fear of loss), oppositional defiant disorder, phobic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). children who have received diagnosis of any of these disorders tend to be characterized as having pervasive problems with “attachment, attention, and managing psychological arousal”.


Applying this information to the case at hand, I made the determination that the individuals whom I had somehow provoked, in all likelihood, suffered from the aftermath of unaddressed early childhood trauma. It has generally been my observation that a large portion of my fellow prisoners were raised in less than idea environments for children (…) However, a common characteristic amongst the vast majority of prisoners is that they seem to possess highly reactive personalities.

There remains a good chance that many actual convicts actually suffer from some type of disorder which prevents or restricts their ability to self regulate their own stress levels:

“[Y]oung children are highly vulnerable emotionally to the adverse influences of parent mental health problems and family violence. One of the most extremely documented of these vulnerabilities is the negative impact of a mother’s clinical depression on her young children’s emotional development, social sensitivity, and concept of themselves, effects that have been demonstrated in both developmental research and on brain functioning. Young children, who grow up in seriously troubled families, especially those who are vulnerable temperamentally, are prone to the development of behavioral disorders and conduct problems” … National Scientific Counsel on the Developing Child, Harvard University, (2004).


Imagine a newborn infant who has learned to cry in order to relieve stress caused by hunger, fear or uncomfortable anxieties. Fast forward some 50 to 60 years and consider the man or woman who continues to lash out at others whenever they feel uncomfortable. Any perceived loss which could trigger emotional response could arise from the loss of freedom, relationships, possessions, privacy or in some cases, a perceived inability to shower at 6:00 am. The same factors which have created my in-prison Angry [Person] group have spawned an unlimited supply of members, many of whom have yet to be incarcerated.


Section 2: Prison Environment

“What is and what should be”
Kenneth E. Hartman

This essay by Kenneth Hartman creates a picture of what prison is like on a day-to-day basis. He discusses the constant tension that runs through the prison, and how lockdowns negatively impact incarcerated people’s mental health. He also notes that these lockdowns are particularly hard on those who already struggle with their mental health. 

THE TENSION cuts through your clothes and into your skin like a jagged shank. Another alarm goes off, its pitched wailing, yelling out: there’s trouble over here, be careful, be concerned, stay vigilant. The prisoners, all knotted up into little groups defined by skin color and tattoos, warily circle before sitting down. Each group watches the others closely. This could be a diversionary tactic to draw the guards off to a far corner of the compound to launch a sneak attack. The tower speaker is blaring a constant refrain, “Down on the yard, down on the yard.”

The guards go running off to where a blue light is flashing. It could be anything from a false alarm to a full—on attempted takeover of the building or anything in between. Clubs drawn, pepper spray canisters in hand, they pour into the open doorway. On the yard, each group is sizing up its relative position. Because the alarms are essentially random, you never know where you might be when one goes off. It is a Russian roulette version of the chairs game. If the guards come out with combatants of different hues or conflicting tattoos you might get caught sitting on the ground, out of your seat, with your head kicked in. The longer it takes the guards to come back out, the sharper the tension gets. This happens multiple times every day. After a While, everyone is a raw nerve. The guards be- come so hypervigilant they react to everything with overwhelming force. The prisoners are so stressed they become landmines, trip-wires extended out in every direction. Fear, masked as aggression, suppresses the higher modes of thought resulting in a defensive stance so rigid that all slights and perceived incursions provoke a mindless, out—of-proportion reaction. This goes on for years.

The breaks in this lunacy come in the form of periodic lock-downs that last for a day or a week or months, usually without any easily comprehended distinction. One stabbing could be a lockdown of a week, another a month. At first, the feeling on all sides is one of general relief. From having to watch hundreds of potential adversaries to only your cellmate is a diminution of stress by orders of magnitude. In those few cases when you are truly compatible with the man sharing your concrete box, the relaxation is invigorating. Normally, as the choice of who lives in your space is never truly voluntary, this is not the case. Now, whatever irritating peculiarities exist become heightened. Body odors and irrational hostilities come to the fore. It often devolves into a wary dance around hard-to- understand psychological problems and complex, deep—seated fears and resentments.

Regardless of compatibility, within a few days most prisoners begin to suffer an odd form of cabin fever, a depressive rage against the powerlessness of being trapped behind a steel door that only opens unpredictably and infrequently. Some men sleep all day, slipping into a self-induced semi-coma state of passive resistance (…) For many, the cabin fever expresses itself in the loss of rationality. This is particularly true for those with preexisting mental health problems, a startlingly large percentage of modern prisoners. For these unfortunates, the lockdown becomes too much to bear. Door kicking, random shouts, radios played at full volume for days on end, stopping up toilets to flood the tiers, and other similarly irrational behaviors proliferate throughout the buildings. Like a virulent, highly contagious disease, once a few men slip the constraints of civilized behavior, a general disorder is unleashed. Cell fights start to occur more frequently because there is no other way to escape intolerable situations. Asking for a move is tantamount to being an informer in the bizarro world of prison. Even if you do, the guards normal response is “show us some blood.” Suicide attempts increase during these periods. The cell starts to shrink down on some prisoners until it is little more than a concrete coffin, squeezing out the desire to continue. In most prisons, a man spends more time on lockdown than off‘. This goes on for years.

“Prison is no place for innocent people or mentally ill people”
Lorenzo Evans

This piece details the atrocities that befall severely mentally ill incarcerated people. Not only are they more likely to be incarcerated, but the environment that they are placed in is conducive to self-harming behavior as well as outbursts. Many mentally ill incarcerated people lack basic necessary health care and are thrown into segregation often.

It’s obvious that innocent people shouldn’t be in prison but what about mentally ill people? The worst place for them to be in jail or prison. So, why are innocent people and mentally people in prison? It’s because the U.S. enjoy jailing and imprisoning its own citizens. We have some prosecutors who do everything in their power to obtain as many convictions as possible, regardless of the actual guilt or innocence of a person. We need prison diversion programs for the mentally ill. Adequate mental health care for these guys are often lacking in our prisons. It’s hard for mentally ill people to follow prison rules, as a result, they could end up in segregation a.k.a the hole. Over the years, I’ve heard so many unbelievable, horrible stories about the mentally ill that are housed in segregation. Some of them are labeled s.m.i, severely, mentally ill. The ones that are housed in Pontiac seg are known for throwing and spitting feces on eachother. As a seg gallery worker in Menard, I got to witness some of the things that I once had only heard of. I lost count of how many guys arms I’ve seen full of self-inflicted scars. I have seen guys who had a habit of smearing their feces all over themselves and their cell. I have seen a guy who refused all of his food trays and when asked what are you going to eat? He took out a tray of his feces and began eating it. I have seen guys who could only be fed finger food because if you gave them a fork or spoon, they would stick it in their penis or up their rectum. I know a guy who mutilated his genitals and had to be rushed to the outside hospital where he stayed for some days. When he was returned back to Menard, he had to be rushed to the hospital again because he removed his staples. These people need help. They shouldn’t be in prison.

“Yea I call myself that you see”
Davy Whitecell

The author of this essay calls himself “Crazy Davy Whitecell,” a reflection of the environment of prison that enhances mental illness rather than providing rehabilitation. 

Why is everyone so stressed out why are these sickos, the Doctors, always trying to heal me? I’m not ill? Or am I? What do I suffer from a language barrier, or was I just labeled a criminal and a psychopath and thrown away at 52 to spend the next 21 years in prison for my mental breakdown. Well if you wish to call flipping someone off a major crime, you see today I received my appeal from my attorney appointed by the state.


It’s crazy how so many people just stand around like there’s nothing left to do. They are in a men’s Maximum Security State Prison and most on this yard or “snake pit” are labeled with a designation of E.O.P. enhanced outpatients. It’s like if you’re mentally ill but you could be one or the other, just coming in or on your way out. It’s funny if you try to make sense of it all, you kinda have to be well versed, ‘cause if you’re not on the ball, these people are very penny wise and vindictive.


Some men as well can be very pleasant to be in contact with others well let’s just say I try to avoid at all costs. It’s laughable how some will call me a j-cat. That in California is meant as an insult in the Mental Health world in prison, when you size up most men. That’s the kettle calling the pot black, so to speak.


The prison guards zookeepers, the mental and medical staff veterinarians. This is my world, a chemical war, spiritual warfare, mental illness, a pond. I wait for the still of the night for silence to be able to have some peace.


The mental health system a complete failure, yesterday’s “Real News” 4000 homeless mentally ill on the street in San Francisco, what are they going to do? Start filling the county jails? It’s at crisis level.

“Gray Sorrow: Depression in Prison.”
Ryan M. Moser

Moser uses poetic language to describe how incarceration and the poor conditions that incarcerated people endure can lead to new or worsening symptoms of depression. 

To truly explain the depression one experiences while in prison is difficult. It’s like a sadness so deep within that it can never be lifted; a heart of heaviness which mere words cannot express. It becomes an exercise in futility to seek a promise land when you’re cut off from society, taken away from your family, separated from your friends, co-workers, peers, and isolated by yourself. There’s an underlying feeling that the illogical pursuit of happiness is unavailing, and just waking up everyday becomes a struggle. You are surrounded by rue and stampeded into the darkness of shame and hopelessness, and there is a gray sorrow following everywhere; hammered and forged on an anvil of regret. Most times, it feels fruitless to search oneself for some future endeavor of consequence (for the hour has passed and the candlelight’s dim) so we grieve for our last hope once again. It is hard to continue on…. Depression (a major affective disorder that affects almost all men in prison at one point or another) causes anxiety, lethargy, obesity, Vapidity, and feelings of loneliness. Every second of every minute of everyday becomes torment in the abyss. We sit here alone and ponder our mistakes — knowing that we can never turn back time or change our fate, and not fully believing that we have the power to control our future and lead life to a better place. The grueling nature of suffering bears its teeth and takes a bite out of the present moment regularly, reminding us of the constant battle to try and stay in one piece. Things drag on as the world outside spins and spins and spins while we stand still. The emotional disturbance in our minds can be temporarily abated by positive activities like exercise, reading, chess, yoga, puzzles, correspondence, meditation, writing, music, and other things to take your thoughts away from prison, but at the end of the day we remain in a world of hurt and confusion; at the mercy of our oppressor’s whip and the bars of the cell door. There is nowhere to run from this agonizing pain. The discontentment which arises from our previous poor decisions can follow you for years, and the physiology of the disease of depression weighs on top of that like an elephant, adding to the moroseness. There is no real cure for depression as of yet, only pharmacological assistance to help keep symptoms at bay, but medicine and therapy are only an option i F you want to be classified as a psychiatric inmate and be transferred to a facility which accommodates those with much worse problems than depression — homicidal/ suicidal tendencies, schizophrenia, mental retardation, and more. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to find a rope that we can pull ourselves up out of the pit with – by any means necessary. It comes down to strength, warrior-spirit, tenacity, positivism, right outlook, and most of all, hope…things that are sometimes, but not always, out of reach while serving time in the Department of Corrections.

“How I plan to remain a healthy, productive, and valued member of the community when I parole (AKA, Relapse prevention plan)..”
David J. Terway

In this section of his essay, David Terway details his mental health diagnoses. He understands his mental state to have been worsened by past drug use, family trauma, and perhaps most significantly, the time spent in solitary confinement and lack of humane treatment while incarcerated. 

My mental illness diagnoses are Pedophilic Disorder and Other Specified Personality Disorder. Depression is a mood disorder. The pedophilia is a thought disorder. I was about forty-four years old when I realized I had a mental disorder. This was a few months after being arrested (my arrest was May 19, 2005). This realization came about from a combination of finding myself in prison and pondering what got me there, as well as the receipt of a letter from my older sister in which she told me that if I sought long-term mental health treatment she might continue to stay in touch, otherwise she’d have nothing to do with me.

My symptoms have included two severe anxiety attacks (December 2015 and June 2017), banging my head against the wall and floor and cell door without regard for the damage it might cause to me (four separate instances, all in 2017), not eating or drinking for up to four days (on three occasions, all in late 2017). When I wasn’t eating or drinking, I wanted to die; I did not wish to experience what I had been experiencing for another moment longer. I wanted it all to end. I cared about nothing. I realized that I had been depressed for years near the end of 2017 during my crisis bed stays. I had become accustomed to the depression.


I have no doubt that my marijuana and alcohol use, along with the abuse of other drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, and mushrooms) likely played a part in bringing on my mental disorders. Also, I never received any therapy when my father passed away right before my twelfth birthday. My family told me that I refused to speak at all for more than a week. When I started using drugs, my Dad’s death was part of my justification. If my substance abuse didn’t bring about my mental health issues, it at least certainly amplified or worsened existing conditions.

I realized I was depressed when I had my first anxiety attack in late 2015. It was brought on by a constant and unfruitful search for reward while serving my prison sentence. This invalidation of my good behavior took place over the ten years I had served until that point; I was at the CCCMS (CDCR Clinical Case Management System) level of care that entire time. I tried so hard to show that I was not violent, that I could follow the rules, and that I had insight into the nature of my crime and its impact on my victim and my victim’s loved ones and on society as a whole. I tried to show that I was no longer antisocial. I went to Atascadero State Hospital (henceforth referred to as “ASH”) from February 2016 to June 2016 and got a lot better. But then after six months at the EOP (Enhanced Outpatient) level of care after ASH, my treatment team (at Valley State Prison, Chowchilla) decided, without my input, that I was ready to go back to CCCMS. I, on the other hand, had made clear that I was doing well at ASH and needed to be permitted to complete what I had started there, including substance abuse and CBI (Cognitive Behavioral Intervention), and that I needed DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) for my entrenched black-and-white thinking, all-or-nothing thinking, interpersonal relationship effectiveness, emotional regulation, etc. I even filed a formal grievance, to no avail. I ‘freaked out” at my team because they didn’t care what I had to say. Furthermore, the team told me they were sending me to CCCMS because they were being pressured by CDCR to reduce the EOP population. I ended up banging my head against the wall and floor repeatedly until it bled profusely. From there I went to crisis bed after crisis bed as my EOP team continued to insist I ought to be at the CCCMS level of care. I came back to ASH on October 31, 2018.

“Thunder dome”
Jacob Barrett

In this piece, Barrett describes his experience in the “thunder dome,” the nickname given to Oregon State Penitentiary’s Intensive Management Unit. He specifically mentions the psychological warfare employed by both the staff and incarcerated people, describing an environment that assaults the mind and causes many to fall mentally ill. 

Often prisoners are already experiencing a multitude of mental and emotional ailments that subject them to vulnerability but in solitary their issues become exacerbated. Triggering them to act out isn’t a difficult task for the bored. Some guards look for the chink in someone’s armor and then verbally attack. More often than not it is the same group of guards. And they always take their time mentally fucking with guys. They know they have you in a cell for years. If you have a confrontation one day with one of them you may not get fucked with for a few weeks or more. But it will come. If you get moved to another unit they will have one of their coworkers insure you get fucked with. Punishment from the guards is just like gang retaliation. It works on the buddy system. Prisoners see it and it is part of the convict code: we act in the same way they model. Door kicking is just the first symptom that guards are warming up to fuck with someone long term. Sometimes it is just a prisoner having a psychotic break. The pressure of solitary closes in on them and they snap for some genuine reason or for no reason at all. They start kicking their cell door and screaming incoherently.

Door kicking is sometimes used as psychological warfare against other prisoners to break them down. If someone isn’t liked, for whatever reason, several prisoners will get together and kick the doors day and night causing him and everyone sleep deprivation. A few minutes of kicking here and there, then silence just long enough for the person to start reading or doing other work, then kicking again. They’ll watch his sleep schedule and kick as soon as he lies down and make sure he doesn’t get so much as a nap. All while yelling, “Sleep when you can, not when you want to.”

Usually, within 24 hours, the prisoner is kicking his own door begging the guards to move him to a new cell or unit. They wont. He’ll stay right there until he floods out his cell, cuts up, or tries to hang himself. Some prisoners won’t break though. They will endure the noise and sleep deprivation, sometimes for months. And that, in itself, has its own psychological consequences. It is within the OSP IMU that the art of door kicking and psychological warfare have been perfected and taken to a level that CIA interrogators would appreciate.

I begin to feel as if I am being eaten away mentally. I can’t sleep on a normal schedule, I’m constantly bombarded by noise, and those watching me gaze on day after day as if it has no affect on me. My anger for them grows toward the guards and my hate for myself grows as I feel a deep toxic shame for where I have dragged myself.

“What prisoners learn”
Andrew Jackson Smith

This piece describes the neurological impacts of incarceration on individuals. It discusses how the prison environment can affect a wide variety of neurological processes and contribute to the development of mental illness.


Helplessness is defined as a feeling of dependence, powerlessness, defenselessness, or depression. Learned helplessness is defined as a passive fatalistic behavior that one cannot influence one’s environment, or alter one’s existence. The condition may arise as a result of depression, fears, or loss of functional independence.

The ideal breeding ground for instilling learned helplessness in people is the prison environment in America. This penal institutional system is also ensuring generational racism; creating horrendous psycho sociopaths, and developing career paths to failure. America’s prisons harbor depression, fear, and loss of functional independence.

Helplessness is a behavior in both thought and action. Behavior is a definable function produced by the brain. Learning acts upon the brain to formulate this function of behavior described as helplessness. Learning is the acquisition of new information that is subject to memory and recall. Memory may be unconscious (implicit) or conscious (explicit).


Plasticity of the brain involves changes anatomical in structure and/or physiological in function. Learning can produce synaptic changes and contribute to stored memory. Memory is consolidated by repeated experience (enhanced by emotional components) over time Which transform short term memory into long. Emotional components are formed by many internal and external environmental factors, such as attention, fear, social cultural setting, neurotransmitters, stress, sleep, etc.

Learning involves encoding, storage and recall of information, much by way of long term potentiation. When synaptic pathways increase excitatory postsynaptic receptors in “the hippocampus, long term potentiation occurs. Excitation can occur by quantitative means (cooperativity) and/or qualitative (associativity). This is a very abbreviated and generalized comment; long term potentiation involves many factors beyond the scope of this paper. However, the learning process involves long term potentiation resulting from anatomical and physiological changes at the neuronal level.

Argument continues today over biological and environmental mechanisms affecting learning and ultimately behavior, both normal and abnormal. Both social and biological mechanisms act upon the neuronal aspect of the mind. In the future, the field of psychiatry, as we know it, will not exist. Psychiatry will be transformed to neuropsychiatry and then only to distinguish signs (neurotic manifestations) from symptoms (psychotic manifestations), both attributable to structural and physiological characteristics at the neuronal (or lesser) level. Furthermore, emphasis upon the creation of abnormal (disease) will need to take center stage as we acknowledge the ever increasing effects of society upon society. And prisons in America are the experimental playgrounds to alter mentation in human subjects under strict governmental and regulatory guidelines.



It is obvious and over simplistic to note that may regions of the brain are involved in cognition. The reward system involving dopaminergic neurons and the basal ganglia and insula with pathways to the anterior cingulate involving will power. The ventral striatum receiving inputs from the hippocampus, amygdala, and entorhinal cortex communicate with the ventral and rostral medial pallidum, and rostrodorsal substantia nigra pars reticula. Pathways of neurons continue to paramedian of the dorsal nucleus of the thalamus and back upon the anterior cingulated cortex. All this to ultimately impact executive function involving the prefrontal cortex (and limbic structures). Reinforcing stimuli account for the cascade of events culminating in long term potentiation of learning associated with motivated behavior.

There is nothing new or remarkable in this explanation, and it is surely better demonstrated through graphics, if not computerized three-dimensional models of the brain. Less emphasis is placed upon the detrimental effects of our environments than should be, unless a definitive diagnosis has been established as a result. And so when noble soldiers venture into war and return with a diminished or absent ability to conform to the norms of society, we label the post traumatic experiences as a stress disorder. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis certainly plays a role with the release ultimately of stress hormones capable of neuronal death and malfunction. Changes in the amygdala specifically can be seen often. And future studies will prove many other regions affected and altered by these experiences.


In a previous paper entitled Mass Producing Mental Illness in America’s Prisons, I alluded to the structural and functional changes occurring in the brain and attempted to suggest how devastating this phenomenon will be upon America’s civil communities exponentially over time. I believe we are living in outcomes of the prediction now.

The most frequent responses to the paper I received were of the following nature: ( 1) Criminals are already exhibiting the behavior consistent with the anomalies of pathology described, (2) If these changes for ill are caused by a nefarious environment like prisons, then when the subject returns to well society, the effects will reverse, (3) The ill mental effects upon prisoners is warranted as punishment for their crimes and of little concern to society, and (4) not all persons subjected to adverse stigmatizing environments are adversely affected, in fact, some transform for the better, thus showing improvement. And these comments have led me to further evaluate the issue at hand, although I remain convinced in the initial paper’s (mentioned) findings as fundamentally and methodically correct.


I will comment on number one first. There is a percentile of the general population diagnosable with psychosocial pathology. This term here utilized in a general and broad sense to include several specific disorders or sub-types. If we view the number of persons with such, a lesser number of those commit crimes, and of that number then in prisons, essentially all remain psycho sociopaths until release

or death.

But a psychologically assessed normal segment of the general population is also apt to commit crimes, and of this total number a significant percentage develop psychosociopathies while in prison directly correlating to length and severity of conditions. This was the target group that my previous paper addressed.

“Gorilla in the prison mental health closet”

Robert Outman

In this essay, the author describes the prevalence of PTSD within the carceral system, and how the prison environment can traumatize individuals to the extent of developing this mental illness. Outman highlights the lack of recognition of PTSD within prisons, and the resulting absence of care for individuals who suffer from it.

Psychological studies prove PTSD takes a broad spectrum toll causing dysfunctional marital relationships, anti-social behaviors and aberrant behaviors. With this in mind VA Clinics are filled of PTSD veterans. News stories have featured special courts established to mediate criminal acts of veterans with PTSD.

Yet, there remains a gorilla in the prison mental health closet. Experts, courts and society in general acknowledge victims and our military heroes are subjected to PTSD, however few want to acknowledge that our zeroes, social offenders, also suffer PTSD. Society does not want to accept our system of judicial punishment produces PTSD; possibly at a rate more than our wars.


There are none so blind, than those who will not see! By ignoring prison on-set PTSD and psychiatric comorbidity, our guardians of the public trust responsible for ”rehabilitation” are as criminal, as the prisoners they are supposed to be ”rehabilitating”.

The California Prison Healthcare System issues Inmate Death Review reports periodicity. The latest analysis was of 2012. In that analysis California’s prison homicide death rate was more than double the Bureau of Justice Statistics national benchmark. California’s prison suicide rate was 33% higher than the benchmark rates of death from suicide in the total US prison population. Death and violence roams the corridors of prisons. Murders, suicides and death in general is so common in prison, there are few prisoners who don‘t know a prisoner who has met an untimely death.

One only needs to walk into prison to sense the ambience of violence, signs read no warning shots!, high advantage points are maned with guards armed with automatic rifles and prison personnel regularly wear stab-proof vests. Guards roam the prison grounds and corridors like mini-mobile arsenals adorned with violence associated accouterments: pepper spray, bully clubs, hand cuffs, manacles, chains, helmets, anti-stab vests, radios and mass pagers. On any given day, at multiple times, entire prisoner populations are ordered to drop to the ground, due to alarm of violence within the prison. A prisoner must be on constant vigilance of assault by a violent prisoner, or a guard who may be having a bad day. Liberty and personal well-being is of little regard in the prison environment. At any time a cell-mate could psychologically break and beat you to the ground, or turn you into a homicide statistic. Like in a military war zone, all of this is a breeding ground for PTSD.

Preparing to write this article, I queried a well known forensic psychologist, he responded: “Dear Robert, PTSD is not on the list for major psychiatric disorders that qualify for mental health treatment in CDC, it is ignored.” His name is withheld due to retribution consideration. However, it doesn’t take a doctoral degree in psychology to recognize PTSD is endemic in California prisons.

With an abysmal recidivism rate and knowing PTSD is a contributor to recidivism, failing to treat a nationally recognized mental health disorder can only be described as irresponsibility and a miscarriage of public trust.

“A few words on post traumatic stress”
Brian D. Fuller

In this piece, the author describes the experience and manifestation of PTSD within the space of the prison. In particular, he describes the experience of having a panic attack, and how traumatic events can affect an individual both physically and mentally. 

It often takes time for the full effect of traumatic events to set in. At first, we’re just so relieved to get past the initial pain and stress of the ordeal, that we pay little attention to the possibility of future problems. We simply let it go and focus on other things in an effort to move on with our lives.

Recently, the Texas Innocence Project responded with their questionnaire they wanted me to fill out and send in. This is what I’ve been striving for the whole time in prison. Finally, somebody wants to investigate the circumstance that led to the nightmare. Without a moments hesitation, I dove right into answering all the questions and assembling documents for the pack I was sending in. I gave little thought to that “Pandora’s Box” I was opening up.

Re-living all the tragic events that set me on this path in the first had an adverse affect on my psyche. The onslaught of emotions completely overwhelmed me. All of the depression, anxiety, anger, and confusion; soon had me on the verge of a panic attack. I was teetering on the brink if “crashing out” dangerously close to having another episode. It’s time to swerve to the side and tap them brakes. “COLLISION ALERT! COLLISION ALERT!”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm down. Currently, at the moment, at this very space in time – there is no immediate damage or catastrophe threatening me. Its’ “all in my head.” Literally. That’s just how strong our brain is. Memories can trigger powerful responses in our autonomous nervous system. That’s why I’ll never understand peoples MALICE, DECEIT, and TREACHERY. Nothing good EVER comes from it.”They” don’t care about who they hurt or how many lives they ruin. As long as they get what they want.

“Loneliness, Isolation, and boredom equals suicide” 
William T. Jacobsen

In this excerpt, Jacobsen describes the negative mental effects of prisons, specifically Texas prisons. He talks about how Covid-19 shut all activities in prison down, and the guards seem to want incarcerated people to suffer. 

This Loneliness, Isolation, Boredom, Depression, Emptiness, being taking away from everyone

you love and taken at away from The Simple Things you loved or liked to do. Will and does drive even the strongest minds to Thoughts of Suicide. In Texas Prisons even more guys think about and do commit suicide. This is not only because of the guilt they feel for what ever crime they may have or did commit. Its because of The Loneliness, Isolation, Boredom and so on.

The suicide rate in Texas Prisons is worse than anyone will admit. This week in mid-July I lost another good friend.


Add on to all the feelings, with Covid-19, everything inside prison has shut down. In Texas Prisons there is No visitation, No pay phone privileges, limited or no commissary, no outside rec, limited or more often no dayroom, no or limited T.V. time, limited or no hot meals, no church of any kind, no board games as in No Chess, Checkers or Dominos, No library and limited or no showers. Which is all Texas Prisons allows us to do or have. This is going on Five months now. All of this adds to our loneliness, Isolation, boredom, etc. This only increases the thoughts and chance of suicide inside Texas Prisons. I’m sure this would increase suicides anywhere. These feelings are not only because of Covid-19. This is a year around thing in Texas Prisons.


So you see, books, T.V’s, video games, movies, all those things and more can and do save lives. You never know what may stop someone from committing suicide. Anyone or all of those things can and has helped keep the loneliness at bay. It’s helped with depression, boredom and so much more. Like I said it may sound silly or crazy to you. But these are the things I hold on to. The things that help me continue day to day. For over 13 years now I’ve told myself T.V.’s, Playstations, Movies and more will be here. So I wait and try to keep the bad thoughts away for another day, week, month, year!


The truly sad part is Texas Prisons officials love all this loneliness, depression, boredom, etc. I’ve had a few guards tell me. “Most of my coworkers will do anything and everything to make you guys feel lonely and suicidal. They even take bets to see who will kill himself next. They also truly believe its part of their job to punish you all.”

“A lonely world”
Lee Whitt

This excerpt discusses the difficulty of winter in prison, when the inability to go outdoors pushes incarcerated people to their mental limits. Whitt also addresses the stigma that exists in prison around mental health.

Usually it’s the season of winter that has that time when you are pushed to your limits. The reason why is because you are stuck indoors with nothing to challenge yourself physically. Winter is a time of boredom when you’re in prison. From boredom comes depression. There have been times when there were activities made available to slow the development of depression. They have disappeared as the time has gone on and the administration has tried to find ways to save money.


Being surrounded by four walls and locked doors doesn’t make finding something to fill the emptiness in you easy. Not only is there an emptiness in your heart, but you also have an emptiness in your mind. Why? Because the pain of the people that disappeared on you caused a reaction or getting rid of anything that might remined you of what life was with them in it. The loss causes you to become overly critical of yourself. So much go that you entertain thoughts of suicide. Combating those thoughts is tricky. Some have done so by isolating themselves. The main reason for the isolation is so that no one witnesses what you’re going through. Why don’t you want anyone to witness it? Because of how you’ll be viewed. Many would see it as weakness. The one thing that you don’t want to be is viewed as weak.

“The stress of this place”
The Wordist WAM

This poem illustrates the constant barrage of external stressors and negative inputs that an incarcerated person is subjected to, as well as the psychological damage it leads to.

The stress of this place

That’s what you see when you look at my face

I look tired and at the same time excited

Afraid of the bad dreams so when sleep comes I fight it

So I wake up exhausted with yesterday’s fears

But I can’t show weakness in here so I make sure to hide my tears

I hold tight to my faith but it’s getting hard

Constantly praying to the Parole board as if it were my God

I feel as if I have gone blind within my own mind

Please can anyone credit me a stick, a pill, or a line

Because I have to leave here somehow

TPM or PED? Hell No! I Mean Right Now!

I don’t even know how much time I have left

But will I be free before there is another family death

Seems like the bad moments never stop

There’s a block on my phone and I can’t afford to use a flop

And I think the mail man must have quit

Unless they’re calling my name and I just don’t hear it

But she told me she’ll patiently wait

Then why am I so angry, depressed, anxious, and full of hate

Am I a paranoid MH 5 with suicidal tendencies

Because it seems like I am surrounded by nothing but the enemy

I feel as if my whole life has gone to waste……

Or is it just the stress of this place

“Depression on lockdown: Prisoners empathize”
Dortell Williams

In this piece, Williams discusses the negative effects of lockdown on the human brain, comparing free people’s experiences with COVID-19 restrictions to an incarcerated individual’s “normal.” He encourages readers to empathize with incarcerated people and says that, conversely, they empathize with the difficulties that non-incarcerated people have experienced during the pandemic. The complete text is transcribed below.

Depression is debilitating. Depression saps one’s energy, induces whole-body numbness, and stimulates streams of negative thoughts. In the extreme, those negative thoughts can provoke suicidal ideation.

As a prisoner serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, I know about depression from first-hand experience and observation. Fortunately, I’ve learned to utilize a number of resilience practices; I bounce back from adversity fairly quickly. Yet I’ve witnessed too many successful suicides to count. Sadly, many of us prisoners have. Again, depression is extremely debilitating. California’s prison population has the highest suicide rate in the nation (CDCR, 2016). And consistent with this contagion era, depression in the free world has sky rocketed as well. The World Health Organization (WHO), using informal surveys, estimates that 45% of the U.S. population is depressed in the COVID age: Iran self-reports a 60% depression rate, and China reports a 35% rate of depression (Goodman, 2020). Yet we will get through this; we must get through this!

There are many triggers of depression. As with those in larger society, prisoners wrestle with long-term loss of autonomy and uncertainty. Prisoners are arrested by thick bouts of anxiety and isolation. And while it may seem ironic that persons thrust into overcrowded conditions would suffer from loneliness, the paradox holds firm. Human beings — whether confined in a home of luxury for a few months or in a barren cell of concrete and steel for decades — tend to withdraw when depressed. We self-isolate.

Free Americans are largely depressed because they understandably desire to get back to work, visit their families, and have some control over their lives. There’s no question that prisoners can relate to those needs. The one disconnect from prisoners and the larger world is that for most free persons, abiding in their homes offers both physical and biological safety. Not so for the average prisoner. Prisoners have no control over with whom they are forced to share a cell (i.e., a serial killer, a severely mentally challenged person, or a violent and unreasonable person).

Some readers may retort that prisoners are criminals, therefore they do not deserve such considerations. Yet rarely is any human phenomenon so simple. In recent years DNA has proven that there are innocent people behind bars; and we now know that race plays a huge part in who goes to prison and who gets probation. Likewise, what of those who suffer from substance abuse disorder and would be better served in treatment centers? And what of those who have reformed themselves after years or decades of self-help? After all, isn’t that what we want and expect from the department of “corrections”?

Of course, all human beings are susceptible to COVID, depression, isolation, and other vulnerabilities. The difference is context. Some Americans suffer adverse institutional and environmental contexts that others do not, thus driving different traumas, reactions, and outcomes. Whether bond for free, it appears we all have quite a bit in common. If any one can relate to the concept of situational lockdowns, it is the American prisoner. And when it comes to debilitating depression, anxiety and loneliness, the prisoner’s collective expertise goes far beyond any text book or misdirected media account; so prisoners empathize, more than one could ever imagine.

We wholeheartedly empathize.

“Getting by” 
Rick Wesley Anderson

This author came into the prison system with bipolar disorder and discusses how the prison environment can amplify or aggravate his symptoms despite the medication he is receiving. 

Prior to my incarceration, living with bipolar (manic/depression) was sometimes problematic but pales in comparison to being so in a penal environment. Sharing a cramped box with another man and a toilet can stretch the patience and tolerance of the sanest of men. For a bipolar, prison is exponentially more difficult with challenges not encountered on the outside such as constant oppression and provocation by staff, racial hatreds and tension, rampant narcissism and the constant threat of violence that permeates the facility. A proper regimen of medication along with an ability to tap into the deepest wells of control and resilience are an absolute necessity.


Mania is like an adrenaline high with racing, disjointed thoughts, an inability to stay focused for long but intensely focused in those short times and very high energy. But depression has become the dominant symptom. A depressed episode is a nightmare of washed-out color, tightening walls and crushing despair. It is darker, longer lasting and often much more difficult to find a way out of. The sight or voice of an authority figure can provoke anger, frustration and sometimes hatred. I bristle at every slamming door and grow extremely agitated by the incessant noise; the static and illegible prattle over the loudspeakers and what seems like ten thousand voices screaming at once outside my cell door. I become unable to differentiate between the voices in my mind and the cacophony outside. internalization and isolation are my only refuge as I wait for the cycle to pass. I know it will but know also it will surely return and wonder if I can survive it one more time.

“Hell is a prison guard” 
Jevon Jackson

In this excerpt, Jackson reflects upon the degree to which guards control and dictate the prison environment. He says most staff are decent people, but there are some that want to see prisoners suffer. 

Let me begin by saying that MOST prison guards and staff who work in correctional institutions are decent and respectable people. The majority of staff accept that their position is simply a job, a means of employment by which to provide for their family and their household. They want no part in the propagation of the cruel brutality that Prison tends to distribute generously to its captives. The majority of staff just want to do their 8-hours and go home. And that’s the way it should be.

The problem is that the majority do not rule in Prison. This is not a democracy. This is an oligarchy of hellhounds, where the chief king and his colleagues thrive on enforcing the medieval science of punishment and savage discipline.

As maximum-security prisoners, we routinely gauge the good/bad ratio of how any particular day will go simply by asking one question— “Who’s working?” When you find out that you have a guard working that shift, who is respectful, fair and will treat you like a human being with a brain and a beating heart, your entire body relaxes. The atmosphere calms and there is more of a predictable rhythm to lean on for the remainder of the day. But when the Super Cranks are working, the air thickens, bodies clench, time grinds to a tortured crawl and everyone prepares for some variant of bullshit that is bound to hit the floor. The Super Crank is a prison guard who practices a form of executive bullying, where the Inmate is subjected to the volatile whims of the guard’s enforcement and interpretation of the rules. The Super Crank treats each captive as if he has just committed his crime seven hours ago. He wants prisoners to suffer. Every day. He wants prison to be a dark, depressing and debilitating place. The Super Crank will antagonize and deliberately deprive you of even the most basic humane treatment. A roll of tissue. A piece of paper. Mail from your ailing daughter. He will bargain these simple items against you just to see you suffer.

“Mentally Unstable”
Jessica Chambers

Chambers discusses her discomfort with being forced to share a cell with someone she believes is mentally unstable, and her concerns about the general practice of placing people struggling with severe mental illness with the general prison population. Her complaint illustrates how the interplay between prison and mental illness affects not only those afflicted by a mental condition, but also others around them. The complete text is transcribed below.

I don’t think that it is fair for a regular inmate to be housed with a inmate that is mentally unstable. Clearly C/Os and Psych knows, but yet placeing these kind of people in general population is what FMWCC Las Vegas, NV NDOC continues to do. This is a huge safety hazard. These type of people are subject to flip out at any given moment and harm themselves or others.

I currently have a cellmate that is very mentally unstable and does not take her medication properly. She’s paranoid and thinks that people are after her. I mean my god my roommate had the odasatey to tell me after dinner when we got back that somebody had swapped her shoes. That type of stuff is weired to me. Our door was locked when we went to eat and she was wearing the shoes that she said somebody swapped out. Nobody in this unit has the same shoes as her.

This inmate has threatened to pull me off my top bunk and when I banged on the door to tell the officer what this inmate was doing to me the only thing that C/O said was she ain’t gonna keep comeing back to this door and if that was the case me and my cellmate could roll up our stuff and go to the hole. I mean my god what kind of facility is this that the C/O ignores the situation that’s going on and they can clearly see who the issue is “my cellmate”!

The only other thing that C/O said she would do is scheduel her to been seen by Mango who is a counselor or Psych. Once the officer C/O knew what was going on and seen with her own eyes that my cellmate was the aggressor and yelling lunitic she should have immedeately took action and sent that inmate to medical for a 72 hour hold on psych evaluation.

Please do not send back to me.

“A healthy ambition”
Howard McCreary

This excerpt describes the prison environment as it relates to mental health, noting apathy among the incarcerated population and the destructive psychological effects of the carceral system. Refer to the complete essay for an extended discussion of the importance of mental health.

Sending a person to prison to get “healthy” is not and should not be the bottomline. By the grace of God most high, I am healthy in mind, body, and soul yet, I will never recommend someone to endure the life of prison to get health. Also! I, humbly speaking, are apart of a small community of the prison population that is sound in mind, body, and soul. The majority, across the globe is malpractice, accepting the tenets of this place, inside and out, to be the focal point of their lives. Why?…

Because the penal system is a psychological warfield, created to annihilate the health of all waged in the battle of prison.

Its warfare when a person sits in a pool inhabited with dispirit, aggressive, low-self esteem people who core focus is manipulation. Its warfare being amongst a class who gave up on life; letting the terms and conditions of oppression claims them as if its a natural inclination of their living. The warfare become apparent when inmates gets to their destination of confinement and fine a person eighteen years of age- just graduated high school- barking orders to strip to their nakedness…Along side a line of men.

The mental health of a prisoner becomes ill- or even more sick- by the psychological tactics of this caste system. Then one would think: what is this to a man lost in his own vanity? How can you explain this to the people deep in the ocean of self- gratification? Alot of us in prison do not care about our mental health. We refuse to see the clear reality. We manifest our problem yet bury the silent cries for assistance under the gravel of stupidity.

“It’s stupid to talk to a psyche doctor. They don’t go through what I go through. They’re successful and only get paid to talk like they care.”

I’ve heard this line of thinking countless of times. We been programmed to think like that. Its a bacteria of the mind that so ridden and deadly.

I recently was studying amphibian’s and can cross a fascinating little creature in the South America region. The Golden Poison Frog of Colombia. What’s so alluring- and damn right petrifying!- is a single touch from this small golden frog could kill you! And as I was reading it, I’m seeing a similar deadly poison being orchestrated in the penal system.

We have people suffering from different personality disorders, anxiety, dissociative disorders. Individual that’s suffering from post-traumatic stress… what? You think that only our decorated soldiers suffer PTSD? Tell that to the person that walked into the chow hall and another guy gets stabbed in his neck in front of him, initiating a race riot.


People suffer from these mental illness and it begins in emotional trauma and ends even worser in emotional trauma. Alot of times we are fearful of something which spiral out of control. People fear the unknown; so they live a mindset as, “I don’t give a f**k” about tomorrow. Some of us fear learning; so the very sight of knowledge, whether it’s being taught or lived out, it provokes the mind of the ignorant. Whatever the situation may be, getting healthy is hard and a challenge for the people behind the wall.


It can be accomplished.

Wanting to be healthy starts with self. The great Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov showed us in his famous, impactful work of classical conditioning that all behavior learnt through association. Whether we agree on the scientific experiment he showed us through “Pavlov’s Dogs”, or not, what we all can concord to is, learning to be healthy in mind comes through applying good goals, good professional treatment, good energy.

“Circumstances of Incarceration”
Tafari Tai

In this excerpt, Tai writes about how prison can make some go insane. He specifically points to the lack of contact with family, and the strain incarceration places on those relationships. 

I hope my description of being a prisoner in the modern day plantation which is more currently known as the United States of America’s Prison System, is as insane, miserable, negative, oppressive and lonely as the reality of living it. I mean it can’t be all that hard writing about here, I’ve been surviving it my entire life. With that said…I am in a place where I am more identified by a registration number that Uncle Sam gave me, rather than the name give to me by my mother. The trial and tribulations that I am daily confronted with is stressing to a sober mind. I guess that’s why so many inmates seek some sort of narcotic to escape this harsh reality. I’ve witnessed first hand the measures some take to “feel free.” (S.M.H.)

These walls are seething with negativity. From the minute I wake up in this place it’s a mental battle.


Some inmates in this place go insane and some refuse to accept the fact that they’re also insane. It doesn’t take a psychologist to tell me I’m insane. And I don’t have to be in a straight jacket to be considered insane. To me stabbing someone 20 plus times over a forty five cent soup, or because someone didn’t like the way he walked by them is clear and present insanity. But it’s a Herculean task to be held captive away from one’s family and loved ones and still be expected to keep a sane mine and behave civilly.

I am the father to a little boy who will be five this year. His sister is about to be six. I have not seen them in three years, and that was only for 50 minutes. My son was only two months when I was taken away from him. I was feeding him his bottle at around five a.m. that cold January morning. As his mother got her last hour of sleep before having to get up for work, when the A.T.F. and U.S. Marshall kicked in our apartment door, fully suited in riot gear with rifles pointed. I knew that this was serious and it might be the last time I would be with my kids as a free man. Standing there being hassled and cuffed, I was caught in a trance. Just staring at my kids in their mother’s arms. As she looked hurt, confused, and angry, that just broke what little love I did have left in me, that was 5 long years ago.

This incarceration has put a strand on a lot of my relationships, with friends, family, and loved ones. My baby’s mother seems to miss me less and hate me a little bit more with each birthday, Christmas, Valentine, and graduation that I am not there for. I don’t too much blame her.


I try to remain optimistic and keep close ties with my family especially my son, but he doesn’t like to talk to me. My mother says he just doesn’t like talking on the phone period. She says he asked “when is my daddy coming home?” When they tell him soon, he says “why is he taking so long?” On top of that I spoke to my daughter a few months ago and her first words were “Who is this?”… It’s things like that, that drive a person insane.

Section 3: Effects of Solitary Confinement

“One major source of stress in prison”
½ Pint

This excerpt details the stress of being in solitary confinement, with emphasis on its unsanitary conditions. The author states that this environment facilitates mental illness and even suicidality due to the poor care and treatment of incarcerated people. 

One major source of stress in prison is being placed in solitary confinement. I myself was in for at least a year. Solitary confinement is almost gaurnteeded to make you mentally ill if not suicidal due to the extremely noisy and filthy enviroment. I think the filth hurt me the worst due to the fact that I was NEVER given a shower the ENTIRE YEAR I was in solitary. My life has changed for the worst due to the fact that being in solitary caused me to be diagnosed with P.T.S.D. because of nonstop noise from both the guards and inmates.

“The solitude of solitary”
Shane L. Kohut (“Napoleon”)

In this excerpt, Kohut details the effects that solitary confinement has on a person. He does this by describing his experience with horrific conditions and the mental agony he had to go through to survive.

Solitary confinement can do one of two things to a person. It can either break you down or make you stronger. I believe the effect it has on an individual is dependent upon (1) the strength of their mind & (2) what they do with their time. Solitary breaks the spirit of a lot of people. They lose hope because their situation is dire, their surroundings are stygian & their possessions are meager. I’ve seen it happen to many people over the 20 years I’ve been in & out of prison. When a person is alone with their thoughts & they know not what to do with the ample “free” time they have, they sometimes begin doing things that are out of character. These wings are chock full of men who scream aloud day & night. They kick & bang on their doors & toilets. They [illegible] in their own feces & allow themselves to deteriorate to a point that they are unable to return from. The only thing left for them is a handful of medication to try to keep them under control.


I know how to do solitary confinement & thrive in situations that are specifically made to break me down. Each time I am placed in solitary I come out better. What is meant as punishment only serves to improve me. Kind of like, “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade”. I sometimes feel as if I dwell in a lemon orchard. I do not mean to paint the picture that I enjoy solitary or to take away the harshness of these living conditions. It is rough & I by no means enjoy it, however, what choice do I have but to make the best of a bad situation?

Before I began this essay I wondered to myself if I would be able to evince what Solitary Confinement is really like. I can explain it & I can elucidate what things are like, but to know what it’s really about, to actually understand this life, you have to live it. You have to hear the screams, see the degradation, feel the loneliness, smell the stench, & touch the cold, unforgiving concrete. An individual can understand the concept of solitary, & mentally try to envision what it’s like, but conception & reality are sometimes separated by a large margin. Until you experience this sort of confinement for weeks, months & years… you cannot understand it.

“To open the doors of confinement”
Christopher Balmer

In a series of rhyming couplets, Christopher Balmer uses abstract poetic language to paint a picture of his thoughts and feelings while in solitary confinement. The complete text is transcribed below.

I hate these days when I’m all alone. . .

Without anybody, so far away from home.

Six years spent in complete isolation,

never witnessing a moment filled without desperation.

The begging and pleading, the torture of dreaming

of the days when I’m free from all this crying and screaming.

Did I deserve to be treated like a man without a heart?

As if I were something another human could rip apart,?

To be played with like a lioness before she makes her kill?

Or was just a person everyone thought was stupid and mentally ill?

It is my time to expose the pains of isolation,

for the many brothers and sisters suffering from dehumanization.

I need you all to remain strong.

Have the courage to stand against all that is wrong.

To support each other through these times of despair,

for these are the days we all have shared.

We all know how it feels to be accused,

and what it really means to be used and abused.

It’s time to liberate all from these physical pains,

To release justice which is bound by chains.

To reduce the mental pressures that make us go insane.

To obtain our freedom from all the unjust.

In the end to receive comfort from someone who we all can trust.

“Today brings relief from the pressure”
Angelo Silva

In this essay, Silva discusses how the prison he resides in crams all the mentally ill inmates into solitary confinement within the Special Management Unit (SMU), rather than housing them in more specific departments with respective proper treatment. The writer focuses on how the poor conditions in a maximum security unit exacerbate the mental strain on the already sick prisoners. 

I have been housed in Arizona SMU-1 maximum security unit on and off for nine years. I have watched the unfortunate deplorable conditions of both mentally ill inmates and the unit itself. SMU-1 has become the dumping grounds for the mentally ill. Faith, Family and communication helps one keep his sanity.

There are no religious activities offered here at SMU-1. Administration has too much power in determining how long inmates stay in isolation.

I have watched officers use excessive force and abuse mentally ill prisoners. Mentally ill prisoners flood the prison runs with toilet water, urine and feces. Scream, yell and bang on steel doors in a desperate attempt to get the attention of mental health personel. I have experienced the dismal emotions that come with a human being taking his own life.

Verminous insects and rats plague this unit. The way the law libary is set up in here keeps prisoners uninformed and uneducated. We cannot check any legal resource material out of the libary. In turn the majority of inmates do not know their basic human rights.

The mounting pressure of incarceration maximum security lockdown for years away from family and friends, the visual wretchedness in this place can take a toll mentally on any individual.

“Volunteering to die”
Jacob Barrett

In this section of his essay, Barrett describes experience in solitary confinement, the toll it took on his own mental health, and the behavior of others experiencing mental health challenges.

Michael is mentally ill and yells all day, kicks his door and goes on incoherent racist rants about white people. He spends hours reading the bible and Koran out loud peppered with his racist interpretations on the origins of race. All day people are yelling and exchanging racist slurs back and forth. The racial tension is in the air like fog. Michael isn’t the only one yelling racist rants all day. His white counterpart is “SS Dan”. Dan had already done over 14 years in solitary when I came across him in IMU. He would stomp back and forth in the cell screaming racist slurs from dusk to dawn. He could go for days straight with no break before his batteries wore down.


He’d drone the same line over and over for hours on end.


In solitary there is an addiction to the external stimuli – a need to feel worth, to have something that makes you feel human or simply makes you feel something. You are trapped in your own head and deprived of all sensory stimulation. I found myself sinking into this nonreality of my thoughts and as a consequence my interior began to haunt me like a ghost. My mind tries to fill the voids of sensory stimulation with the sensory input I was getting from the surrounding environment. I was deprived of all normal human interaction and inundated day in and day out with people like SS Dan whose grasp on reality was even less firm than my own and I became infected with their insanity myself. I didn’t see the change in me but it came quickly. When I gave up believing I had hope of ever getting out of prison I begin to become part of the insanity around me and become part of it. It is one of the deepest tragedies of prison culture, and solitary confinement in particular, that when we enter broken men and in the most need of a normalizing environment but are denied that normalcy to such an extreme degree that we are not aware of our state of brokenness.

“What is the duty of today’s prison system?”
Ramey R. Villanueva

The author of this essay argues that the prison system cannot truly be aimed at rehabilitation, for the unnecessarily cruel nature of solitary confinement only serves to exacerbate mental illness.

What is the duty of today’s prison system? Is it designed to rectify the criminal mind, to rehabilitate and transform the troubled ways of the outlaw people? Or is it designed to suffer the institutionalized mind, to provoke the evil tendencies of desperate men, or to push and pull, bend and break the mind, body, and soul of a maladapted mindframe? Through eight years of solitary confinement, I have found, that when a man is thrown into the throes of solitary confinement, his mental state is afflicted most of all: although, not soley by the systematic function that is built around him, but, also, through the extortionate demands of the function itself, which are forced upon the fallacies of his already troubled mind – that is, the dark interior space between the temples where his sanity lies.


The mental struggles that so many men in solitary confinement have to deal with are disastrous. Many of the inmates have seen things in their lives, or have experienced things that will haunt their lives forever. For this very reason, the Department of Corrections provides the max custody inmates with on-site psychologists and psychiatrists. Alot of the men, however, dare not speak a word to these doctors who are infamously known for taking one’s word out of context, and, before, he knows it, the officers are dragging him off to S.M.I housing (Seriously Mentally Ill), where he will be stripped down to bare nothingness, forced into a hefty built, navy blue suicide dress, and kept under constant observation for 72 hours no personal property, and no kind of material that can potentially be used to harm himself, or others. In the end, it’s just him, his dress, and the agony of having to endure the constant disturbances of the mentally ill, who, surrounding him, will undoubtedly deprive him of much desired sleep. The doctors, of course, claim that the observation process is in the best interest of the individual, that he may not be a danger to himself, or others. However, any inmate will tell you that the experience of it is more likened to a punishment


Most men in max custody wont even bother with the psychologists, no matter how mentally they may actually be. Those who do choose to go that route, on the other hand, are liable to suppress their innermost struggles, so as not to end up in that unmerciful watch pod every time they feel the need to speak with a mental health professional, if only for the sake of ventilation. It is common, then, for one to reveal himself only so much as to receive a minor diagnosis and the prescription that may come along with it. Ultimately, and due to the notoriety of the mental health services, a lot of the men find themselves having to deal with their mental issues in their own unhealthy way. Again, as far as solitary confinement is concerned, throwing the individual into a cell with nothing to distract him from his suicidal thoughts and Ramey Villanueva Pg. 14 of 15 tendencies will cause him to fall deeper into the darkest chambers of his own mind. Here, he will face his mother and his father, he will re-experience his pains and his sufferings, he will succumb to his greatest mistakes and become a slave to the spirit of his regret. There will be nowhere for him to run, nowhere for him to hide, no one to turn to. What you have done, then, is to provide him with ample time and space to despise himself, to torture himself, and ultimately, to murder himself. Criminal or not, suicide is, and always will be, a universal tragedy.


Indeed, the experience of max custody/solitary confinement can be merciless on the already battle wounded mind: not everyone is mentally fit to endure its hardships.

“Why solitary confinement is torture”
Jack Hays

Hays explains solitary confinement as an extreme form of torture, harming incarcerated people both physically and mentally. 

Black’s law dictionary defines “torture” as, “To inflict intense pain to body or mind for purposes of punishment…”The United Nations has classified solitary confinement by its very nature as torture. I endured solitary confinement as a child. I have endured it off-and-on my entire life as a means of control, as an instrument of retaliation for standing up for what is right, and for senseless “punishment”. It has changed me as a person. I have suffered both physical and mental scars. It is a danger to humanity as a whole. It is inhumane, is torture, and must be abolished for the progress of humanity as a whole—something we have known very well over 100 years. Solitary confinement both causes and exacerbates mental illness. The size of the neural circuits in the brain are directly affected by a person’s social network. In solitary confinement, there is no “social network” except, perhaps, those whom a man or woman can scream at through a steel door in the next cell to try to communicate with, or the guard who ignores your humanity. Therefore, actual evidence has existed for more than 2 decades that keeping human beings isolated in solitary confinement, administrative segregation, restrictive housing, etc. reduces the size of their neural connections in their brains. Moreover, we have known for decades that solitary confinement destructively impacts people physically and mentally.


4 people went “violently insane”, “committed suicide”, “were not generally reformed”, and “did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community”

5 The Secretary of the California Prison System stated, “[W]e make people worse”—due to solitary confinement and other draconian practices.


8 Scientific studies showing effects of isolation on brain, body, and behavior); and the brain structure called the anterior cingulate cortex—the same structure involved in the emotional component of physical pain. The physical structure of the human mind is literally destroyed by solitary confinement and causes terrible psychic pain, which results in physical pain, suicides, self-castration, and other injuries. People are literally dying everyday all across the U.S. and around the world due to solitary confinement.


Myself, personally, as a prisoner with serious mental illness, I am lucky—as are many, many children, women and men suffering and languishing in U.S. prisons—to still be alive. The Practice of solitary confinement is hopefully on its way out of practice around the world.

“Locked Inside: Mental Health in Prisons”
Franklin Lee

In this section of the essay, Lee describes the terrible experiences his fellow inmates went through while in solitary confinement. Specifically, Lee focuses on the direct mental health impacts, which he calls “SHU syndrome.”

“Stevie” experienced this trauma firsthand, with his period of time in a crisis unit. After being diagnosed with major depression, and after several suicide attempts, he was sent to a mental health crisis bed. He observed that staff mistreated mentally ill inmates who refused medication. Increasing fear added to his major depression and suicide attempts, negatively impacting his mental health and furthering his trauma. Many inmates develop a mental health problem while in confinement. “PTSD due to being in the SHU [segregated housing unit] is not uncommon”


The conditions in solitary are stressful to any inmate, and border on the inhumane. These can include lack of contact with others, time disorientation, lack of sleep, constant illumination, and hourly welfare checks. For the mentally ill, the 23-hour isolation might include staff clinician visits, which are usually conducted through the open tray slots. Under extreme stress (such as PTSD), the brain literally shrinks. The psychological effects of “SHU syndrome” and long-term confinement include hypersensitivity to external stimuli, hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, obsessive thinking, paranoia, anxiety, and delusional conversations. The United Nations has already supported a ban on solitary confinement for anyone with mental illness.

“Mikey” spent nine months in the SHU. Suffering from bipolar disorder and manic depression, he couldn’t adjust to the isolation, which further affected his mental health. At times when there was no movement, Mikey’s depression got worse. He also observed many of the lower-functioning inmates get transferred out because staff could not handle them. Many had given up on their self-care, including hygiene.

“In May, 2001 I sufferd a nervous breakdowne”
John Russel Bosse

The author of this essay describes their experiences as a mentally ill individual in incarceration, specifically in solitary confinement. They mention how their mental illness led to their incarceration as well as the terrible abuse by prison staff that they endured while incarcerated, which only worsened their symptoms.

In May 2001 I suffered a nervous breakdown during which I tried to kidnap my downstairs neighbor.

Despite my having a poor mental health history since the age of six, multiple hospitalizations and two doctors who testified that I was insane at the time of the crime, I was convicted and sentenced to 40 years.

It took almost three and a half years to get to trial, but during that time solitary confinement and prison played key roles in breaking me down both mentally and physically.


In over fifteen years, I have spent over two years in segregation. Though I have never been in a fight, I have been sent to seg for everything from not eating or showering fast enough to making a smart comment or refusing a cell partner. People can also be sent to solitary over ‘investigation’ (that can drag on for weeks) or raising ones voice.

Solitary is a sure route to madness. It was from there that I made critically unreasonable decisions in the pretrial of my cases. Instead of plea bargaining for the offered 8 years, I fought and lose both trials to receive a total of 55 years. (One of the trials was from when I blacked out and am said to have assaulted a court officer, scratching his legs. The judge gave me the maximum of 15 years.) It was from segregation/solitary that I believed the TV transmitted subliminal messages, that I was trapped in a mirror world, was a traveller of parallel realities, was the subject of alien experimentation, and other ideas. It was also where I came upon the idea to cut off the circulation to my hands and feet so they would be amputated and I could request a sentence modification. Only then — softly after trial– did the psychiatrists within the prison who work for UConn decide I was so sick I needed to be force medicated.

“An order to be involuntarily medicated” means that if I were to ever challenge — before a judge– the prison’s right to medicate me, the same office that argued at trial that I didn’t have a mental illness (the state attorney’s office) would be appointed to claim that I should be force-medicated as recommended by prison doctors. If that isn’t the height of irony and injustice, I don’t know what is.

“I would like to write” 
Danyelle Eugene Ardie

This excerpt focuses on solitary confinement as a tool used to break the spirits of incarcerated people. The author asserts that solitary confinement has only made his anger issues worse and he is trying to progress.

Administrative segregation is designed to break you. To break your will and to crush your spirits. Administrative segregation is designed to correct ones’ behavior by gaining control of ones’ mind (officer’s & offender’s) through psychological spiritual warfare tactics, and it operates just like a cult… Therefore, anyone who does not submit to it’s influences (system) is recognized as an outsider (enemy). The offenders are tortured and the officers who do not comply are fired… I’ve studied (Ad Seg) in and out, and it’s system is evil & cruel. If hell was manifested in our physical world, administrative segregation would be the heart of its domain…


Now in that altercation, officer Moriarity pepper sprayed me. So after it was over I was taken from X pod, 19 dorm, dayroom, to the infirmary (for an examination). Then I was ushered to 11 building. Once I was on 11 building I was placed in the shower for a minute, to let the pepper spray spread. After the officer’s got a laugh off that, I was taken to 43 cell and placed in it with no furnishings. In just my boxers and socks. And it was cold… Nevertheless, upon entering that cell, I placed my arms in the slot so Stg. Will could take off the cuffs. But first he bent my arms up against the bars (upward) as if trying to break them. So I told him to do it… He declined, but sprayed my cell with the pepper spray. Anyhow, they didn’t feed me for two days. It would have been for longer it I didn’t put the (OGI) in my business. They didn’t give me a mattress, no blanket, no sheets, no jumper, no nothing. So I slept balled up on the cold floor, covered in pepper spray… The next day I talked with Major Hutto who told me this. “You did your thang, now we’re going to do ours.” Upon hearing those words, in my mind I was like; clown, are you serious? You’ve been doing me in since I’ve been on the Unit. I never received a fair chance to be productive.”


Now does that sound like they were trying to correct me or break (torture & beat me up)?


They (Administrative Segregation) claims that I have a problem with anger. However, I’m claiming that the only problem I have with anger is the anger they create within me, through consistent psychological spiritual warfare tactics. Nevertheless, under such extreme conditions (harassment) I was able to bear the anguish for over three years before I took a fall, and me falling is why I’ve decided to write to you. Because I’m trying to progress, not fail…

“Down Ocqueoc Road”
Darrell Jarvis

This excerpt addresses the deleterious psychological consequences of “extreme custody,” or solitary confinement, including claustrophobia, loss of sanity, suicidal ideation, and self-mutilation. 

Shouldering a relentless attitude, my embittered soul has logged an aggregate of fifteen years in various segregation-units. We prisoners commonly call this extreme custody, “The Hole,” since one remains locked in a cell at all times with no free—movement mobility whatsoever. Its realm seems almost a grey fog, a void of disturbing privacy, perhaps only a melting mirage as I desperately seek refuge from a life whose smoldering affects feel both somber and severe.

On the human scale, registering a dime’s worth of atonement and a pocket full of hostilities, the prisoners locked long—term in these conditions can easily flirt with disaster, since the cloud of suicide and the fear of psychosis are always in the foglights of this pulsating conflict with claustrophobia and other demented things. This is grueling for those men whose spirits are now broken as they lay chained to a concrete slab with restraints controlling their every move, while still others drink their own urine and eat their own feces in this vegetated. Metaphor of pardon and sordid surrender. Looming in this volatile arena, two prisoners known to this writer actually severed their own penis and threw it away like a piece of unwanted meat. One of these guys used a razor blade, while the other employed the heavy lid of a steel footlocker as he smashed its rough-cutting edge down on himself. “Severe sensory deprivation,” someone once said, is the tranquillizing venom. Which. Will reduce one to 21 grinding ritual of non—eXistence. There’s a 1973 murder case of a prison guard at that old dungeon in Marquette, and the killer is still in the hole to this day.

In a caustic pot of deception, these prisons are functioning as soot—blackened. “hate factories” that will hemorrhage one’s mind away from decency and bleed one’s heart of all merciful acts. Prison, most days, is Hell—on-Earth and everything worse this side of a tombstone and grave as it radiates a truth so raw yet so realistic, and full of life’s trials and tribulations and lies.

“Your imagination, my reality” 
Troy Hendrik

In this excerpt, Hendrik talks about the effects of solitary confinement, a place he describes as “another world” that no one who hasn’t experienced it can imagine. 

Imagine this…… (4 walls and steel doors)… (Being confined in a cell 22-24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year)…. (Being confined this way for years)… (Being confined this way indefinitely)… (Being in this confinement until Lethargy, chronic depression, irrational anger and rage, and emotional and psychological harm sets in)…. (Being in this extreme isolation until your heart becomes cold, mind becomes distant, and soul becomes lost)…….. This is your imagination, but this is my reality.

Solitary Confinement…. Is considered another world. A world where barbarous and uncivilized behavior is the daily norm. A world where this abnormal environment, eventually seems normal. A world where things are not seen clearly through the mind’s eye. Majority of the time, one will not even realize that this environment is abnormal because after living in it for so long, you become a product of it. Majority of the time, one will not even realize that they are paranoid, uncivilized, socially awkward, delusional, bitter, miserable, and mentally and emotionally ill. Someone has to point these things out to them. In this world, often times, one becomes so overwhelmed with ill thoughts and emotions, that suicide is attempted or considered………. This is your imagination, but this is my reality.

Solitary Confinement… Is a nontherapeutic environment, and if the purpose of this confinement is to “fix” someone, then this purpose is defeated because the only thing this confinement will do, is leave one broken beyond repair. The abnormality of this setting can be clearly seen, and it begins with the cells, and the structure of them. At each facility, cells vary in size, but the over all structure remains the same. The doors are steel, and the walls are dull colored, and seem to close in at times. The cells consist of a sink and toilet (at some facilities there are showers in cells). The definition of bathroom, is a room containing “A bathtub or shower and usu. Sink and toilet.” So in all actuality, we eat, sleep, and spend 22-24 hours in a bathroom. From the outside looking in, these cells (and cells used for 1 hour outside recreation) give off the impression of a cage used to confine wild monkey’s. Long periods of time spent in this type of confinement, and one could actually become like a wild monkey……. This is your imagination, but this is my reality.

Solitary Confinement… The abnormality of this setting, continues with the barbarous and uncivilized behavior, which is considered a big part of this environment, and many are a product of it. Arguments amongst prisoners in solitary confinement, is the daily norm. Verbal degradation is done at the highest level possible, due to the fact that everyone is locked down, and unable to get next to one another physically. “Biological warfare” is another form of savagery that is done at the highest level possible. This “warfare” involves feces, urine, and saliva, and is one of the worst forms of degradation in solitary confinement, if not the worst. It is common to have these things thrown on, or at you, when you are escorted past the culprits cell, or recreation cage. Another tactic in “war” that is used, entails depriving one of sleep, by kicking and banging on their wall whenever they attempt to sleep. Despite all the loud talking, yelling, singing, and banging that occurs on a daily basis, solitary confinement is a very lonely place. In this extreme isolation, one’s thoughts are in constant overdrive, and creating a fantasy world in one’s mind, is most common. Escaping reality for awhile is necessary, but many become so engulfed in these worlds, that at times they find it difficult distinguishing fantasy from reality……. This is your imagination, but this is my reality.

Solitary Confinement…. Is a place where I’ve been confined for the past 7 years. My confinement in this extreme isolation has no end date, I am being confined cruely and indefinitely. Unfortunately, this abnormal environment has long ago become normal in my minds eye. I have not taken any part, in any forms of savagery, but when I witness or hear about it occurring, I am no longer disgusted because I have become numb to this type of behavior. Over the years, i’ve experienced mental and emotional anguish, anger, anxiety, despair, loneliness, and bouts of depression. This abnormal environment is full of savagery, degradation, dehumanization, and inhumaly. This abnormal environment breeds misery bitterness, lonlieness, paranoia, hypersensitivity, distorted thinking, irrational rage, Loss of impulse control, depression, hopelessness, and psychological and emotional harm. Whether large or small, and whether you notice it or not, this type of confinement will take a part of you, it is inevitable. Whether you notice it or not, this abnormal setting will make you a product of this environment, and it will become a product of you……. In your mind you can clearly imagine all of this, but in reality, I live it.

“Buried alive”
M. Accardi Sr.

Writing from solitary confinement, Accardi likens the experience to the most extreme of mental illnesses, provides a brief history of the practice and its documented tendency to cause severe mental illness, and shares firsthand accounts of people’s descents into dementia and suicide. The piece is subtitled “The Real Horrors of Solitary Confinement.”

There is a dark place within us all. For some, though, that dark place is just a tad bit closer to the surface than it is for others. And for some others still, it is so intolerably close to the surface that it is no longer really within them at all, but without, where it all at once becomes their ultimate reality, their living nightmare, their own personal DeadZone, and no matter what form of escapism tactics that they failingly attempt to employ — be it drugs, alcohol, sex, pain, or all of the above — they are as impotent against it as would be the little blue pill against the horrors of castration itself. It cannot be out-gunned, it cannot be out-maneuvered, and, most importantly, it cannot be out-distorted. For the devil in their darkness is akin to those such as Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees, wherein it is forever plodding onward, forever on the hunt, forever there.


Only someone whom has had to live with such an overwhelming and oppressive weight bearing down upon their very soul could truly fathom the depths of darkness in which I speak. Personally, I can think of only four types of people of whom would fit such stringent criteria.

Foremost would probably be the paranoid schizophrenic, who’s inner darkness has indeed risen to the surface of their mind and become a dark reality composed of continuously shifting snakes and shadows of nothingness, full of snakes and conspiracies and only-God-knows-what-else, and who’s impenetrable darkness offers no available avenues of escape.

Those poor souls unlucky enough to find themselves descending slowly into the dark and inexpressible depths of dementia, where they will forever be a stranger in the present, ignorant of the past, and sadly unable to fathom the future, yet aware enough of what is happening to them to be both horror-stricken and deeply despairing, would also understand these truths well.

Those suffering from the deepest, darkest, most debilitating depression, that which not only incapacitates but eventually leads to one form of self-destruction or another, be it recklessness or intentional self harm, are likewise well qualified to understand the depths of such impenetrable darkness.

As are the many millions of prisoners across this country, this so-called Land of the Free, that are continuously — and in some cases endlessly –forced to endure, against their will, the torturous and inhumane conditions of solitary confinement.

And yet still, solitary confinement exists.

According to a report titled Solitary Confinement as Torture, compiled by the University of North Carolina School of Law (2014), solitary confinement first came into use in the United States as a result of a penal reformation movement in the early nineteenth century. Apparently, some community leaders in Pennsylvania somehow came to the conclusion that convicts weren’t inherently evil, but victims of exposure to the evils of “modern” society, and that ensuring “the absolute and total isolation of the offender from any evil and corrupting influences” would give the convict time to reflect on his crimes and become repentant. It sounded good, I guess, but forced isolation is never a good thing; it’s torture, and it’s extremely dangerous side effects were soon made apparent.

In less than a year after 83 offenders were confined in “small cells with no exercise and no work”2, “five of the eighty-three had died, one became an idiot, another, when his door opened for some chance purpose, dashed himself from the gallery into the fearful area below, and the rest, with haggard looks and despairing voices, begged pitifully to be taken back to the shops and sent to work. This was suffering applied to both the body and mind.”3

Shortly after, in 1890, the Supreme Court condemned the practice of solitary confinement by calling it a “punishment of the most important and painful character.” Furthermore, the court described the adverse effects of its use:

“A considerable number of prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semifatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”4

Even still, solitary confinement endures. In the 1960’s, both psychologists and penologists began to explore the potential brainwashing effects of solitary confinement; and so it transformed from a form of rehabilitation into a form of behavior modification.

Today, though, neither of those forms of solitary confinement exist. The goal of solitary confinement is now incapacitation. This I can confidently report as fact through not just extensive research but first hand experience.

Let me explain.

I am right now, at this very moment, seated on the floor of a cell that is roughly the size of a bathroom or a walk-in closet. Beneath me is the plastic (fire retardant) mattress that I sleep on at night; it is only about 2 1/2 or 3 inches thick and not much better than bare cement. I am sitting on the floor because I am being forced to use the steel bedframe as a “desk” to write on; one is not provided otherwise. I am allowed nothing on the walls or even the floor. If the wrong guard (correctional officer) see’s my mattress on the floor I could receive an infraction and be forced to spend another 90-180 days on solitary confinement. At the moment, I have already been in solitary confinement for 163 days.

This time.

Since my initial incarceration in August 2008, I have spent approximately ten years in solitary confinement.

I approximately ten out of the past twelve years that I’ve been incarcerated, I have been forced to remain in cells just like the one where I now sit, day after day for the minimum of 23 hours per day, seven days a week, month after agonizing month — and sometimes, year after painful year — with only the intricacies of my own mind for entertainment.

This despite concordant evidence from countless experts showing that long-term solitary confinement has damaging mental health effects and is particularly inappropriate — and dangerous — for prisoners with pre-existing mental illnesses.

Such as myself and countless others.

Like the guy in the cell beside me, who spends every waking hour beating and banging, banging and beating, so obviously lost in his own fantastic delusions of rap stardom that he doesn’t notice the people around him who are bothered by the endless idiocy. That is, until one of those prisoners tired of the noise and tricked the guards into thinking the guy was kicking on the door so that they pepper sprayed him. Now he says nothing. He rarely eats. He no longer takes showers or changes his linens.

His inner darkness has become a reality.

Then there’s the guy downstairs on suicide watch. He was just transferred here from supermax. He was okay, at first; then they sent him to regular population. Within about four or five days he was back and on suicide watch. Now he stands in the middle of his bare cell, completely nude, screaming at the top of his lungs that satanic worshippers are trying to kill him and that there are prisoners using secret passages in the walls to try to get at him. Last night he urinated on the floor of his cell and laid in it until the guards made him move. Do they care? No. They tell him to “shut up” and call him vulgar and demeaning names, even while the prisoners around him do the same because he won’t stop screaming.

His reality is darkness, as well.

Sadly, though, these examples are not only minor, they are normal. I’ve seen prisoners hang themselves from the air vent with their pants; try to overdose with venous medications, die, be resuscitated, and die again; cut their wrists and bathe in their own blood; slice open their stomach and play in their own intestines, swallow toothbrushes, batteries, razor blades, nail clippers, and a myraid other items; eat feces. Leave a man alone with himself long enough and, under the right circumstances, we all break at some point.

Even those of us who are considered “strong-minded.”

Alot of people falsely believe that because I have an above-average I.Q. and because I can take care of myself in most situations that this cell doesn’t effect me as well. Well, they are wrong.

Entirely so.

Over these past 12 years my innermost darkness has become a pervasive unreality constructed upon pillars of irrational paranoia and blind aggression, sulked deep into free-standing pools of frustration and excessive anxiety, and percolating with nearly intolerable levels of rage and disorientation, and there is nothing that I can possibly do to change it.

I know that these things are happening; it is the deterioration of a mental state that has been balancing precariously since an unstable childhood. I am painfully aware of it, but can do nothing to stop it. For my complaints and cries for help go unheeded. In the meantime, I am continuously faced with longer and longer bouts of punitive isolation for the very behavior that solitary confinement is exacerbating to begin with.

And so every single day the darkness grows blacker.

The future grows bleaker.

My heart grows colder.

Section 4: Lack of Proper Treatment

“The Untold Story”
Mr. L. Mack-Lemdon

In this excerpt, Mack-Lemdon talks about the Residential Treatment Program (RTP), a program intended for truly mentally ill patients that has been co-opted by other incarcerated people with ulterior motives. 

The Residential Treatment Program (RTP) hosted by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). RTP is the MDOC’s “mental health” program and in my humble opinion, RTP can strongly be considered some type of good scam on both ends. On the one hand, prisoners have become fully aware of the wonderful benefits of this deception, curse there dear hearts, while on the other, the staff, oh well, reap the benefits of the payments received from the deception. Prisoners have discovered that if you play CRAZY in quarantine (R&GC), you will leave (R&GC) much faster and go to the RTP program. On its face, an on paper, RTP is “supposedly” a “mental health” program”, however, it is seemingly nothing more than (1) a get high place with plenty of drugs; (2) a high parole rate program; (3) a hide out for certain prisoners; (4) a place prisoners can freely practice once hidden homosexuality; (5) a host of women staff and a doctor who monitors medication and behavior during working hours and then leave all remaining mental health decisions to MDOC custody staff who are not trained or qualified in mental health issues at all; and (6) a get out of prison faster and carry out prisoners plans, whatever those plans may be and Trust Me, I have heard some skin crawling plans. But I am just a prisoner what can a prisoner know?


The “Mental Health Program” (RTP), houses prisoners who are just as “normal” as you are, with prisoners who have severe mental illnesses. It is these “normal” prisoners that have an agenda and the ones who should be of concern. Numerous RTP players, referring to prisoners first, are in the programs for the reasons as stated above. Some are already committing crimes in their own heads, afterall, many of them are high enough to conjure up such things. Next, both the MDOC and RTP staff are fully aware of these facts. Both know that RTP prisoners sell there medications, buy others medications, are high functioning, taking advantage of those who are really mentally ill, engaged in homosexual activity, and that most of these “normal” prisoners should be in general population (GP). However, RTP is a two-sided con and deception game. No one wants to expose the other because of what’s at stake. This is sort of bothersome because since none of these “players” care about any of this, then the questions becomes, what type of prisoners are being released into your neck of the woods, via RTP? What are these staff members saying about these prisoners that qualifies them to be released? What happens if one of these none caring prisoners carry out there plans? What message is the MDOC and RTP sending out to the entire prison population. In the criminal world, when any person is aware of a potential crime and fails to disclose the nature of that crime, in some cases, that person can be deemed a conspirator. However, the MDOC and RTP misguidance may not rise to the level of being criminal, yet still, all staff is fully aware of everyone’s intent, including there own. Saying “DAMN” may be a little too late.

The R.T.P.PC.SA.P&H saga
Mr. L. Mack-Lemdon

Lemdon again writes about the Residential Treatment Program (RTP), a program intended for truly mentally ill patients that has been co-opted by other IP with ulterior motives.

It host numerous types of prisoners, most of who are not mentally ill only pretending to be for the salaciousness of their own selfish desires.


MORE descriptively, RTP was designed to assist mentally ill prisoners with their mental health problems and in a sense it does, however, it is not even close to being a therapeutic environment. For example, RTP is mostly ran by corrections officers who, for the most part, are not properly trained in the mental health field and the “real” mental health staff, although they perform the task, have so greatly adopted the attitudes, behaviors, characteristics, and personality of corrections that it further denies the mentally ill of an authentic therapeutic environment. In other words, most MDOC “CLIP ON” agencies, such as health care and mental health, are more concerned with custody and other MDOC related matters rather than with the professionalism of their own occupation. Therefore, we have a mess (THE MDOC KNOWS THIS).

“PC” (protective custody) exist because prisoners who have crimes that are very unpopular and other general population problems, uses RTP as a means of escape. RTP is a refuge where inmates can come and live the comfortable life free of harassment. However, those who are using RTP for “PC”, protective custody purposes, somehow end up placing an “S” on their chest and suddenly become the very thing they are running from in general population. Disastrous (THE MDOC KNOWS THIS).


RTP is loaded with substance abusers who sell their own mental health medications for various reasons, however, they also buy mental health medications. Prisoners must and want to be “HIGH”. Additionally, they buy and sell other drugs. Matter of fact, for the love of drugs and money numerous inappropriate actions have taken place, such as, hidden fights in the prisoners bathrooms and prisoners “locking-up” for further protection. Undoubtedly, there are probably more drug related incidents in RTP than in all other units combined (THE MDOC KNOWS THIS).

IN closing, is RTP a mental health agency/treatment program? Imagine all of this happening in one building. Matter of fact, RTP is so well compacted with the things prisoners WANT that they will go through great lengths to stay. For example, attempting suicide and/or saying the right things. Prisoners know what to say and do to stay in RTP and for the most part, it works.

“To whom it may concern”
Trent J. Henrickson

Henrickson describes how he was improperly and unwillingly medicated. He felt depressed because he was incarcerated, but did not struggle from any other mental health issues. Furthermore, he details how the environment of prison, specifically the disgusting conditions within his cell and the horrific treatment from correctional officers, would make anyone feel depressed.

I had so much hole time that nothing mattered to me. I would say I was suicidal, even though I was not, to get out of the loud ass hole and to make the C.O.’s work, which they hate to do. It got so bad that they, the “mental health team,” put me on forced medication. They put me on Haldol Lactate, injections that I could not refuse, I tried a few times and they cell extracted me, tied me to a fucking bed and forced the injection. Haldol is worse than any Hell. It is, metaphorically speaking, the devils blood. I don’t know why but in ESP they’ll put you on it as a month injection, even if you are calm. What it does is render you vegetative/comatose. It basically turns off 99% of your brain and 100% of your body. You will have seizures on it. Your muscles will “lock” up. I couldn’t turn my cell light on or off, I couldnt brush my teeth, I couldn’t wipe my own fucking ass. I damn near died by starving to death. Eating and drinking water were damn near impossible. I think part of that 1 percent of your mind thats not shut down is your survival instinct. My cell was a fucking biohazard, because trying to use the toilet was akin to driving with a 2.7 [illegible]. I would shit on myself and lay in it for months. Every month a “nurse” would come to give me that poison. One nurse cried, fucking tears, because I was crying when she told me I had to take a shot. I didn’t cry when I was arrested or sentenced to 6-15 years in prison. It lasts over the month. You maintain just enough function in that 1% of your brain to understand the scope of how terrible it is. Your a prisoner in your own mind and body. Thats not just me speaking, every single person I have ever met who has taken an injection of Haldol lactate will agree. I was taken off probably because they, the psych team” saw that it was going to literally kill me. I was write up free for a year because I was constantly threatened with a shot for any write up every fucking day for a year; If I saw a nurse or any C.E.R.T. I would start shaking, getting cold sweats, and panic, just thinking that they are there to force inject me


The mentally ill, truly crazy people get locked in a cell 24/7. They get harassed by C.O.s. You can tell when people are actually schizophrenic, and I have seen a person eat his own shit and punch himself in the face get called a retard by staff and told he should kill himself. If you ask to speak to a psychologist, they will just give you a sedative. They hand out bullshit like buspar like candy. If you misbehave, they label you a psych patient inmate, they will chemically restrain an inmate. They blur the line between behavior problems and mental health militia.


And, again, I am not schizophrenic, I do not hear voices or see things, I am not psychotic, I am not bi-polar, I am not depressed. I am not a psych patient. I am not suicidal. I am angry, and in the past, I have reacted to such anger by acting out, as I have said. It was childish to do such, but I am a human being under stress and by nature have been overwhelmed by my emotions. I write this missive now to make an account of the misery I have lived.

“Trip to the tropics” 
Inmate Rauda

In this essay, the author describes their experience as a mentally ill person in the prison system and their struggle to attain proper treatment. Rauda did not want to take medication, but rather engage in therapy. However, they were denied therapy and forced to take medication. 

Police are crooked so crooked in fact, that they set me up to take psychotropic medications, first of all I have a history of depression, as I sometimes get depressed or low in situations such as incarceration, I don’t take medications, I don’t feel they work for me. While serving a term in prison I tried to seek a higher level of mental care, after months of counseling, mental staff at the prison approved of a medical transfer to another prison for program required, after arriving at the new facility I was evaluated by mental health staff within days I was denied eligibility for the program and released back to general population at that same prison to continue serving out my sentence.


At this time I decided to submit a written appeal as to the refusal of mental health care, I even filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 civil suit, in retaliation the prison officials and mental health staff decided to hold a “keyhea hearing” This is a civil hearing they hold to determine whether to administer psychotropic medications without patient consent, needless to say they won based on medical history and suicide risk. The medication they gave me made me sleepy or drowsy all day I could barely get up in the morning. This is all going on while inmates are conspiring against me, I endured this treatment for a few months that was left on my sentence then released on parole. My appeals were denied at each level, the civil suit was also denied. At this point there still is no clear standard or rules that prevent inmates or officers from singling out or retaliating, or victimizing someone actually if you show signs of mental illness or realness, your more likely to bring negative attention. Some prison inmates do not allow other inmates to take medications for mental illness or to go to mental institutions, I am doing time again and still my mental institutions, I am doing time again and still my mental history is working against me in order to recieve counseling I am not allowed to got to a lower level facility such as a camp or Ranch, I am not currently taking medications but I still have years to do.

“Abusing/killing the imprisoned mentally ill”
Edward R. Clark

In this piece, the author describes the severe abuse suffered by mentally ill individuals within the carceral system. Not only do they not receive adequate health care, they also are placed into situations that worsen their mental illnesses, such as segregation units. 

Obviously no prisoner suffers depression and neglect more under maximum security confinement than those who are mentally ill or mentally impaired – a growing problem since the closing of mental hospitals throughout the state and the nation. This is a problem for which there is partial and easy way to slow down their deterioration. It is by transferring those not having a history of extreme violent behavior or sexual predatory behavior, to medium security facilities that provides a less stressful environment… It’s questionable there will be any help for them because the abnormality of the mentally ill/impaired is looked upon by corrections officials as a disciplinary problem instead of a medical or psychological condition…

In the general population [of prisons] mentally ill prisoners are ignored by staff, for staff are not trained to deal with the problem, even if there is an established policy. This leaves the mentally ill and retarded prisoners vulnerable to that segment of the prison population who are predatory and commit extortion and sexual assaults.

It doesn’t take trained staff to recognize the obvious: Those who self-mutilate, or tie their cell door shut with strips of clothing and hide under their bed with the blanket draped over the side to escape from the real and imaginary prison world…

Because this mistreatment continues to be ignored to the degree that a mentally ill prisoner died a year ago while being mistreated, I quote my report of three years earlier describing the conditions that mentally ill prisoners are subjected to in the segregation unit…

Along with housing those of us who are normal, this segregation unit houses the mentally impaired, the emotionally disturbed and those who are insane. They have not committed any rule violation, but are an embarrassment to prison officials who choose this way of dealing with them rather than providing professional help.


Mental health staff are aware of this uncivilized method of control, for other prisoners have brought it to their attention when they make their infrequent rounds to check on how the sane prisoners are holding up through months and even years in segregation, with questions more in line with an experiment rather than general concern. The only action they have taken was to order a naked prisoner who is stretched out on the board to be covered. So guards passing through the unit wouldn’t heckle and make sexually suggestive remarks toward the abnormal human being.

During his weekly rounds the medical doctor will order the inmate removed from the board. The next day, when the doctor is not in the prison, the inmate is strapped back down. When he is taken off the board, he is relatively quiet for a few days. but to break the routine of boredom, he will again bang on the steel plates and scream obscenities, knowing full well that in the morning he again will be placed on the board.

“60 second housecall: 102”
Chernikko L. Crump

The author of this essay describes a variety of issues within the current California criminal justice system. In particular, he notes the lack of mental health medical care, and how this in turn can negatively affect a prevention of reintegration post-release. 

Currently under State Law, Medical recipients who are jailed or in Mental Institutions have their benefits suspended when they are taken into custody, and Benefits are terminated if their incarceration extends beyond the one year period. State Law currently prohibits County Supervisors to designate someone or an organization to meet with inmates Before their release to help them submit an Application so that their Medical Benefits are re-instated.

Rev. Jim Hopkins, Pastor of Oakland, California’s Lake Shore Baptist Church, told supervisors “simply having Medicine Available to former inmates upon release is a very important first step for Justice and Humanity. Bob Britton, Chairman of Live Free — Faith in Action, A non-profit that Advocates Around issues involving incarceration, said inmates with Mental illnesses are likely to re-offend and End up Back Behind Bars if they are released without Access to Medication. Britton also went on to say that people accused of serious crimes, or who cannot Afford to post Bail, usually spend more than a year in jail as they wait for their case to get resolved, putting them in especially at risk of losing Benefits.

Rev. Majorie Matthews, Pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ in Oakland, California, made A Cry for help and stated “We are here Asking and trusting you to do Justice. Among the demands of those who circulated the Petition Are that of County Officials is who want to Ensure that Medi-Cal Benefits are Restored Before An inmate is Released, that they provide help to those who may be Eligible for the Benefits, But are not yet Enrolled, and that every inmate needing prescription Medication has a 30-day Supply when Released from jail.

The Board took no formal Action, but Supervisor Mr. Richard Valle said the Board will consider this issue at a future meeting. Just how many individuals could be affected by the change in Policy was not immediately Available.

“7My voice through the prison walls”
Ricky Pendleton

This essay mentions numerous issues with the criminal justice system, accusing it of being a for-profit scheme that actively prevents rehabilitation. The author cites the lack of medical care, including mental health care, and the harsh conditions that aggravate mental illnesses.

The challenges I face physically by being in this unnatural environment are health issues, the medical department only care for small issues but there are little concerns for difficult medical conditions. Psychological survival is where I have to have discipline and be patience when there are guards who don’t have respect and they yell at you.


Don’t get me wrong I respect law and order because every society needs it, but don’t make law and order a “for profit,” organization. In this prison, there are inmates who are mentally ill having a defeated mentality. Most are depressed on some type of medication. I have to choose who to share a cell with because many inmates are so damn depressed that they don’t want to do anything, including showering. They would just stink, sort of like they’re slowly rotten away. There are a few who keep talking about committing suicide because of their current situation. I had talks with other inmates who said that they would consider this. The prison environment has a strong tensional atmosphere, one could cut it with a knife it is so thick. Any time a negative element can trigger a raw explosion of a negative reaction.

“It all started in November, 2018” 
Charles R. Killingsworth

The author of this excerpt describes the poor treatment he received for his depression while in prison. He was isolated, and the treatment he received only served to make his symptoms worse. 

One morning I began to think about why I ended up back in prison after just seven months of freedom, and the terrible cost I paid and continue to pay because of my incarceration. The realization that I had lost everything this time around. I had lost family, friends, and community ties. Next came the realization that not only was I alone, but was dependent on the state prison system to provide me with the basic necessities needed to survive. It is really a terrible feeling not being able to provide for yourself. The last realization was the fact that if I were to die in prison, I had nobody to pick up my body for proper burial, and would be buried on prison property. This thought alone is quite terrifying. After contemplating on these thoughts, I became very, very depressed. I had no family or friends to reach out to or anybody else for that matter. This depression lasted for over a week. I could not eat or sleep well during this period.


After the week in an empty cell, I was moved to a different cell and given a blanket, sheets, mattress, but was not allowed socks or shoes. Reading material was next to nonexistent. What ended up happening was that I had absolutely nothing to do for the duration I was at the Skyview Psychiatric Unit. The idleness was as miserable as anything that I had ever dealt with. I had been forced to live under these conditions for eight weeks…I ended up even more depressed and stopped eating and drinking for 9 days. I had lost over 20 pounds and became very weak and sick during this time. I ended up eating with the promise from mental health staff that I would get the help that I needed. I never did receive the promised help, and only saw a psychiatrist twice for no more than 5 minutes each visit.


What I can’t understand is that when an inmate has any sort of mental breakdown the first response is to place the inmate in insolation, much of the time for days without ever being seen by any mental health staff. It is to my knowledge that this type of crisis management only magnifies the inmate’s psychosis. When the inmate acts out in order to get help, they are either ignored or sprayed with pepper spray and left in a cell to burn. This is not a legitimate form of mental health care, but could rather be labeled torture or simply terrorism.

“End the suffering”
Chanell R. Burnette

This excerpt illustrates the inadequacies and limitations in mental health services provided to the incarcerated population. The author notes minimal investment from counselors, highly restrictive living situations for prisoners suffering from severe mental illness, and prison psychiatrists’ habit of prescribing medication to suppress disruptive symptoms rather than treating underlying conditions.

In this prison alone, I have seen many whom are deteriorating mentally because no one really cares enough to come to their aid. There are only a few who genuinely care and put forth their best efforts to offer support. What are these poor people to do? They have no one to turn to (…)

Speaking from a person who has had to go to counseling for my own relief, I can say that it proved to be absolutely useless. When you have an appointment to see a counselor, you are allowed twenty minutes. What can ever be accomplished in such a short time? Counselors ask only a few questions, nod at your response no matter the amount of distress you may clearly be in, and they may or may not jot down a few notes. And whether you’re finished crying your eyes out or not, they tell you to schedule another appointment. I accomplished nothing! I no longer attend. For what?

On the other side, they have a team of offenders who work with the mentally ill. Those that endure the worst cases of mental illness are housed in a designated area. There is what is termed the “acute area, which is where offenders are kept locked in cells and are not allowed day room time, nor allowed on the compound. They are only permitted to shower on certain days. No human interaction except the correctional officers that make rounds every fifteen or thirty minutes. The offender mental health team is not permitted interaction with those offenders. How is this conductive to establishing a healthier mind frame?

There is then yet another area, or wing also designated for those offenders with mental health illnesses. This wing is a step down for the actual acute wing. These offenders have access to the dayroom. They are also permitted to leave the building to go to recreation groups, commissary, as well as the library. If they were once housed in the acute wing and their condition has improved, this wing is where they are transferred to.

Lastly, there is one more wing designed for those who have shown an exceptional amount of improvement whom may have resided in the first two wings. This wing is also commissioned for offenders who may simply need some time to recuperate from something which may be troubling them. All these wings are much smaller and only house approximately forty five offenders versus the larger general population wings that house close to sixty offenders. The smaller wings provide a sense of comfort because there are less people to communicate with. Some people prefer it this way. In an environment where there is relatively no privacy, sometimes it is helpful for some to have little exchange with others. This wing can leave the building for the same privileges as general population.

Speaking also from someone that has taken mental health medication, I have only known there to be a few psychiatrists actually concerned with the healing and healthiness of our minds. The majority are only concerned with the prescribing of medications to mask, not solve the problem. Their burden is lightened if we are numb and quiet. If we’re sleeping our lives away, we can’t bother them. Sad. This is not helping!

Haplessly, if those suffering with mental disorders are released back into society in the same condition they were in upon entering the system, what happens then? Will they become repeat offenders? Around and around spins the cycle.”

“Brain-health and the throw’d”
Jacob Jills

This excerpt details shortcomings and inadequacies of mental health services in prison. Issues include limitations on care imposed by liability concerns, fraudulent use of psychiatric services by incarcerated individuals, and desensitization to the suffering of the prison population. 

Note: “Throw’d” is an informal term popular in the Texas Correctional system and refers to mental patients, whose minds are seen as “throw’d off.”

In prison and jail you quickly learn to steer clear of your facility’s psychiatric “professionals.” Sincere, compassionate care is seconded to liability concerns. Thinking about suicide? Better not tell anyone! You will be treated like an animal; suicide watch makes you want to kill yourself. Therapeutic writing will be used against you as young shrinks attempt to read non existing “threats” between the lines of your letters home. Psychiatrists and psychologists are employed as liability and lawsuit prevention agents rather than brain-health doctors. These agents of the state never introduce themselves, never extend a hand in greeting. Everything is so formal it feels like you’re on some assembly line – get in get out as quick as possible…

Many of the psych patients I know fraudulently feign brain-health issues to collect a disability check upon parole or discharge. At the same time using their “needed” psych-medication to sell or get high as part of their prison “hustle”, “cheeking” their pills. General population is a literal self-medicating, burgeoning black market. A common drink is mixing “green-monsters” (Neotripolene) with 50mg benadryl capsules in Kool-Aid, coffee, or tea. Crushing and snorting is common, too. And no, not because the drug hits harder, but for the high… Please, don’t let the “throw’d” fool you!

Mental-health professionals, though they probably had good intentions, sincerely wanting to help, quickly grow frustrated with the absurdness of the system and scheming inmates, subsequently becoming desensitized to patient needs. All these combined elements have morphed treatment into an us (offenders) versus them (psych-doctors as just one more untrusted cog of America’s Prison Industrial Complex) issue.

The casualties of all this nonsense? Real psych-patients who truly need help, want help, but can’t get help. And you!, the tax payer by the fleecing of your hard earned dollars to include less safe neighborhoods as prisons and jails release these ill-treated throw’d men and women back into society only to repeat the cycle of madness over and over again.

“Assaulting Dave”
Jacob Barrett

In this excerpt, Barrett briefly describes the Special Management Unit (SMU), which is used to house mentally ill prisoners. He describes conditions that are not suitable for anyone, let alone someone actively struggling with a mental illness. The inhospitable nature of these conditions suggest that the unit was not built with the intention to treat mental illness, but to keep those suffering confined and separated from others. 

I’m hustled into the prisons Admissions area where an officer explains DSU is full and I’ll have to stay in “Smoo”, the Special Management Unit (SMU). He pronounces the acronym like a word his body would poop out. A unit used to house psychotic and mentally ill prisoners. Simply put, SMU is a psychiatric ward that exists as a twilight zone in the prison. When DSU is full prison officials would house prisoners in SMU until a cell was available in DSU. And SMU is a world of its own. The cell is only big enough to hold a bunk and a toilet-sink unit. There is a window at the back of the cell and a window on the door at the front of the cell. The cell is so small I can either choose to stand or lay down. I cannot pace or move around the cell. I am given only a mattress to sleep on and a single sheet. The window is stuck open and the December weather pours in.

Section 5: Coping and Rehabilitation

“Would it make sense if I told you that I receive praise”
Christopher R. Cox

In this essay, the author explains how reading has helped him cope with mental turmoil. Although reading acts as a successful educational device and distraction from prison life, Cox expresses that to truly get better, he needs serious treatment that is not accessible to him.

Would the reader understand that all I am is what I’ve been able to discover through these revolutionary tablets (books)? Should I be able to name my triggers? Maybe my urges or cognitive distortions? Would you understand me better if I told you my personal library in this dog kennel (cell) includes authors such as: Elaine Brown, David Hillard, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, George Jackson, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seal, Eldridge Cleaver or Gerald “Gernomio Ji Jaga” Pratt? These tablets are my golden bricks. They pave the yellow brick road of evolution, sanity, justice, and the emancipation and illumination. They have taught me that “I am”! They’ve shown me that my crys were not in vain, and true liberation comes the the “help” and “support” of the people. They’ve shouldered the burden of insanity for me. They have pointed out to me that I was ignorant in thought before my actions.


No way can this woman who (I) read in a book that my dreams are only haunting me because of a past experience. Has she ever had PTSD? Has this question even be asked? I wouldn’t know because there is no handbook on how one needs to burden his soul to a stranger.


What booms in my mind at this moment here is what the medication supposes to suppress, stop, cure or correct. I badly need mental health treatment that may require me to be someone who I have always tried to dislike. A victim! No longer must a persons status as a man/woman deter them from the right to seek help for the unknown; right? This prison has said that I am diagnosed as a Seriously Mental Ill (SMI) Inmate, yet my gang affiliation hinders me from receiving mental health treatment.


My hundreds of tattoo’s cover my gunshots, stab wounds, suicide attempts, and scares from my night terrors. The last still going on when ever I close my eyes. How can I ask for forgiveness if my own psych. will not encourage reconing or change to finally manifest?

“The psychological effected of being dehumanized!”
Cunningham Writes

In this piece, the author describes their struggles with mental illness in incarceration as well as their coping strategies. They utilized faith, writing, community, and engaging in therapy when available. 

I suffered in silence for years trapped. In a mental cave, as my mental condition continued to worsen by the day, but like a vacano, I had been holding so much in. I had no control over my explosive disorder. My scars became deeper than the eyes could see and my mental scars grew so deep I became lost to what was reality. Punishment and physically abuse became normal to me. Like banging my head on a concrete wall and not feeling the pain or eternal damages. I was lost to what was normal and darkness became my light!


They were trying to break me mentally, physically, and spiritually. I felt like the Jesus on the cross. “But why the Jesus?” A voice in my head asked.

“Because you deserve this pain!” The voice said.


I reached out to faith that night. (The hand of God) Through prayer I asked God for help. In time my darkness started to turn into light. It was then that I could see I needed help for my mental illness. No longer did I want to live in the darkness of denial anymore.

Soon I started reaching out to other mentally ill inmates that were in solitary confinement with me who were also suffering. I informed them that there was a Law Firm with Lawyers who said that they wanted to help us.


I’ve lived in the darkness of denial for many years. I was afraid to reach out for help so I continued to suffer. Mental illness is a very serious disease. I went from being on 4 to 5 different psychotropic medications to now only taking one.

I still have therapy sessions whenever this institution can find available Psychologists. However my biggest form of theraputic treatment has been through writing and helping other inmates who suffer from mental illness. Its been amazing how my story and struggle has been like a key that unlocks the door of pain and suffering from others to tell their stories. That gives them the courage to reach out for help.

I can honestly say that I have saved lives in this very short period of time that I have been out of solitary confinement. (Its almost been two years now that I have been writing and fighting for-myself and others, and the struggle continues!).

“How I plan to remain a healthy, productive, and valued member of the community when I parole (AKA, Relapse prevention plan)..”
David J. Terway

David Terway outlines his personal plan to alter his lifestyle in order to manage his mental illnesses, both while incarcerated and beyond. He discusses coping strategies such as therapy, meditation, spirituality, leisure activities, and potential work skills that will help him build a balanced life. 

GOALS AND PLANS FOR A RECOVERY LIFESTYLE Now I’d like to discuss each aspect of sobriety (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social/legal), giving a goal and a plan for each. With regard to the physical aspect of sobriety, I have several goals. One of them is to be able to jog three miles without stopping (I just did 2.75 miles this past weekend) and in a very good time (21 minutes). I will accomplish this by continuing to jog whenever I am able. (can’t always do it while incarcerated). I will try to get in as good a shape as I can, by jogging and stretching and weight-lifting and calisthenics and by eating healthy meals. As for the mental aspect of sobriety, I will continue to take my medications and to participate in therapy toward the end of mastering coping skills so that I can be a valued member of my community, society as a whole, my church, and my professional society. I will continue to participate in my groups her at ASH because they contribute to my mental wellbeing (CBT, DBT and SA). Once I parole I will seek continued mental health care. I will continue to read all types of material and to work all types of puzzles (Sudoku, crosswords, logic, cyphers, etc.) to keep my mind sharp. I will enroll in a college to complete my AA degree with the goal of earning a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Computer Science. Even if I don’t reach that goal (as I am going to be 58 when I parole), I want to work toward it because I enjoy the academic challenge and because the knowledge I gain while working toward it will be valuable and the work will help me to avoid unstructured time. The aforementioned plans will also play a part in the emotional aspect of sobriety. I have already learned that all emotions are okay, but it’s my response to them that can be ineffective regarding the achievement of my goals. So I have a goal to learn to sit with my emotions, to just experience them without impulsive gestures. I’ve already begun to practice this with what I have learned thus far in DBT. I am practicing using my wise mind. Mindfulness exercises help with this. In DBT basics, I’ve learned to be aware that sometimes I can mistake an emotion to be proof of a fact about me or the world. I need to check the facts. I know that mood-altering substance can wreak havoc on my emotions. I’ve learned that changing my body chemistry (ice on my face, intense exercise, or breathing techniques) can reduce extreme emotions quickly. Radical acceptance can be used for distress tolerance, as well as willingness instead of willfulness. Sleep, exercise, physical health and a balanced diet are all connected to “inoculating” one against stress, so-to-speak. Accumulating positives, building mastery (sense of accomplishment, challenge), and coping ahead (planning how to deal with situations that may be troublesome) are all DBT skills to which I’ve been introduced and which I am using here and there when the need arises and when I remember to do it. I have a goal of becoming very well-versed in the DBT skills and of being able to receive additional coaching in this area. I plan to do this, in part, by advocating for myself to be placed in the advanced DBT group here at ASH. I’ve been working on my spirituality for the last thirteen years (since being incarcerated) I have been given the privilege of volunteering as the Catholic Chaplain’s Lector and as a Christian thereby assisting during communion services. I have a goal to do the same in my parish when I parole. My plan is to hone my skills here at ASH and to use the Chaplain here as a reference, when I join a church on the streets. I am also considering becoming a member of the Third Order of the SSPX (Society of Saint Pius the Tenth), a lay order of the Catholic Church, which requires vows and a holy lifestyle. I want to get as close to God as I can because He is the way to serenity for me. He is my higher power, the One in whom I place my faith and trust. I will participate in the Catholic Sacraments regularly, too. With regard to the Social/Legal aspect of my sobriety my goal is to reintegrate into society and find a community I can be a part of even though I’m a two-ninety registrant. I want to complete my parole as smoothly as possible. Toward that end I plan to obey all the conditions of my parole (and CONREP, if that’s the way I return to the community). I plan to spend much of my time seeking employment. I will be able to use my employment in the main kitchen here at Atascadero State Hospital (ASH) as a reference, I will go to Social Services when I parole to see what assistance they may be able to provide. I will network through AA/NA and my church to find employment. I will take almost any job to have income. I will be an active participant in my community’s governing process. My goal is to become a respected and valued member of my community in spite of the fact that I will have to register as a sex offender. This will take time and I will have to earn the respect of many. I believe I can do that.

HAVING FUN There are so many ways to have fun without using. One is geocaching, which involves searching for buried “treasure” (trinkets really) using a handheld GPS (cell phone). There’s hiking involved, sometimes a road trip, and the community of Geocachers might provide new, non-using friends. Another way to have fun without using is to learn the art of cooking, and again, this offers the opportunity to invite people to try my cooking, thereby developing and/or stretching relationships and my social network. A third way to have fun without using is to prepare, plant and grow flower and vegetable gardens to enjoy visually and to use in my cooking. I have always loved a well groomed lawn and garden and the pride and satisfaction that come from seeing the fruit of my labor. An added benefit is the exercise a garden forces one to undertake.

STRENGTHS I CAN PUT TO USE One strength that I can utilize to help me stay sober and live a recovery lifestyle is the fact that I am very motivated to earn at least a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Science. I have been working on my Associate of Arts Degree (with an emphasis in the Humanities); I have 49 credits, so far with a 4.0 GPA, from the Feather River College Incarcerated Student Program (Quincy, CA). I thoroughly enjoy the challenge and the work involved in earning these credits. Pursuing this goal will certainly go a long way toward filling my otherwise unstructured time, which is a very effective way to avoid relapse. Another strength I can use to avoid relapse is my dedication to living my faith (Roman Catholicism). The tenets of my faith, along with continually developing my relationship with God, are not in accord with the using lifestyle. My faith includes the belief in life after death, Heaven and Hell (as well as Purgatory). I have known from a very young age that I do not want to go to Hell and that I do want to go to Heaven. As simplified as that may sound the point is that I believe that living the recovery lifestyle provides me with the best chance of also living a life that is pleasing to God. Therefore my strength lies in my faith in God’s plan for me. A third strength is my willingness to work the AA/NA 12 step program. There are meeting galore, in every place. They provide social networks and activities with people in recovery, thereby filling more of my otherwise unstructured time. Also, I will have connections for jobs, housing, etc. I will have a sponsor. My willingness to work the steps is a definite strength that will help me stay sober, in recovery, and to have a life worth living.

“Locked Inside: Mental Health in Prisons”
Franklin Lee

This section tells the stories of two inmates Lee observed, Iggy and Justin, in relation to their access to rehabilitation. While these men had positive experiences in specific mental health recovery programs, they both explained that they were some of the few to have success.

An inmate in the Extended Outpatient Program (EOP), he reflected back on his 26 years in prison, reminiscing about the treatment towards inmates with mental illness.


Arriving to at EOP facility has been a strong component in his recovery. Though not all EOP programs are the same, his current experience at the Mule Creek Infill Complex (MCIC) has improved the freedom he has felt in being able to unlock his mind. “The staff at EOP… after two decades of high anxiety and poor social skills… they provided me structure in managing my trauma and anxiety,” he admitted. Iggy took a deep, calm breath, and stated that he was ready to step down from EOP status. He was grateful to the MCIC recreation therapists and registered nurses who helped him develop coping skills for a normal life. Though there were a few like Iggy who found the help they needed, many inmates with a mental illness are still locked inside, both in prison and in their minds.


“Justin” is 33 years old and has been in the Enhanced Outpatient Program (EOP) for six years. EOP programs like the one at Mule Creek State Prison have benefitted Justin, while many other inmates struggle with the regimented nature of the prison environment. Justin has observed officers write up inmates with mental illness for minor offenses, and this against the expressed concerns of mental health clinicians who believe that drawing negative attention to them does nothing to help.

“The therapeutic nature of art in prison” 
Michael Crawford

In this piece, Crawford writes about the numerous benefits of creating art in prison. He describes how art made him feel like he was somewhere outside of prison and gave him a way to channel his emotions. 

One day I sat down to draw a picture of a car coming out of a tunnel after a snowstorm. I started by blacking out an entire sheet of 18″ X 22″ drawing paper with a stick of compressed charcoal. Once the sheet was covered, I spread the charcoal out evenly by smudging it with my hands in a circular motion. I blew the excess onto the floor and started drawing. Because the sheet was coated with dark charcoal, I employed a drawing technique where one erases to draw the desired image. The method is called subtraction. I roughly sketched in the trees, the street, and the tunnel before I realized the prison’s bell had rung. Buzz! Buzz! Buzz! It was time for chow. I had been drawing for over four hours, and I was nowhere near finished.I went to chow because I had to eat, but I did not want to leave the drawing.Something was happening. I was not stressed or pressured to get the piece done on time as if I was under a contract. Nevertheless, I felt the need to keep on drawing (…) I was there inside the drawing; 1 could smell the exhaust from the car. The pinetrees were freshly covered with snow weighing down their many branches. The scene was breathtaking.

The drawing became personal not because I made it but because I was transported into its world. I was at peace in a wintery landscape for the hours I spent drawing. No bars, no counts, and no officers. I was in the zone; all that existed was me and the drawing. This was my vacation. I can now go anywhere, by giving myself completely to a drawing and becoming one with the piece. Through my art I have met John Coltrane, conducted an orchestra, and been to Africa. However, the only drawback is that eventually I have to return to the reality of my prison cell. One may ask, is such a temporary escape Beneficial? Some may say no, likening the escape to an addict’s temporary escape while high. They would argue that when the trip is over one is still faced with the same problems that existed before the high. Although this may be true of both drawing and drugs, an added benefit of drawing is that it is therapeutic. More specifically, it leaves the artist feeling better instead of having harmful effects on the body like most illegal drugs. Some opponents of art programs in prison fail to realize that art can be used therapeutically to aid prisoners’ rehabilitation.

For instance, because art is a form of expression, prisoners who have anger management problems can use it as a vehicle to channel their anger. Instead of lashing out, prisoners can always pickup a pencil and draw! The time it takes to complete a drawing allows for the release of built-up tension. In the end, the prisoner will be in a better state of mind and have a work of art as an added benefit.

In prison, it is easy to find men facing an array of different problems. Some struggle with the courts in a legal battle, some struggle to keep family ties strong, and some struggle to remain sane in an unnatural environment. Therefore, stress, depression, loneliness, bitterness, anger, remorse, and anxiety are all commonplace in New York State Prisons. Art can be used to address some of those issues. By having prisoners draw scenes and images expressing those feelings they wish to confront and conquer, they will begin to effectively mange their problems.

Over the years I have experienced the multitude of those emotions; however, drawing has been like a medicine as it changes my mood and uplifts my spirits. For example, if I start a drawing feeling lonely and depressed, I find company with myself as an artist and with the drawing as it develops. A completed drawing leaves me in good spirits because I have just created something beautiful that people will enjoy.

As an artist, I ask questions concerning the drawing and what I see. These questions turn into a full scale conversation; sometimes out loud and other times in my head. The questions can be challenging: Is this angle correct, is that the right perspective? How can 1 make the piece more realistic, or capture the mood I want to convey? By actively answering these questions I stimulate my mind and creative ability. Therefore, I have erased my loneliness. The answers to those questions also serve to intrigue art appreciators and evaluators alike. They are not the only ones, for I too am pleased with the outcome. The outcome is a work of art leaves me depression-free.

Drawing allows me to give back to society. Whether 1 am drawing a poster, a custom greeting card, a design on a plaque, or jewelry box, I am ultimately sharing my work with someone. A family member, a friend, or a prisoner’s wife or girlfriend will find happiness and appreciate my creative ability. I am happy that in my current circumstances I can use a gift that God has given me to touch the lives of others. After having caused my community much heartache and pain, I am pleased to finally be able to give back by sharing my artwork with others.

In short, drawing is a win-win for all involved. The artist builds upon his or her skills and shares them with the world; the viewer or recipient is allowed to admire and be inspired by the artist’s creativity. Because drawing has helped me cope with prison life for the last eleven years, I recommend drawing to the world as a way to find a sense of peace in trying times.

“Bag of Hope”
Shon Pernice

An incarcerated veteran recounts his and a fellow combat veteran’s experience receiving treatment for PTSD in prison. The excerpt illustrates challenges faced by incarcerated people receiving psychiatric care and recounts how one veteran found purpose in helping other formerly incarcerated people reenter society.

I met John in January 2017. We were both selected to participate in the prison’s first PTSD group. John was a marine, served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and fought in the Battle for Ramadi. He earned a Purple Heart during that deployment and experienced some of the same horrors that I did. We both had lost friends to terrorist acts in Iraq. At the PTSD graduation ceremony, we gave speeches about our struggles and how we are coping with PTSD inside of prison. We needed to tell our story.

As a decorated combat veteran, John was dealing with issues that are not uncommon to incarcerated veterans. He had no place to call home in Missouri and applied to various reentry establishments. He would initially get accepted, be excited, and then let down as he was rejected due to his mental health rating. His mental health status was elevated due to taking a medication: antidepressants. Each time he was let down, it was crushing for both of us. Finally, a veteran specific release center accepted him – mission accomplished, or so I thought.

About 10 days after John’s release, I contacted him by phone. He spoke of great things about his new living arrangements, his cell phone options, and a job interview. I asked him what it was like walking out the door to freedom. The phone got quiet for a moment and I didn’t like the pause. John said the prison gave him some mix matched clothes to wear and the pants were too big. He stated that he was “embarrassed” when he arrived at the reentry center for his new lease at life. His words stung every aspect of my very being. My emotions went from rage to sadness to worry then just annoyed at the system in place. That irritation was one heck of a motivator to this former non commissioned officer. I vowed that if it’s in my power, I will not let another veteran leave from this institution without a set of dress outs (one set of clothing to wear out).

Now I have a mission – a purpose. A line in the Soldier’s Creed states, “I will never accept defeat,” and so it began. I wrote to various churches within 30 minutes of the prison. On July 26, 2017, Family Life Fello wship (FLF) answered my prayer, my mission, my path to moral restitution. But, not only did they respond, they went beyond what I asked for by offering clothes (plural), and “personal items to help set them up for success once they are released.” As I read those golden words, tears streamed down my face. For a letter to make a man weep in prison, it would normally be a death notification, Dear John, or release papers. To see people care about men in prison, that have no relationship to them, and go a step farther, rekindled my faith in humanity and God’s unconditional love.

Being in a state correctional institution, with lots of rules, regulations, and policy concerns, the next step is planning. As I showed the treasured letter to various staff members to see who will assist me, one director’s comment was, “This is a good problem to have.” We got most of the red tape worked out and our first “Bag of Hope” reached a veteran that was released January 2018.

“Writing to my inner child”
Dennis Sierra I

An incarcerated person undergoing therapy writes a letter to their “inner child,” or younger self, and reflects on the experience. The complete text is transcribed below. 

When I decided to seek therapy, I knew that I needed to synthesize my unconscious thoughts with my conscious reality. It was suggested that I could write a letter to my inner child. I suspected that writing to my inner child could invoke many different emotions. It took me over a year to do just that.

During the writing of my inner child, I needed to take intermittent breaks to gather my thoughts and emotions. As I kept writing I felt compassion for my inner child.

After completing this letter, I went about my day; suddenly I experienced a deep catharsis. It was if a white—hot blade pierced my soul, and I felt the agony of my past memories flow through my psyche.

This exercise was spiritually cleansing! I was able to begin to forgive myself and allow myself to release the trauma of my past and find substance in many of my childhood memories.

I thank all of you who suggested I complete this exercise. The following is the letter to my inner child:

Dear Dennis,

I am writing to the child who was abandoned by mother and father, the kid who lived with fear of the next unknown, who had feelings of longing for mom and believing that someday she would return. You’re the child who became confused by the oddities of life and the strangers encountered, still seeing pictures in your mind’s-eye, so vivid, revealing the pain of abandonment ignored.

You remember the quiet peace of solitude mixed with fear when you ran away from the torment of the foster—system, the child predators, the authoritative parenting, and the cold walls of institutions. You kept yourself partially sane by the belief that your mother would someday find you and take you away from the seemingly insidious world that you lived in.

Through all of the pain of your memories, you still see the child, skin bronzed by the summer—sun, innocently playing hide-and—seek with your friends. The boy who loved to pretend to be Speed Racer, the child who loved to listen to the music of the Beetles and Elton John, the kid who loved to play the flute and the recorder, go‘ hiking in the forest, swimming in the ocean, just being a kid.

Dennis, you survived the foster-system, your drug addiction, prison, and most importantly, you survived your own self-destruction. You have learned to seek a higher purpose, to find empathy where you could not. You have reinvented yourself and turned your pain into healing bonds of love. You have only to forgive yourself and to find that little child, skin bronzed by the summer-sun, the little boy inside the man.

By understanding the feelings of anger and resentment are at times caused by being abandoned, shamed, and rejected, you empathize with people and understand the human condition. Remembering your past has helped you develop into the creative and compassionate person you are today. You are known by some to be a person who heals and not hurts others, and has a way of inspiring peace. Now it’s time to forgive you.

You have revisited the child you once were only to find the man you were destined to be.

Written with love,

Your older you.

Dennis J. Sierra 5-22-2019

“Descriptions of sources of stress, and ways of coping”
Arline Lawless

In this excerpt, Lawless reflects on both the many sources of stress in prison and how she has coped with them. In the larger piece, she mentions a few hobbies like exercise, reading, etc., but she writes that what has helped her the most is feeling like other people care about her. 

Where can I start about the sources of stress in here? There are so many forms of stress from the guards screaming at the top of their lungs to your family not being able to come to see you because they were 2 minutes late for the check in. That is complete bullshit if you ask me especially when your family drives 2 hours to see you. In fact, there are a few women in here where their family members drive over 7 hours to come and see them and they were denied because they were late.


Some women here are still in segregation because they can’t handle all the stress here. I was one of those women, only I was not put into segregation. I just stayed in my room and never came out except for meds and sometimes meals. I am here for a good chunk of time and I decided that when I first got here that I was going to sleep my bid away. This worked for almost 2 years. However, there were some women here that I am so glad to I have met, just wish that it were under different circumstances they would come to my door and bang on it and yell, ”You get out of that bed right now and you come out here and play spades with us.”

I can tell you that that really boosted my confidence that there were women here that actually gave a shit about me. See we are like a family here.


Lastly, the ways that most women cope with stress here is keeping contact with the outside world. I know that I try to keep contact with the outside world a lot. I just want to know that someone on the outside is still thinking about me. It seems like to most women here that they are forgotten about most of the time. That is why a lot of women look for pen pals to correspond with that way they can feel like they are still loved and that people still actually care about them. I know that would make my stress level decrease a hell of a lot if I had someone that I could write to that is okay with my past and present situation.

“The redemptive power of yoga”
Eve Mazzarella

Mazzarella reflects on how yoga has helped her achieve an inner peace and how she turned to a yoga program in prison to help other women do the same. In this excerpt she writes not only about how the practice itself has helped her and the other women cope, but how the community they have formed together through yoga has been invaluable. These women help, uplift, and comfort each other. 

In 2012, I was given a 14 year sentence in federal prison. In the years that followed, a practice of yoga and meditation have helped maintain a sense of calm that nurtured an inner strength and sense of clarity. This space continues to allow perspective and a balance that has provided a peaceful and powerful foundation in a volatile time and place. After finding my own footing, I began to teach. Yoga became a means to help others not only to survive, but to thrive in a very difficult environment. During my time in prison, one of the freedoms I’ve maintained is the sacred space that yoga provides. Sharing this with others, I have witnessed healing and transformation of many broken and wounded women — beginning with myself.

Most women in prison have suffered abuse or trauma. We have all made mistakes, many stemming from violating the Yamas, the ethical restraints that collectively form one of the eight limbs of yoga — non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual moderation and non-grasping. Outer actions contrary to the yamas are manifestations of the more subtle internal aspects of mind and body lacking center. Through acknowledging the creation of our own suffering, we can begin to heal it. Like losing balance in a pose and then bringing it back, we take ownership, find our center, and recover that which has been lost — our freedom, our reputation and our value. Yoga is a means to restore balance to whatever knocked us off track.

I haven’t met a single women in prison beyond redemption. Even those with the toughest exterior come to the practice with a certain vulnerability — bringing their fears and insecurities to the mat. Yoga offers a key to opening the heart and finding the center from which to embrace the next chapter. In spite of physical restraints and limitations, we find freedom through the inspiration and transformation that comes from mindfulness and a focused awareness of the condition of mind, body and spirit.

Coming home to our bodies through a compassionate practice, we are free to release shame and guilt that form shadows in the heart and serve no life-giving purpose. Through acceptance and love we create a home — a relationship with self that may be new and frightening yet full of possibility. I have watched women question their limitations, reevaluate the rules and scripts by which they’ve lived their lives, and find new answers.

Recently, as we were finishing class, a handful of us talked about challenging poses we hoped to one day accomplish. As some were attempting headstands for the first time, one of the women said, “You know what I’ve always wished I could do? A cartwheel.” I asked what was holding her back and then said, “Let’s go, you can do this”, — not exactly a yoga pose but still a physical feat requiring a mind-body connection. She tried and clumsily fell short. She tried again. And again. As the women cheered her on she finally got it! Her eyes filled with tears as she experienced that here in prison in her mid-30s, she was able to transform years of “I can’t” to “I did it!”. I jumped up and gave her a big hug, feeling like a proud mama watching her baby take her first steps. This simple example prompts all of us to ask, “What is our metaphorical cartwheel?”

Through an increase in mindfulness and an awareness of our actions and environment, yoga can help us move beyond self-imposed limitations and regain possession of our true self. Turning in self-doubt, we receive in exchange an increase in self-confidence and self-control — helping make better choices, and increasing acceptance and compassion. Yoga, practiced with intent, can rescue us from the distractions and influences that have contributed to our mistakes. One breath, one asana at a time, yoga’s power of redemption is changing lives from the inside out.

“Boxed in…”
Lee Whitt

Whitt elucidates the impact of confinement and deprivation on the human mind and shares the strategies they have used to cope. 

DO NOT underestimate the importance of the need of a television or a radio. If you have to be in a cell without either of those… simply put, you will endure major mental struggles. There was a time when I had spent so long in a cell without either item that the silence, which I would eventually term as “dead silence,” began to press in on me. As odd as it may sound, in a cell with no noise, even the silence is loud.

One of the main reasons why you need one of those items is because of the myriad of emotions that you are going to go through over being imprisoned. You think of the emotion, you’ll experience it. Anger, sadness, laughter, disbelief, confusion, wonder… they’re all there, just waiting for the opportunity to strike. No one, and I mean absolutely no one is immune to the emotional bombardment that occurs. Why? Because being confined in a small space for extended periods of time provides you with ample time for contemplation. This in itself is quite dangerous for those of us who are imprisoned. The reason why is because this environment, as much as the professionals would like to say otherwise, is an extremely negative environment. Because of this, much of your thoughts are going to be wrapped around negativity.

One of the first emotions that I had to deal with was rage. I was relatively young when I fell. Barely into my twenties. Because of my youth, most of my rage was directed towards those in authority. When you sit in a cell for hours on end with the amount of rage that I had, you become a ticking time-bomb. It doesn’t make matters any better when you have to deal with C.O.’s who make it their sole function to de-humanize as much as possible.

The amount of time spent in my cell, full of rage, caused me to become outwardly disrespectful towards staff. It didn’t matter to me if I had done some kind of wrong or not, they would catch the brunt of my attitude. To say that I walked with a chip on my shoulder is putting it mildly.

Through all that I endured, I couldn’t seek out anyone for aid in any way. Staff or fellow prisoner. If you were seen going to staff for anything other than what they were supposed to supply you with you would be judged as being a “rat.”


You didn’t take your problems to another prisoner because it would be seen as weakness. Once you showed weakness, you became a target.


So I spent my hours in my cell trying to figure out how to adapt. Some have deemed me “mentally unstable.” This from both staff and “inmate” alike. What has garnered me that title? Because I found that I was able to figure things out through talking…to myself. Yes, it sounds crazy, but it is not as crazy as it sounds. Everyone has done it at one time or another. Anyone who tells you that they haven’t is just afraid to admit it out of concern as being labeled. If we didn’t talk to ourselves, how else would the world have come up with the answers to many of the problems that exist? Too bad they can’t come up with one for the incarceration problem! Especially in Pennsylvania. Since the 1980’s the state of Pennsylvania has opened up more than twenty prisons. Hmm, seems like something, somewhere, isn’t working. Anyway, I would structure a “conversation” around a subject and hold a “discussion” about it. This allowed me to be distracted during the time that I was in the cell. For awhile anyway.

Once that phase wore out, I tried to sleep the time away. Let me tell you, there is such a thing as too much sleep! I suffered migraines, fatigue, loss of appetite, and even felt like my brain wasn’t firing on all its synapsis! Yet, through it all, I still insisted on forcing myself to sleep whenever I was in my cell. If for no other reason than to make it easier to ignore the other person who was in the cell with me!

Some of the things that broke up the monotony of being in the cell were the walks to and from the chow halls and going to the yard whenever it was scheduled. For some time, being out in a larger space was enough. But then it was always back to the bleakness of the cell. Boredom developed out of the repetition. With nothing challenging to do it was easy to give in to depression. Fighting depression when you didn’t know what it was you were fighting is a losing battle. The main thing that you have to do is find a way to occupy your time.

A cell is not a fit punishment for someone to endure. Gaining a television aided me by filling the emptiness that I endured on a daily basis. Recovering from time spent where your mind is starved is quite difficult. Cells may be designed to hold a person, but the end result is that they starve the mind and lead to mental damage that, at times, is beyond repair.

“Angry Man [Baby] Syndrome”

An incarcerated man comes to see his behavior as a function of cognitive patterns associated with mental disorder. The author explains how he used a self-help guide to overcome destructive tendencies and develop a healthier state of mind. For an analysis of the link between pre-existing mental disorders and incarceration, refer to another excerpt from the same essay filed under Section 1: How Mental Illness Leads to Incarceration.

Throughout my years of incarceration, I have sought to gain insight into who I really am. Through my efforts, it is now easier for me to identify many of my character defects, which allows me to correct some defects. As a corollary of self-awareness, I can now recognize traits of my own maladaptive behaviors exhibited in others. Such recognition allows me to have empathy towards these persons.


Studies have shown that the inability to manage stress levels in adults tend to arise from unaddressed disorders, i.e, complex PTSD or “DESNOS” (…) However there are ways of overcoming such debilitating conditions:

“[I]n Most cases, we’ll find that the patterns of behavior we establish early in life and what we’ve carried with us up to the present. Some of our patterns and choices has served us well, while others have not. Through the [searching of fearless moral] inventory, we search for the patterns we want to continue and those we want to change”… It works – How and Why, The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Narcotics anonymous at page 42-43.


Those from environments which have tended to have been better balanced seemed to be criminals of opportunity or choice (…) However, a common characteristic amongst the vast majority of prisoners is that they seem to possess highly reactive personalities.

I can personally attest to being more reactive than proactive throughout a good portion of my adult life. It has been far easier for me to make excuses rather than effectuate productive results, i.e. ‘proactive’. In most cases, my reactivity has been a clever ruse to displace my own uncomfortableness caused by fears and or inadequacies upon anyone or anything I could blame rather than myself. To this effect I can see similar displacement of feelings displayed in the actions of many of my fellow incarcerants who often claim they reason for their incarceration as having “caught a case” as a person might catch a common cold.


Since my incarceration, I have sought to gain understanding into my own dysfunctional behaviors and beliefs, and have personally learned to address issues by using the tools acquired through rehabilitative self-help groups and books. One course designed in strengthening relationships as well as self was premised upon a book titled “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey. The Habits emphasize the concepts of private and public victories in life. Covey states that before we can develop productive relationships, we must first obtain private victory in our lives by gaining independence in our lives. This can be accomplished by being proactive rather than reactive (Habit 1), setting goals or “begin with the end in mind” (Habit 2) and prioritizing or “putting first things first” (Habit 3).

Once a person has achieved their own private victory, public victory can be obtained through “interdependence with others”. Such interdependence can apply to business, social and family relationships. This requires having a “win win” attitude (Habit 4). Once a person has this mindset, the next step requires us to develop empathic communication or “seeking first to understand, then to be understood” (Habit 5). Once we understand others, we can value the differences between ourselves and others, and using those differences we find win-win solutions which neither party might be able to see separately, thus creating “Synergy” (Habit 6).

Covey states that once these victories have ben effectuated, Habit 7 requires us to “sharpen the saw” or perform the daily tasks necessary for maintaining and increasing our own personal and public effectiveness, or our “production capability”. At this point, and on a daily basis, I now seek to maintain my own “saw” by participation in healthy ways to increase or better myself physically, mentally,social/emotionally and spiritually. This knowledge has played a key role in strengthening relationships in my life and finding ways to work with those around me in prison whom I would probably not have done in a free society. Without the use of many of these techniques, I too would most likely be a perpetual member of the Angry Man-Baby society.


Though the use of continuous prayer, meditation, self-reflection and education, I have come to the belief that we all have choices that we make in life. These choices may be effected by environmental factors or arising from our own goals, values and priorities. What is important is not only how we respond to situations, but also how we respond to the consequences of our own choices, which determines the level of responsibility we take for our own actions. Our responses to the latter tend to indicate the type of character we possess as well as our own maturity levels. I focus on eliminating negative character traits while strengthening the tools which are effectuating change in my life. I prefer proactivity over hyper-reactivity which could lead me to disavow any responsibility for my actions and the harm caused. It is incumbent upon each and every individual, male:or female, free or incarcerated, rich or poor, to choose the correct tools and responses which can build or destroy their lives, and the lives of others.


This curation illustrates the ways in which prison writers have used their craft to voice issues surrounding the topic of mental illness in carceral settings. Although Section 5 alludes to more hopeful outcomes, the majority of this curation is a depiction of poor conditions and an accumulation of grievances. Nevertheless, rehabilitation efforts have been made towards creating better mental health care models in prisons. A research study from 2010 looked at how some implemented models of care have been successful in both decreasing recidivism and symptoms of mental illness. Some jail diversion efforts, such as mental health courts, have been instituted in an attempt to address the causal relation between mental illness and incarceration covered in Section 1. Mental health courts have reduced the recidivism rate from 57 percent to 42 percent (Skeem et al. 2010). Although this treatment is more rehabilitative than arrest, mental health symptoms have not shown significant improvement under this alternative model. Jail aftercare and prison reentry programs, such as specialty mental health probation and parole, have also had little success improving symptoms, but have reduced reincarceration rate from sixteen percent to five percent (Skeem et al. 2010).

These efforts have been more effective at criminal justice reform, whereas programs like Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (F-ACT) tend to be more successful in both mental rehabilitation and recidivism. F-ACT addresses issues brought up in Section 4 of this curation, emphasizing the importance of having many people on a treatment team per individual, including criminal justice and health professionals. However, this approach is very expensive. The alternative, Forensic Intensive Case Management (FICM), provides fewer resources than F-ACT and relies on case managers who are inexperienced in health treatment to be the main providers of psychiatric services. Naturally, this approach is less effective on all fronts. The research study concludes that the current models are not sufficient; the authors suggest a need for either the regulation of the implementation of current approaches, or alternatively, an entire reconstruction and expansion of past models.

In 1978, the American Bar Association reasserted the right for all incarcerated people to have access to mental health services, not just those in maximum security hospitals, which account for only five percent of the incarcerated population suffering from mental health conditions. At the time, The United States Department of Health recorded only 3,767 mental health workers total in 1,242 correctional facilities—this means an average of less than two mental health care workers per carceral setting (American Bar Association 1978). Other than the limited number of medical professionals, The Bar Association understands the main issue with the lack of proper mental health services stems from the orientation correctional administrators have towards inmates—correctional officers in particular tend to be more interested in security than treatment. Therefore, it would be more effective if prisoner health services were no longer controlled by each correctional department, but rather by each state’s mental health agency. In order for systematic change to occur, total correctional control has to be checked.

We have selected, condensed, and grouped these entries from prison writers throughout the nation that we believe best portray how mental health issues interact with all elements of incarceration. We hope that this curation offers perspective on how these matters have been handled in the past and present. We anticipate this project will provide readers with a greater understanding of just how necessary health care reform is for incarcerated people struggling with mental health issues.


Armour, Cherie. “Mental health in prison: A trauma perspective on importation and deprivation.” International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory, vol. 5, no. 2, 2012, pp. 886-894.

Brooker, Charlie and Ben Ullmann. “Out of sight, out of mind: The state of mental healthcare in prison.” Policy Exchange, edited by Gavin Lockhart, 2008, pp. 1-46.

Hahn, Josephine W. “How to lower the high level of jail suicides. Brennan Center for Justice, 17 Sept. 2022, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/how-lower-high-level-jail-suicides?ms=gad_mental%20health%20in%20prisons_616998760689_8628877148_148746644348&gclid=CjwKCAjw7eSZBhB8EiwA60kCW26-fFkRVC7wJSo2i56lEGQpY7gVLhWet9SDOjB9K18_9Y61dCoGCBoCrMcQAvD_BwE. Accessed 3 Dec. 2022.

Halperin, Ronnie and Jennifer L. Harris. “Parental Rights of Incarcerated Mothers with Children in Foster Care: A Policy Vacuum.” Feminist Studies, vol. 30, no. 2, 2004, pp. 339-352. https://doi-org.ez.hamilton.edu/10.2307/20458967.

Skeem, Jennifer L., et al. “Correctional Policy for Offenders with Mental Illness: Creating a New Paradigm for Recidivism Reduction.” Law and Human Behavior, vol. 35, no. 2, 2011, pp. 110–26. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41488980. Accessed 29 Nov. 2022.

“MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES FOR PRISONERS.” Mental Disability Law Reporter, vol. 2,

  1. no. 5, 1978, pp. 665–70. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20782479. Accessed 29 Nov. 2022.