Category Archives: offender health

An ex-offender’s story and other reading

I’ve been bad about posting  as I’ve tried to get off to a good start workwise in the New Year.   While I get up to speed, here are  some of articles I’ve come across that might be of interest to ex-offenders and others who work with returning citizens: 

On starting over:   There’s  an interesting piece in the Washington Post Magazine that  tells the story of  49-year-old Louis B. Sawyer, who spent 25 years in prison and the challenges he’s facing trying to start life over.   The writer does a great job of showing the multitude of challenges from housing, to finding a job, rebuilding trust that former felons face. 

On the unintended victims of high incarceration rates:   A growing number of children are facing life  with an incarcerated parent, according to an article in California Watch.  A recent study by non-profit Justice Strategies found that 1.7 million children in the U.S. now have a parent serving time, and as a result suffer the emotional trauma that goes along with that.     A shout out  to Piper Kerman for tweeting this one.  For more information you can also refer to the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated at Family and Corrections Network.

On mental illness in prison:  Proof that this isn’t just an American problem.  A recent study of a the Central Prison in Bangalore, India found that nearly 80 percent of inmates suffered from either mental illness or substance abuse. 

On our flawed system:   New York Magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer received the John Jay /HF Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Awards, according to the Crime Report.   In the New York Magazine article, “I Did It,”  Robert Kolker told the story of  Frank Sterling, who served19 years in prison after making a false confession.   The Inquirer looked at the growing problems with Philadelphia’s criminal justice system in its “Justice Delayed, Dismissed, Denied” series.

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Filed under addiction and recovery, offender health, reentry, second chances

More inspiration…blogathon style

I’m having a hard time believing that Wordcount Blogathon 2010 ends tomorrow.  I’ve  blogged for 30 straight days, something I wasn’t sure I could do when I agreed to take part in this crazy thing.  Looking back now, it feels like the time just flew by.

It’s amazing what 100 writers urging each other on can accomplish in just a month.  As odd as it seems, I may actually miss it.  The blogathon generated it’s own kind of energy, as well as, a camaraderie often missing in the solitary life of a writer.  I got  ideas from my fellow bloggers and was  encouraged to stretch in ways I might not have otherwise. (Haiku, anyone?)  And while I found new readers,  it also led me to some fascinating work that others are doing.

On weekends during the blogathon, I’ve been posting poems or inspirational stories that might be of interest to ex-offenders and those who help them.  Today, I’d like to single out some newly discovered sites that really inspired me.

1.  First, a  shout out to Prison Photography for leading me to this great graphic on the number of incarcerated individuals in the U.S. by state.  It was created by the Pew Center for the States.   It’s designed so that you can click on the state and automatically find out how many are people are in prison or jail there.   It’s also color coded so you can automatically see where the high concentrations of inmates fall.   Blog author Pete Brook is a Brit who lives in Seattle and describes himself as an amateur photographer.  His blog features fascinating prison photos from photographers around the world.  His ultimate goal, he says is to “prick people’s curiosity about the prison systems that exist within their societies.”  How much do you know about yours?

2.    Correctional Nurse.net Lorry Schoenly is a registered nurse who works in corrections.  She’s also a writer and educator.   I just discovered her site this week and haven’t been able to scratch the surface in terms of all the information she has there.  Some of her recent posts include advice on dealing with the fallout from pepper spray, how to help prevent suicides in prison and jail and how correctional staff can identify and deal with alcohol withdrawal.  I can tell this is a blog I’ll be coming back to again and again.

3.  Ed Pilolla Ed is a fellow-blogathoner and journalist who used his 30 days to continue composing love letters he plans to  publish in a book soon.  Each daily post brought a new letter and another lesson for me in evocative and exquisite writing.  In his free time, Ed also was  kind enough to stop by this blog to offer comments and encouragement.

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Filed under ex-offender psychology, inspiration, life in prison, offender health, prison reform

On jail friends

Early on when I began working with offenders, a student was talking about  her cellmate.  “She’s one of my ‘jail friends,’ she said.  “You know, we talk a lot here  and do stuff together like Bible Study, but I don’t know if I’ll see her after I get out.”

I thought of her comment this week as I was teaching a new class.  Every session it amazes me how the women in the group come together to support each other.  It’s not all wine and roses certainly.  I still remember a  lady in a previous class, who shrieked, “You’re an IDIOT!!!” when a  fellow student announced her life goal was to marry a rich man.   They didn’t speak much after that.

Room for humanity

At the same time, I’ve seen people from surprisingly different walks of life go out of their way to help each other.  Whether it’s encouraging someone to share a skill,  praising  a response to an interview question, or forcing a less motivated cellmate to take a class because you know it’s good for them  — it’s just not what I expected. I don’t know if that’s because of the way our culture portrays incarceration, particularly for women, where movies like “Born Innocent,” focus on what’s most salacious and brutal.  But the more I do this, the more I see these “inside friendships” as serving a critical role in many inmates lives.

“There are just so many good people in here,” one of my students explained to me.   “It’s like there’s no pretense.   Nothing to hide, so you can just be yourself.”

She and her classmates were quick to add that there were plenty of jerks and people you wanted to avoid.   But again, I found it heartening, that in such a degraded situation, people were finding ways to not feel so alone.

It reminded me of former offender Piper Kerman’s recent memoir, Orange is the New Black, which detailed her time in federal prison. Kerman, too, drew surprising solace and support from some of her fellow inmates.  Now that she’s no longer on probation, she’s  been in touch with some of her prison friends.  You can find her talking about the power of prison friendships here.

How about you?  If you’re an ex-offender, did you have people you relied on to help you survive the system?

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Filed under offender health, women ex-offenders