Mentally Ill Felons: Stigma's Life Sentence
In the midst of a psychotic episode, you succumb to the voices in your head telling you the only way to make things right is to set a fire in the local church (Psychopaths Versus Those Who Experience Psychosis). This way, the demons in your mind will allow you to be free.
The demons cajole you, pressure you, demean you and tell you that you are worthless, even to them, if you don’t set that fire. They tell you that you will never amount to anything, that your whole life has been a waste, that no one will ever love you; the only way you can make a stand is to set a fire in a church, and everything will be better.
The Mentally Ill Felon's Release
Two years later, you are released from prison, over-medicated, confused and hardened. The things that you saw on the inside have changed you forever. You witnessed people being beaten half to death, you saw other inmates being sexually victimized, you witnessed the brutal force that guards often use to subdue other inmates and you are constantly surrounded, 24 hours a day, by convicted felons (Causes of PTSD). This becomes your life. This becomes your reality. The way you view the world has drastically changed.
Now, the prison doors open and you are once again free. What next?
Mentally Ill Felons and Probable Redivicism
No one will hire you. You have a criminal record. No one will rent you an apartment, and even if they did, how would you pay for it? Your family is often out of the picture. Your friends have long forgotten about you. You could go back to school, but how would you pay for it if no one will hire you?
The connections that you made in prison are the only ones that are now real. On the inside, you were offered multiple opportunities to sell drugs when you get released. After a few weeks of interviews that go nowhere, and landlords that won’t give you the time of day, you start to consider it.
You have to make money somehow. If society won’t allow you to do it legally, then what option are you left with? You check into the local homeless shelter and start selling crack. Within no time at all, you are completely and totally addicted to a substance and all of your money goes back into feeding your own addiction.
Life on the streets is hard. You’re naïve. You get robbed of your stash; your only conceivable way of making money. You are now homeless, broke, addicted and beaten. And no one is going to give you a chance. You decide to commit another offense because serving time is actually easier than being in the real world.
Although this story is a fabrication, it is nowhere near fiction. Once someone with a mental illness is sent to prison, the cards are forever stacked against them.
The Mentally Ill Felon's Sentence Never Ends
I work with men that have served anywhere from a few days in jail to 20 years in prison. Not once have I seen that being locked up has helped them, or society, in any way. Their mental health issues are exacerbated; their addiction is still running rampant as it is often easier to find drugs on the inside than on the streets; their posttraumatic stress from their unbelievable childhoods has been aggravated by all the horrific things that one sees on the inside. They are broke, homeless and defeated.
My job is to help these men re-integrate into the world. Some are successful, but most are not. And when I see on a daily basis how difficult society makes it to get your life together, I can completely understand why.
We need to take a long, hard look at our penal system, especially how it relates to mentally ill and addicted offenders. We are simply creating warehouses that teach petty criminals how to become gangsters. That teach drug peddlers how to become drug importers. All the while teaching them all that violence solves everything.
I don’t have all the answers. If I did, the treatment center I work at would have a one hundred percent re-integration success rate. But we don’t. And until the societal view of mental illness, addiction and its relation to crime changes, I doubt we ever will.
Curry, C. (2012, August 20). Mentally Ill Felons: Stigma's Life Sentence, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2012/08/stigmatizing-the-stigmatized
Author: Chris Curry
I have sadly felt and seen the effects of this but in someone I truly care about and love. This helped ruin our lives.
[...] – for those diagnosed or for their families. It does not begin to address homelessness, or stigma, or [...]
great blog, love the stories you post. thank you and keep it up!
Thanks so much!
Thank you very much for the kind words Tony. It means a lot coming from someone who also works in the field of mental health, addiction and homelessness.
Very POWERFUL statements, but the sad part of it is, they are all so true. I've known for years that our penal system is not the place for those with mental health issues. I have come to also appreciate the complexity of addictions and now also agree that there has to be much more than sticking these guys in a cell knowing full well that they are not likely to have any form of rehabilitation.
It hurts on so many levels because we do get to know so many of these men, and while on the surface they look so hard, each and every one of them is somebody's son, brother, father, husband, etc.
But as you already know, until we start down that path, people like yourself will continue to do the awesome work that you do, and if that means some months we are working on a 10% success rate, then we will take those victories and celebrate them while we continue to work on the rest.
There is nothing that draws us closer to the whole issue of mental health and addiction recovery then when you sit and watch a young man celebrate his graduation from a recovery program while his 4 year old baby clings to his leg and his Mom just sobs uncontrolably because she got her boy back.
The words of one such mom will stick in my heart for ever... "my grandson got his daddy back, I got my son back, but more importantly than anything else, my son got his life back."
Keep up the work on the field and through these mediums.
You have such a powerful story Theresa. So glad you are speaking out so that perhaps others won't have to go through the same horrendous incidents as you and your family.