My Favorite Bit of Information From The Week:
Prisons: The Largest Mental Health Institutions In The Country
I teach yoga in Cook Country Correctional Facility, the largest mental health clinic in the country. I’m not using hyperbole here to draw attention to my topic of the week – this is a fact. More than half of the prison’s inmates have mental health struggles, and 30 percent deal with psychiatric disorders. As our country’s mental health clinics continue to close down (Cook County has closed 6 in recent years), our prison inmates rise in number. With no where else for them to go, the mentally ill are put with the criminal. We do not provide medication for them to be stable, we do not provide housing for them when there family cannot take care of them – and then we put them into correctional facilitates when they become desperate and we label them as felons.
A Bit More On The Issue At Hand:
This article is excellent. It gives you a sense of the issue as a whole and was written just at the start of this year. It also features photos from Lili Kobielski, who – motivated by the current mental health crisis – co-created the book I Refuse For The Devil To Take My Soul with the inmates at Cook County themselves. If you are like me, images allow for a deeper empathy and understanding of the issue at hand. Should you be interested, you can find Kobielski’s book here on Amazon.
A few sentences that stood out to me from the article above:
1. “Today, roughly 2 million people with serious mental illness are booked into jails each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.That’s about the population of Houston, the fourth most populous city in America”.
2. “Compared with healthy detainees, it can cost three times as much to jail someone with a mental illness… It is far more expensive to try to manage mental illness and handle incarceration at the same time,” Elli Petacque Montgomery, a social worker at the jail, told Kobielski, adding that offering therapy in a detention facility is often extremely difficult and sometimes “countertherapeutic”. “Some people might need to address post-traumatic stress disorder or their anxiety, their depression, their substance abuse—they’re not going to get that in a jail setting. It’s just not going to happen.”
Note: I feel that this video – which I shared last week – connecting substance abuse and trauma is helpful to revisit this week, as it can help folks to understand that many of the people who are suffering from addictive behavior and institutionalized within a prison truly could not help themselves and are not receiving care as addicts – only as criminals.
Why Jails are Not set up to be Psychiatric Facilities:This short video is from 2015, but the facts are all still accurate and I think they do an excellent job of breaking down the situation in a very approachable and human way.
The Prison Itself: While I don’t fully agree with how our prisons run, and there can be substantial violence found within our incarceration facilities, I think it is important to note that most of the officers and folks working within the four walls of the prison don’t agree with the situation either.
Many correctional facilities still don’t offer mental health training, but Cook County does. I have been very impressed with the amount of progress they’ve made with breaking the stigma surrounding mental health.
Within the prison, there are signs offering mental health and counselling assistance if you believe a loved one is struggling, and a free counselor is provided should you have to break hard news to your loved one while they are imprisoned.
Offering yoga and other mental health aiding activities is also a huge step forward. It’s not perfect, but I do believe they are truly doing the best with what they have. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been instrumental in this change: You can watch this short three minutes video giving an introduction to the situation in Cook County from the BBC here. Tom Dart addresses the issues at hand briefly at the end of the video. You can also check out more about Thomas Dart and how he addresses mental health in Cook County here.
Check out this NPR Article to Learn More About The Current Situation:
This article talks a bit with journalist Alisa Roth who just recently released her new book Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness. My favorite thing about this article is that she goes in depth explaining the process that a person of lower income has to go through in order to receive the medication they need to stay stable, or even to be diagnosed.
Quote I love from the article: “It’s easy to portray these people as monsters or otherworldly, and I think we need to remember they’re real people who are just not getting the treatment they need.”
A Bit About Roth’s Book: Roth investigates the widespread incarceration of the mentally ill in the U.S., and what she sees as impossible burdens placed on correctional officers to act as mental health providers when they’re not adequately trained. You can purchase her book here. It’s in my queue.
Aren’t Most People With Mental Disorders Dangerous?
These folks are mostly not dangerous – in fact, you have a higher risk of being attacked as a person with a mental health struggle. For more on that, and how we got here as a country, you can check out this article. I have shared it before, but I feel it is connected.
What can I do?
This is a complicated question. The fact that this system doesn’t work is pretty universally agreed upon. However, change takes time. What seems to work most for helping alleviate this system is to diagnose mental illness early, and offer free/affordable treatment. So, breaking the stigma on mental health is paramount, since it breaks the system at its start and allows us to acknowledge mental illness as a public health issue that is systemic in nature. As for the folks wrapped up in the system already, making sure they have advocates in the prison that can connect them to medication and mental health professionals both while they are in prison and after they are released is extremely important. Also – no small last mention – we need to invest back into our country’s mental health clinics – or something similar – so that folks have a place to go and receive affordable treatment, and the ability to stay if they need it. As of now, even if folks aren’t put in prison and they have a serious mental health issue, they may still end up homeless or suffering without medication.
The fact that we are starting to acknowledge this problem is huge, and the fact that many prisons are starting to offer assistance and help for those with mental health struggles is paramount. We are on the way to a better situation. Even when things feel far off, I think it is important to remember that.
A Few Organizations That Are Helping You Can Check Out:
These organizations are all helping out and some offer volunteer options as well. If you are curious about other ways to be active, feel free to reach out to me. I am still learning about this topic myself and I would welcome the company.
Update on my Show:
Fundraiser: Working on setting up a fundraiser for One Woman Hamlet end of this Summer! More information to follow soon!
Also, working on flyers to pass out at events this Summer!
Please check out the One Woman Hamlet Website:
AND! my update Video.
Many, Many thanks: Margo Siwak and Joe Siwak for the design of the logo, and to Jillian Best and Bill Best for the Website creation and Design! I feel very blessed to have such beautiful humans in my life.
Thank You: Thank you VERY much to all who have donated thus far, making this project possible.
Ways to Support: If you would like to donate to my show, share this project with a friend, or find out more about it please check out my gofundme here: https://www.gofundme.com/one-woman-hamlet
All my best and heart to you,