There’s nothing to be compared to being able to wake up in the morning, open your windows to gaze at the beauty of the morning sun, go out for a quick walk, come back to take your bath, shower and get started for the day.
Sadly you don’t get to enjoy privileges as little as these anymore once locked up behind bars, and the resultant effect of this is the toll it begins to take on your mental health.
At this point, most inmates begin to have suicidal thoughts or see themselves as worthless as they slowly become a shadow of their former self. As a prevention against this, this guide will show you practical ways to look after your mental health in a prison.
“For me, I had to accept that I was being imprisoned because of the things I had done wrongly. And to make up for my wrongdoings, the consequence was a prison sentence. But even that, I can still achieve my goals and become a better person in life.”
Most people deal with being locked up differently thus, the importance of looking after your mental health.
Keeping your mental health in check while in prison can help you:
- With the strength to go through life in the prison environment.
- Make better choices to improve your well-being.
- Create a stronger support with family members, other inmates and professionals who can help.
Truth be told, we all have moments when our mental health is stressed and strained. Even though we often come out of such moments, some people sink deeper in mental health related stress which could be much worse.
It is common for inmates to want to inflict harm on themselves. Statistics show that women have a higher tendency when it comes to self-harm than men in prison. Therefore, if you are prone to self-harm, I advise you seek immediate support from professionals.
“A prison is no doubt one hell of a scary place with an environment characterized by loud noises, where everyone is time bound…”
Being in prison has a lot of effects on our mental health, however there are two major factors that affect your mental health. They include: bereavement and substance abuse.
COPING WITH BEREAVEMENT AND LOSS WHILE IN PRISON
Bereavement and loss of a loved one is very devastating on inmates and most prison officials are aware of the fact that not much is done to check the mental health of such inmates.
It is even worse when an inmate cannot attend the funeral procession of a loved one.
However, please note that instead of suffering in silence, there are a number of special licenses that may be possible for you to access so you at least visit a dying relative or attend the funeral. Ask your prison staff to know the possibilities of getting such a license.
If you are granted such license, you will only be allowed to see such dying relatives or attend the funeral under escort which includes having two or more officers accompany you. They may also use restraints if the risks of escort alone cannot ensure you don’t abscond.
During times like this when your spirit is probably down, pastoral care from the facility’s chaplain can go a long way in providing comfort for you. So if you need such support, do not hesitate to call for it, and if possible you can get to see the chaplain more than once.
Another way to live through times like this is by talking to someone you can confide in, be it the prison officials, an inmate friend of yours, or request to call a friend or family. Under no circumstance should you try to bottle this alone, as it likely to cause more harm than good.
Remember, a problem shared is a problem half-solved!
SUBSTANCE ABUSE IN PRISON
It is no news that drug abuse is a common occurrence in most prisons. If you are one that takes drugs in the past or haven’t used drugs before, then this could pose a challenge.
Taking drugs in prison is much worse as you can easily become addicted to the synthetic marijuana drug peddled among inmates and the side effects can be very catastrophic to your health.
My advice is that you try as much as possible to say “no to drugs” irrespective of the large availability of drugs around you.
You can also seek for help from organisations like:
Adfam- an organisation that provides support for families affected by drug and alcohol usage; supporting people through information, prison visitors’ centres and outreach work.
Alcoholics Anonymous- this is a national organisation that is responsible for assisting people who have problems with alcohol addiction. You can contact them on their confidential helpline on 0845 769 7555.
Release- they offer professional services concerning drugs and also provide free and confidential advice to drug users, their families and friends enlightening them on legal issues relating to drugs. You can place a call through their helpline number on 0856 4500 215.
Frank- this organisation offers free, confidential advice 24 hours a day. You can contact them on their telephone number on 0300 123 6600. You can also communicate with them in 120 languages.
Let’s head to discuss 10 tips that will come on handy in helping you maintain your sanity in prison. These tips have been tested and trusted as they were compiled from suggestions of prisoners themselves and officials working in prison.
Take care of yourself
Most prisoners due to depression and frustration may feel uninterested in maintaining regular hygiene practices such as washing, shaving, and wearing clean clothes and prefer to look unkempt.
I understand that it’s sometimes hard to care about your looks or appearance in prison, however it is important that you pay more attention to your personal hygiene so you wouldn’t be thought of as animals or even less.
Maintaining a regular healthy hygiene of showering and shaving can help brighten up an inmate’s everyday life and boost self-esteem, thus giving no room to be depressed.
Another area to take of yourself is in the food you eat. Ensure to eat a healthy balanced diet since it is one of the few things you have control of. Therefore:
- Make sure to eat three times a day even when you don’t feel like
- Always drink plenty of water
- Your meals should also come with different types of fruit and vegetables
- Choose a ‘Healthy Option’ at least once a day
- Eat less food with a high sugar content
A healthy diet is good for your body and also your mental health.
A problem shared is a problem halved
It is also common for inmates to feel scared, not knowing who to trust or confide in when incarcerated. Some even feel it’s a sign of weakness. However, on the contrary, asking for support will help to find out details about routines, rules and what to do to make your stay in prison easier. You may even have the opportunity to bond with another inmate, a prison official who you may find a companion all through your stay in prison.
It is not easy to share personal thoughts and private information with people who they most likely have not met in their life, so getting to trust someone in the “prison” is very difficult. You can ask for assistance from the Health Care, Chaplain or Wing Staff to be able to open up to another person.
Talking to someone about that problem is one effective way to get that pain or feeling off your chest. Most prisons also have prisoners who are trained as Listeners that you can share confidential issues with. Sharing your problems with someone will help you feel less isolated and feel more supported.
You need to realise that at this point there’s probably nothing you can do to change your situation, so get busy!
Engage more in activities that keep you active and busy. You may choose to start exercising to keep the physical body and also your mental health in check.
A good exercise is recommended because it has been found to impact a positive effect on mental health as well as reducing the risk of depression.
You can also choose to engage in other activities like gardening and horticulture. By all means do whatever makes you feel better and stay active.
For slightly older people, find out if the prison offers any special “Wellman” programmes that can help you manage your weight and blood pressure as well as other health benefits.
You can set goals to get fitter or lose some weight and you’ll be surprised how working to achieve such goals will keep you active and give you a sense of fulfillment and self-worth.
Create simple exercise routines and work towards achieving them! It helps.
Learn something new
Just like the above tip admonishes you to get active, you can also choose to learn something new. Instead of curling up and feeling depressed, get up and learn a new skill or vocation.
Most prisons offer programs and vocations that is setup to provide inmates with skills or interests that can help build your confidence and self-worth. You can even become a better person at the end of the day.
You can learn culinary skills, cosmetology, gardening skills and so on. Some prisons even have programs that can help you to build a mentoring career, and improve your reading and writing.
Learning something new will positively impact on your mental health and help take your mind from thoughts that can lead to depression.
Think more positively
It’s hard to remain positive if you find yourself in a situation of confinement. In a situation such as this, your thoughts would be likely negative and dwelling on such negative thoughts can lead to depression and cause our mental health to further deteriorate.
Thus, it is important to fight against negative thoughts and do your best to preserve your mental health. I know it’s not easy and may take time, but the end result rubs off positively on your mental health and your general behavior.
Below are some suggestions that can reshape your negative mentality to become more positive:
Become more self aware- Try to identify and understand the root cause of negative thoughts and where they come from. These thoughts may be influenced by the prison environment, or as a result of your past experience.
Become more self-disciplined- Consciously train your mind to filter out negative thoughts and make more positive decisions to improve your mental health.
Reframe things in a more positive way- You can achieve this by speaking positively irrespective of the condition you find yourself. A list of positive statements can help you achieve this.
Here are some examples:
- I am worth more than I think
- I have survived before, I will survive now
- There is always a point
- I can learn from this
- I can laugh
- I don’t need to rush, I can take things slowly
Become more focused on solutions- The prison life is not a rollercoaster or bed of roses, so the decisions you make should help you focus on the solution and not the problem. There are things you have no control over in the prison therefore, instead of sulking on your inability to enjoy privileges you once had the right to before, try to focus on what you can get and not what you can’t.
Look on the brighter side of life!
Think about reducing stress through meditation, mindfulness and relaxation
Meditation is one way to reduce stress and relax the mind especially when you’re in prison. Research also supports that regular meditation can help reduce stress levels in prisoners.
Mindfulness on the other hand is a simple activity that every prisoner who wants to keep their mental health in check should engage in, as it has shown to have positive benefits in reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Plus physical problems like high blood pressure and chronic pain.
Mindfulness can be practiced alone or in a group. Some facilities even offer several courses handled by professional mindfulness coaches that can help prisoners to cultivate the habit of mindfulness. The courses are also available in books and audio formats. You can find these courses in your prison library.
Here’s an example of a one-minute mindfulness breathing exercise that can practice:
Take a minute to observe your breathing. Breathe naturally and notice the time between each breath in and out. When your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to the breathing. You can continue for longer than one minute if you want to.
An alternative to this is relaxation. Relaxation helps you to reduce stress, keep your mind at peace and improve mental health. If you can’t participate in mindfulness, then perhaps you can use the following relaxation techniques to help you reduce stress:
- slow your heart rate down
- make your breathing slower and deeper
- relax muscles
- lower blood pressure
- increase blood flow to the brain
Engaging in these healthy practices can go a long way in helping you to keep your mental health in check. The Mental Health Foundation also has a useful booklet, “How to look after your mental health using Mindfulness” which can be gotten from the prison’s library.
Begin to make plans
Don’t feel deprived of life or success, rather, begin to make plans even in the prison. One way to achieve this is by setting goals and mapping out means by which you can achieve them. Working towards achieving a goal will help boost your self-worth and confidence.
Below are some examples of goals you can set for yourself although, it also depends on what’s available in the prison:
- To maintain a healthy hygiene and shower everyday
- To learn a language
- To become a Listener
- To maintain my job in the garden
- To control my anger
- To write a letter every week to my family and friends
- To attend art classes and learn how to draw
- To learn how to play guitar
Setting a goal places a condition on you that helps you focus and think positive solutions towards achieving your set goals.
You can start practicing with any of the mentioned goals listed above and also set a timeline to achieve them.
I’ll advise that you categorise these goals into medium or long term so as to enable you to work towards achieving them easily without distractions. You can also make them SMART goals:
S – Make it Specific – What do you want to do?
M – Make it Measurable – How will you know when you have completed your goal? How can you measure it? Is it possible to get it done?
A – Make it Attainable – How can the goal be completed? What steps will you take?
R- Make it Relevant – Can you explain why this goal is important to you?
T – Make it Time-bound – It can be helpful to set yourself a time limit to complete the goal.
If you feel they are too bulky, you can break bigger goals into smaller achievable one’s, taking them step-by-step until all are achieved. Breaking down goals will also help to see how much progress you’ve made at a particular point in time.
Try to keep in touch
There’s nothing like having your loved ones around you. As an inmate, keeping in touch with family and loved ones will prevent you from feeling alone and help you to stay strong and survive because you know you’ve got a strong support system out there.
Keeping in touch will also help you to stay informed and updated about the happenings in the outside world or latest developments in your family.
Research also supports that regular contact with family and friends can play an important role in helping prisoners stay strong through their sentence, it will help to improve the mental well-being of both prisoners and families.
To know when to visit, inquire about the visiting hours and the requirements for a visiting application. Visits to prisoners especially from family is one way to ensure continuous communication and bond with spouse and kids.
Some prisons often set aside days for family visits to help prisoners keep in touch with their children and loved ones. Charity organizations such as Barnardo’s in the UK work with prisons to support prisoners’ families to maintain regular contact with each other.
Also keep in mind that your family may not be able to visit due to distance and cost of travel, so you should not blame them for not showing up. Instead, find out if there are other family support services offered by your prison and utilize them.
You can still get visits even if you don’t have visitors or have lost contact with family, friends and loved ones.
The National Association of Prison Visitors is an organisation that has volunteers who offer to visit prisoners who don’t get visitors. Their goal is to extend the hand of friendship and promote the value of friendship.
They also help to keep prisoners informed on the happenings in the outside world and provide them with a sense of belonging.
Aim to build more positive relationships
This is very difficult since you’ve different character, color, race packed together in the prison and you may not even know who to trust. Even though it’s a crowded and noisy environment, you will be quite surprised at how lonely and isolating it can become over time.
Therefore, to avoid staying in isolation, you need to build positive relationships that can impact positively on your mental health.
A positive relationship will provide you with a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen, and a strong support through challenges.
- The place to start building a positive relationship with yourself. Keeping a positive mindset and not being too hard on yourself will greatly help in preserving your metal health. You can build a positive relationship with yourself by engaging in practices like reading and meditation.
- You can also build a positive relationship with family and friends. And sharing your feelings and experiences about life is one way to go about that.
- Build a support system with other inmates. Even if you may be first scared or intimidated by the appearance of inmates, getting to know some of them might not really be a bad idea, because like you, they’re also going through the same challenges and may even have useful tips to help you survive in prison.
- You can also build a positive relationship with a prison staff, however most prison frowns at such close relationships between inmates and staff. So you may only just get to connect positively with staff and professionals, and not a close relationship.
Remember, being around the right people is one way to lighten your spirit and brighten your mood, so avoid harmful relationships from negative people and only welcome positive ones.
Here are some features of positive and negative relationships:
Good Relationship: Caring, Kind, Listening, Supportive, Equal
A Good Enough Relationship: Realistic, Just enough, Steady, Informative, A compromise
Poor Relationship: Ignoring, Distant, Stressful, Patronising, Blaming, Critical, Controlling, Manipulative, Draining
Doing good does you good
There’s a saying “do good to others as you want done to yourself.” Endeavour to imbibe this saying as an inmate.
Doing good makes you feel good, gives you a sense of fulfillment and happiness. Helping others in need, listening to their pains and providing a shoulder to lean on will actually go a long way in impacting your mental well-being.
Channelling your time and energy towards the right cause will help you think less of your problems as all you want to do is to make that friend of yours smile. By this way, you are not only lending a hand to those in need, but also building a more positive community.
Doing good also comes with its physical benefits which includes: reducing stress, decreasing feelings of anger and hostility, preserving your mental health.
You may not know how to go about doing good that’s why I believe the following suggestions should be of help:
- Build a relationship with a charity or helping organisation, and volunteer to be trained to become a Listener, Healthcare Champion or peer supporter.
- Teach another inmate a skill you have like gardening or playing the guitar.
- Be a shoulder of support to someone who’s going through sad moments.
- Write a letter to family or friends telling them how much you love them.
- Endeavour to always say “thank you” to anyone that helps you.
All the little acts of kindness can go a long way in preserving your mental health, so do them more often!
What is the most common mental illness in prisons?
Schizophrenia and other similar psychotic disorders are the most commont types of mental illness suffered by most prison inmates as stated by the American Psychiatric association.
In this case, the schizophrenia is triggered when most inmates run wild in their thoughts as against associating with other inmates and taking part in extra-curricular prison activities that help to keep the mental health in check.
Do prisoners get mental health care?
Most prisons have a healthcare department that provide mental health care to inmates. The health department are not only interested in tackling various illness and diseases. Mental and social behaviour of inmates in a jail is their responsibility.
How many mentally ill are in prison?
The American Psychiatric Association claims that about 3% of inmates who are incarcerated in America are mentally ill. If these figures are anything to go by, then we may assume a similar figure for most western countries.
Can mentally ill go to jail?
Mentally ill people can go to jail over a period of time until a judge or governor passes an order to have them transferred to a mental health institution.
Upon being assessed by the mental health team, an application is filed to suggest that the prisoner is actually suffering from a mental illness. This test is carried out to make sure the inmate is not pretending to be mentally ill as a ploy to escape the arm of the law.
Where do mentally ill prisoners go?
Mentally ill prisoners are transferred to federal correctional centres that have the capacity to contain mentally ill inmates or a mental health facility.
Can a mentally ill person stand trial?
Most mentally ill people are usually declared “unfit to stand trial,” however, in a few situations, the prosecutor can press to have the accused tried if they can prove that the mental illness will not impair the accused’s ability to participate in the court process.
Do prisoners get free HealthCare?
Prisoners always get free healthcare which is paid for by the government through the ministry of Justice department’s budget.
The health of every accused person is critical to the court proceedings and since the inmate is in the custody of the government, it is therefore the responsibility of the government to make sure the prisoner is in great emotional and mental state at all times.
Can being in jail cause PTSD?
Being in jail has been linked severally with numerous cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is why most inmates are encouraged to participate actively in various extra-curricular activities in order to help them maintain their sanity.
What is post incarceration syndrome?
Post incarcerated syndrome is a mental illness that affects people are are locked up in jail, or had been previously incarcerated. Research also shows that is especially severe for inmates who had spent extensive time in solitary confinement.
Do prisoners get depressed?
A lot of prisoners get depressed in various incarceration centres. Sometimes, the feeling of sadness that engulfs them when they get information about the demise of their loved ones or family events that they cannot attend can easily push them into a depressed state.
Why do felons go back to jail?
Most felons go back to jail because of their inability to function in the society after they have been released. Getting a job or a decent accommodation as a felon can be hard sometimes, and without societal support, some ex-prisoners find themselves doing whatever they can to survive.
Can prisoners get therapy?
The healthcare department provides therapy for most inmates to help them maintain a stable mental health. Some prisons also employ chaplains to provide therapeutic sessions to inmates as a form of spiritual support.
Can prisoners use Facebook in jail?
Prisoners are not allowed to use any social media platform while incarcerated. Mobile devices, computers and tablets are put beyond their reach.
If an inmate is in need of an electronic device for whatever reason, the device is usually blocked from accessing numerous social media websites.
What are prisoners provided with?
Upon arriving, prisoners are provided with a welfare package that includes a handbook, coveralls, crocs for foot coverings, white shirts, brief shorts and blankets.
What challenges do prisoners face?
One of the major challenges prisoners face is the ability to keep their mental health in check. Being locked up and all by themselves gives them too much room to wander in thoughts. Sometimes, they get lost in those thoughts.