My name is Verlie Word. I’m calling from Virginia Department Correctional, Nottoway Correctional Center.
I will be speaking on mental illness. I want to talk about the toll prison takes on our psychological well-being. Incarceration takes a serious toll on our mental health for several reasons.
We are no longer considered productive members of society. People can experience a loss of purpose when they’re locked up. Case in point, I worked 40 to 50 hours a week for 45 cents an hour. The prison is not obligated to pay me minimum wage for my labor. And when it comes to food, they charge us hard fees for our commissary.
A perceived lack of purpose in our life can take a serious toll on anyone’s psychological wellbeing, especially when your identity is being stripped. When someone is incarcerated, they are no longer known for their professor, their skills, talents, or knowledge. The loss of sense of self can be quite confusing and troublesome.
As for me, not being able to be with my loved ones and not being a part of their lives increased feelings of isolation and loneliness. I can’t describe the grief over missing out on my children and grandchildren’s activities. Depression and stress seems unavoidable in this environment. If alone, likely to feel boredom which can be quite stressful in itself.
Research has shown this environment is even taking a toll on a prison staff, frequent staff shortages can mean individuals don’t get out for their cells as often as we can. This can add even more stress to our daily lives. This can create a cycle of stress that’s tough to break.
We can address our issues like go and report them. Even when mental health concerns are known, disorders often go untreated, and most prisons lack the funds to offer adequate mental health treatment. Those who do offer service of some kind may be limited in types of treatments they provide. When we come in the system, we are given simple screening questionnaires to complete. They aren’t even assessed by mental health professionals at all and likely will never come into contact with one throughout our time in prison.
Like today, I encourage guys not to be ashamed to ask for help. Incarceration can cause lasting damage to mental health. It can trigger worse symptoms of mental illness and those effects can last long after someone leaves the prison. People often talk about the disturbing high numbers of people with mental health disorders locked up in prison. The less attention is paid to the ways in which the incarceration itself perpetrate this problem by creating it worsen symptoms of mental illness.
Another research has even theorized that incarceration can lead to post-incarceration syndrome, a syndrome similar to PTSD, meaning that even after serving their official sentences, many people continue to suffer the mental effects. We have people coming back and forth, go home, leave, recidivism. And I don’t know if they’ve been checked for mental illness, but mental illness can have a lasting effect. I’m taking this problem personal and seriously.
A study of twenty-five released lifers found, that participated in an experiment, cluster of mental health symptoms, including institutionalized personality traits like, distrust in others, difficulties maintaining relationships, and problems making decisions, social interactions. These are things I have personally experienced as someone who was serving a life sentence.
These are the things that we have to come together and as a whole. Weekly, there is up to 62 coming from east jail. Now that’s anywhere from 20 to 30 jails throughout Virginia. So receiving as a revolving carousel itself, and you’re placed in that environment when you without family, without help. So who do people have to talk to? Hopefully doors will be open, not just with myself but with others. So Lord willing, people will overcome this. And when they are released, they won’t have these problems. But mental illness needs to be taken seriously. And I thank you for your time.
These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.