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OtherIamA Mental Health Intern at a Maximum Security Prison working on a research grant, AMA!

Jul 11th 2017 by PrisonIntern • 17 Questions • 65 Points

I am currently working on a research grant studying the recidivism in co-occuring high risk prisoners. Our program is set to provide them with resources after release that they may to have otherwise not have. We recently received the award for innovation in corrections! I have some pretty great stories, and a huge passion so ask me almost anything!

My original post was taken down for lack of proof, but has since been verified!

Here is our award for proof as well as a picture of my badge with my name and the name of the facility redacted as a means of safety. https://ibb.co/e7AVXk https://ibb.co/gni9ea

Q:

What's the craziest thing you've ever seen while at the prison?

A:

The craziest thing I have seen while at the prison would have to be one of our schizophrenic patients with severe delusional disorder. His delusion is that his mother will be paid by the government if he is injured while in prison. So he likes to shove things into his skin. One time he stuck a pencil so far into his leg it almost came out on the other side. Needless to say he is no longer allowed around "sharp" things and is mandated to wear short sleeves and shorts at all times, which is technically out of dress code.


Q:

Needles to say

A:

I see what you did there.


Q:

Wow. So what made you want to intern at a prison in the first place?

A:

My family has been involved in the criminal justice system since I was younger so I always had the exposure. My cousin was murdered when I was very young, and his murderer placed on death row, but since let out. I figured I could either get mad at resent the system or I could do something to fix it.


Q:

How did that happen, if you don't mind me asking? Was new evidence brought up, or some kind of procedural error? I can't imagine someone on death row could realistically get out on parole.

A:

New dialogue on a phone call was discovered, which his attorney claims his innocence. He has been granted a second trial after already confessing. He is currently in a general population form rather than death row until proven guilty


Q:

How did you do this?

A:

I actually had the opportunity fall into my lap. I am an undergraduate college student who was looking for internships and experience in order to be more competitive for grad school. So I interviewed with this crotchety old man at a psychiatrist office who basically told me that I'm a woman and can't handle the forensic psychology field and of course my thought was" well fucking watch me." I was telling one of my friends in my sorority about it and she set me up with her aunt that does that I want to do as a career and from there on, I was written into the grant and offered a full time position and have been working with them ever since.


Q:

God, I can't tell you how much I fucking love that. Fuck The Doubters. I hope you send that psychiatrist fuckstick your resume after you've successfully managed the work at that location and tell him to check his perceptions. Fuck. I'm so snap-pissed for you.

Prove 'em wrong. That motivations' gotten me through most of my difficult chapter changes & major shifts.

A:

Oh let me tell you. I come from a lot of adversity and like hell I was going to let some asshole old fashioned man tell me that I'm not strong enough. I plan on sending him my article when it's published. I am a firm believer in the fact that hard work will always get you what you want in life.


Q:

How bad do you think it is fr someone to be in a maximum security facility? I feel extremely bad because mentally and emotionally it seems like it takes a tremendous toll on a person. Being trapped like that all the time and being around such dangerous people. Going to prison, especially maximum security, is one of my worst fears.

A:

I think it definitely takes a huge emotional toll on someone. Especially those with mental illness. Although I also agree with someone paying for their crime and doing their time. It's close living quarters, dirty, and violent. So it's definitely not ideal


Q:

Do you feel that everyone you see deserves to be there?

A:

Absolutely not. Majority of the people incarcerated at the prison I work at are there on a drug charge. I believe that those charged with possession with intent to distribute deserve to be in prison, but those with simple possession charges, not at all.


Q:

If I may ask, why do people with those simple possession charges you're referring to end up in a maximum security prison?

A:

More often than not, it is their 10th or so drug charge. A lot of times they are booked on a burglary or robbery charge but had drugs on them so got charged for that as well. But if it's just a possession charge it's usually because the judge thinks they will end up dying if they don't go to prison. That was the case for some in my group. But I obviously can't speak for every drug charge, that is just my take and experience with this matter


Q:

Do you have a lot of inmates pretending that they have Mental Health issues in order to be part of the research?

A:

Oh all the time. Mostly because our research offers them resources that normal prisoners do not receive so it's almost looked at as luxurious. We get 3-4 letters a day from inmates saying they are sad and NEED to be included in our group.


Q:

what percent of the prisoners you've come in contact with do you suspect should be in a mental hospital rather than prison?

A:

Of the ones who I have been in contact with ( including those not in my research) I would say that about 10-15% of them don't really have the mental state to understand why they are in prison/ Know right from wrong. Most of the inmates in this category are placed in a special dorm where they are behind bars rather than in open barracks like gen pop. Severely mentally unstable people are often placed in prisons as they are considered too dangerous to thrive in a mental hospital and would probably harm staff or other patients. Where in prison they are more heavily supervised.


Q:

Have you ever felt unsafe at work?

A:

I have never felt unsafe. Uncomfortable sometimes though. I'm a small blond young woman working in a men's prison so you can imagine.


Q:

Interesting, 6 months maybe a bit too short but it's great that you guys track it up to 2 years. Would be pretty interesting to see it up to 5 years or even longer as recidivism rates in the US are abysmal.

A:

6 months was determined as it is longer than the average rate of incarceration for individuals in this particular population, meeting our criteria. The average length of time out of prison after initial release is about 2-3 months. Typically someone who has served a 2 year+ sentence will be incarcerated again after about 2-3months. It is more of an "small success" which you have to do with this group of people or else it would be even more discouraging.

I completely agree though. 6 months sounds very short and our goal is to be able to extend it to 1 year soon and then the next goal would be 1.5 years to 2 years! I agree, i would love to see it get up to 5 years!


Q:

Do you ever feel like you have a hard time dealing with what you see and hear emotionally? I think I would have a hard time leaving my work at work.

A:

It's difficult for me to hear about the trauma that many of them have gone through. Part of my job is helping with their ASI(addiction severity index) and it asks about many different factors in their lives, part of that being trauma endured. Many have been sexually abused, raped, and even watched their children die.


Q:

That would be really awful. How do you cope with that?

A:

I mostly just have to separate myself from work. Sometimes it's hard on me and I'll think about it a lot. Other times I just have to push it out of my mind. If anything it drives me to want to create and even more effective trauma based program.


Q:

How much has working in a prison changed you in the time you've been there?

A:

Working in a prison has made me a bit harder of a person, definitely has strengthened my stomach. I also am able to brush off comments directed toward me much easier now.


Q:

Does the research grant cover your salary only? How much was the grant worth?

A:

The grant was worth 2.2 million. That covers our contracts with mental health services, salaries of contract workers and supplying the inmates with transportation after release to and from mental health appointments. I am an unpaid intern who is volunteering my time in order to get experience.