Prison PTSD

One of the most traumatic and stressful situations a person can experience is incarceration. The constant stress of dealing with hostile people will build up to a breaking point over the years. This can be manifested by a nervous breakdown or the development of a personality disorder.

One of the most traumatic and stressful situations a person can experience is incarceration. Even if you don’t get beaten or raped, the constant stress of dealing with hostile people, whether inmates or guards, will build up to a breaking point over the years. This can be manifested by a nervous breakdown or the development of a personality disorder.

During incarceration, there are no breaks, no days off, and there is no time given to recuperate your sanity. Even if you go to solitary confinement, that is typically the loudest area in the prison. In many instances people are doing 10, 20, 30 years at a crack. It is no wonder that when some people get out of prison they literally snap.

Though not news worthy, and therefore escaping the public’s attention, prisoners often snap before they even get out of prison. Since no guns are available, some inmates fire urine and feces at guards. This almost always happens in segregation. I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Since segregation is the most stressful environment in the prison, this should not be a surprise.

Where is the psychologist that is going to stand up to their employer, the Department of Corrections, and tell them that instead of punishing inmates even more when they have a mental breakdown, they should try to avoid creating such a stressful environment that leads to these episodes in the first place? However, most people don’t care how unruly inmates are treated in their prisons, especially if they’ve done something to “justify” that treatment. This isn’t to say that prisoners don’t get psychiatric care in prison. The problem is that there is very little effort to alleviate the stress that is the cause of so many psychological problems. Then add the fact that upon release, psychiatric care is unavailable for most ex-convicts.

I guess the question is why should anyone, including the psychiatric community, care about how stress affects felons during and after incarceration? If psychiatry is to have any credibility, it must be consistent in the application of its diagnoses. For soldiers who return from the horrors of war, there is sufficient political capital to allow society to have empathy when veterans engage in some unordinary and sometimes criminal behavior. This often falls under the category of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, P.T.S.D..

Imagine the psychiatric community trying to apply this same argument to ex-convicts, who in some cases have gone through as much or worse horrors in America’s prisons? Most men would probably prefer taking the risk of being shot than that of being raped. Still, I will not trivialize the stress of war to prove that prisoners undergo a great degree of stress. War and incarceration are opportunities for stress to have their greatest impact because the person experiencing them can’t just walk away when they’ve had too much. Escape and desertion are both crimes taken very seriously by our government.

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  1. I understand that people who make mistakes must be punished… But I don’t think that long sentences are really not the answer… How can they get back to real life when they spent 10 or 20 or more years in prison???
    They will do back things again…..
    We should create special programs with obligations (like going each day after work in a jail to make special tasks and then go home…).
    I hope you will manage to go outside Phillip… And this will help prisonners like you!

  2. I think long sentences are not a solutions for young delinquants… They won’t learn anything except how to survive in hostile middle! This will not teach them how to leave and how to behave while outside…..
    Good luck Phillip.

  3. a long sentence is definitely not the answer.
    Continue to write yours books, to learn and to work for occupy the time and the mind.
    Good luck!

  4. The sanction must make it possible the individual to be rehabilitated with respect to the society. When it is about a first judgment and that the author of the facts is particularly young, justice must take into account these elements to impose an adapted sanction. Justice is a function particularly noble and necessary, also those who do this “work” must be particularly well educated to do that.

  5. i like this article.

  6. As a recently released ex-con, I have alot of the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder since being released. I received psychiatric treatment while locked up but I discharged parole upon release and am now afforded no mental treatment. Tell me this, if Ca. can buy their police officers new cars and guns every year how come they can’t spend a little money on after care outpatient mental treatment programs for ex-cons like myself? I agree with what you have to say wholeheartedly and would appreciate updates on any newer breakthroughs on this condition. One Love Juggalos

  7. Back in early jan 1985 I was at the Eldora juvinille correctional facility in Iowa. I acted out and was placed in a room with nothing and I mean nothing but my underwear, a sink and a toilet until I reached the age of 18. Talk about f%$#ing with somebodys head. Now almost 3o years later it still affects my day to day life.

  8. As an ex offender, I too experienced ptsd, but I couldn’t pin point it. I knew somthing was wrong with me upon release, but I didn’t know what it was. Something was different about me, but I thought it was just because I had been incarcerated. I think that there should be a progression as an inmate is getting close to his/her release and definitely more talk and awareness of ptsd among ex offenders. I started noticing my problems one month after I got my first apartment. I started to feel extremely lonely and was paranoid thinking that if I didn’t check every door I didn’t feel safe among other things. Great article. Thanks!

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