It is almost impossible for any human being to be incarcerated ten or more years and not have some kind of mental health problems. Prison life is not a natural or healthy environment, particularly inside California prisons.
The soul, heart, mental, and spiritual torture are often unrelenting. Pain unending for the prisoner and his family and friends. Some short term mental health dilemmas can be handled in the heart or soul through self-help meditative and communication groups, through letter-writing and art programs. Sometimes outside help is required, especially if one is suffering through long lockdowns or isolation. These long lock-downs caused me some depression, sadness, and deep pain. The lockdowns only illuminated my stress, especially after 35 years of incarceration and mostly good programming.
Despite the 35 years, I have never adjusted to being caged. During the last long lockdown, I missed visits from Sweden and lost my Swedish girlfriend. I missed playing my native flute and teaching my prose and poetry classes.
I had not been on such a long lockdown in dec-ades. This 9 month lockdown came almost on the heals of a 4 month lockdown. These super-modern, race-based, lockdowns are ridiculous and unjust and dampened my heart and spirit some.
I needed to get away and have time to myself to contemplate my prison future. I was stressed out and burnt out on these race-based lockdowns. My soul and heart needed some alone time to heal. So, instead of hurting myself or others, I went to the hole on a mental health break and to, hopefully, be transferred to an institution not prone to lockdowns.
I was sent to the stand-alone hole with its dirty skyline and nothing else. No books except the bible, if you knew to ask for it. The cell a cave structure that looked like the cages the Quakers created in Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadel-phia which opened in 1829 and closed in the 1970s.
I was in the hole for only a little while, and when I went back to the mainline yard, the lockdown had been lifted. But only for a moment. The next day we were back on the race-based lockdown.
I had decided to check out the mental health department, but after six months waiting, I saw the psych for 10 minutes total. Like the health care people, the mental health department here seems to be more concerned with custody issues than with a prisoner’s mental state. The mental health program at New Folsom is a joke, and they don’t bother to hide that fact, especially when there is a lockdown. They have the nerve to come and talk with you at your cell door where there is no privacy.
After 35 years I’ve developed my own ways of dealing with sadness and depression, but I am open to new ideas. I like to think we all have our own keys to our hearts and souls — sanity and insanity. Yet I know one must be as open as the sky and a forever student in life during the most trying times.
First published in the SJRA Advocate March 2013
Reprinted with permission of Barbara Brooks, SJRA Advocate monthly prison newsletter.