Prior to my incarceration, I had little or no knowledge about mental health conditions that adversely impact women, such as Bulimia, Anorexia, and Cutting. To be honest, I learned what little I did know from various television and talk shows. There was a myth that only Caucasian women were confronted with such ills. Admittedly, some cultures are less likely to accept the need for mental health treatment. For many people, seeking a therapist is a sure sign of inadequacy. They pride themselves on being “strong” and they shun “weakness,” but in order to become a whole and healthy person, sometimes these attitudes need to be overhauled.
There have been times in my life when I was so overwhelmed with stress while incarcerated that I lost my appetite for food, lost my hair, and even suffered severe migraine headaches so overwhelming that I could not eat and could barely walk. One time I actually broke out in Hives for no apparent allergic reason.
I’ve seen these problems in others, too. Women from all walks of life, from various cultures and economic backgrounds, are incarcerated in federal prisons throughout the U.S.A., and often their health is at risk. When you come face-to-face with the reality that a woman who lives in your dorm, maybe she’s even your roommate, is suffering from Bulimia, and/or anorexia it’s frightening and heartbreaking. You want to do something to help heal her pain, but you learn to live with the reality that it’s beyond your scope of ability. There’s virtually nothing you can do that will be enough.
It’s nearly impossible to relieve the suffering of those who entered the system with distorted body images, obesity and eating disorders, and often the problems just get worse. Women who are cutting themselves are attempting to divert some of the pain and emotional trauma they have experienced in their lives by inflicting pain on their own physical bodies. Significant professional treatment is required for these inmates, and it is lacking.
Although some women have clannish mentalities that interfere with the recognition of pain in others, for the most part the women form bonds across ethnicity and language and recognize the seriousness of mental health issues. They create social support systems for one another.
Considering the stress of prison life, the decline in health, stigma, shame and blame experienced during the reentry process it’s no wonder women relapse, recidivate and live devoid of emotional health and happiness.
It takes a really proactive approach to healing and an ability to be truly honest with one’s self in order to successfully reintegrate, find a place in society and be healthy and whole. Before one can overcome the agony that individual people or environmental factors have inflicted, it’s critical to recognize that no one is perfect and everyone has a chance to improve. I know because as imperfect I as I am, and with all of my faults and failings, I’m facing the challenges of reentry head on right now, with the goal of being healthy and whole. I have not lost hope.