I recently attended a trauma workshop sponsored by SAMSHA. The facilitator told a story about a lab rat who spent its whole life, born and bred, in a lab. The rat had a high activity level during the first phases of his life. Then, cat hair was inserted into that lab rat’s cage. His activity level reduced significantly. The striking thing is that the rat’s activity level went up again after the cat hair was removed, but never to the high level that was common early in its life. I was struck by the severe impact of
trauma on the brain and personality of this animal. It wasn’t until I went to prison that I learned about trauma. There I learned that trauma affected my decisions, my mood and my attitude as a young adult.
Amazingly, young people who are born and raised in the inner city don’t see violence, crime and drug infestation as trauma. For us it is a way of life. When I learned that getting stabbed on two separate occasions was considered traumatic to some people I was in awe. I was stabbed in the face with a razor blade and in the back with a butcher’s knife when I was growing up. I was in countless fights and lost many, many friends to gun violence. Never once did I imagine that this was trauma. I know I became defensive, afraid, violent and depressed, but the thought of being traumatized never crossed my mind.
After spending 18 years in prison, I began to understand that being socially isolated was further traumatizing. When I went to prison, I was still growing physically. I was 5’6” tall then; now I’m 5’8”. Plus I was mentally and emotionally immature at 19-years old. I was 38-years old when I was released.
Fortunately, I addressed the trauma I experienced before and during incarceration with therapeutic programs offered by the institutions where I was held. When I was released back into society, it presented another set of traumatic issues. It’s sad to say that getting released was the hardest part of becoming incarcerated after settling into doing time. Every day I am confronting people’s expectations, dealing with people’s disappointments of what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. Every day I’m struggling to find my place in this society, thinking sometimes that everybody knows and few understand what I’ve been through.
Someone told me once that traumatized women think that everybody can tell what they’ve been through, that people can see somehow that we’re “damaged goods.” Man, I’m telling you—there are times when you can’t tell me that the strangers I encounter don’t know that I’ve just recently been released, and that I haven’t a clue sometimes how to readjust socially to the free world.