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Birthday Reflections on Self-Managing Mental Health in Prison

May 16, 2016

Tim Hinkhouse

Credit: Selfie by Tim Hinkhouse

Hello there readers:

On April 12, 2016, I turned 46 years old and I'm thankful that I still have decent health. I recently had a blood draw and am expecting to see the doctor soon. He'll probably tell me that my health is stable and he'll see me again in six months and so on. I don't go to medical for any issues unless things are so bad that I can't stand it. The medical department here can be scary at times, which I'll talk about later.

There have been times when I've wanted to talk to a mental health professional. I'll send an inmate communication form to the mental health department, asking to speak with someone urgently. Two weeks to a month later they'll get back to me, and by then I'll have dealt with the issues with the help of friends. One thing that this prison teaches you is to be self sufficient about most issues. The only way to get right into see someone is tell them you are suicidal, and you'll go on suicide watch. You are then humiliated with an undignified strip search and dressed in what I call the "pickle suit" because it's green like a pickle. This is not how we want to get the attention of someone to talk to when we are struggling with issues or just need someone to hear us vent. Sometimes we all need someone to listen to us, which makes us feel better.

When I get to write out these words, it makes me feel a lot better. I can't believe how therapeutic writing really is for me and how it has helped me work out issues that I would have otherwise ignored. When I see the issues laid out before me, whether I'm typing on my MP4 player or just writing with a pencil and paper, it gives the problems transparency.

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I'll look at the words and try to figure out what the root cause of my problem is by asking others how they would fix it if they were me. I write out their feedback and figure out the best fix for me, keeping this new information in case I need it again someday or someone else needs help figuring something out. I can't put into words the feelings I get when I've helped someone, no matter how much or how little. If you help folks, then you know the great internal warmth it brings.

Being in prison can bring dark and lonely feelings. How you choose to deal with those feelings determines how strong a person you really are. I've seen people absolutely lose their minds and end up a zombie on psych meds. There are those who have such a feeling of hopelessness that they committed suicide, which is permanent.

I am the other type of mental health survivor. I've made it through things that can destroy other people, and I'm still around to talk about it. No way will I ever say that I am the same mentally now as I was 25 years ago. There have been several bumps and bruises along the way, but they have contributed to the man I am these days. My problem-solving and management skills are so honed to dealing with things in prison that I can deal with changes and all the crap that comes my way.

Prison has prepared me for prison life. What this experience has NOT taught me are life skills beyond prison, for example, the boss/employee dynamic. Prison staff constantly hold threat of solitary confinement over our heads if we offend their delicate senses. What does that teach us? Avoid our employer(s), don't get caught doing something wrong and -- if we do get caught -- manipulate the truth the way they do with their bosses.

This will surely serve us well upon our release and in our future employment, eh? Yeah right.

This has shown me that the way to get someone to conform to your way of thinking is by using threats and fear tactics. I can't use that if I expect to be a success, right? How do I learn the skills needed to cope with society on society's terms? I've had people tell me that I'll be fine if I get out. What makes them so sure? They have already successfully lived in society for years on end. They have jobs, housing and families. I can eventually earn my way into hopefully a decent quality of life with the basics covered. What I'd love to have one day is a fifth wheel trailer with three slide outs, parked somewhere I'll be safe and able to work nearby.

Anyone reading this who is having a birthday soon or had one recently, happy birthday to you! I am on my way to 50 in four years, and I'm OK with that. I like what I see in the mirror now. Can you say that too?

Stay healthy and stay safe,
Tim

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