Direct Reports from those Most Affected by Incarceration
Every year, we receive hundreds of letters from individuals incarcerated across New York and spend hundreds of hours communicating directly with people about their experiences, thoughts and concerns. Below are some recent reports from inside.
Troy B., reflecting on his experience at Great Meadow Correctional Facility (reprinted with permission)
“For group therapy, the majority of time here at class, they just turn on the TV or talk about something irrelevant to our mental health issues. That means when someone actually has their issues, they are not getting any type of help. The Behavioral Health Unit really is not much better than the Security Housing Unit [or solitary confinement]. If I liked to watch TV, then it might be better. But I have conditioned myself not to be too comfortable with it because I am trying to learn how to cope. I need help. What happens when they take the TV away or the radio away? They are just using it as an object to try to control me, but it can’t. I often don’t go to groups. I have medical issues and other problems when I’m there so I don’t want to go. For example, one day before I was going to the program I said I had to go to the bathroom. The COs said no. Then after an hour in the program I left to go to the bathroom and then I got in trouble for that, stating that I was just trying to get out of group. So I got an information report and they took away my headphones – that’s the worst because that’s how I can stay connected to the outside world.
I went for periods of time of about a month when I didn’t go to programs. I just stayed in my cell. When I feel a threat, I don’t want to have contact with other people. I feel I am on the verge of snapping so I stay back. There were also times when they didn’t allow me to go to groups. I also had periods when I didn’t go out to recreation either. I don’t need to go to an empty cage by myself. So, much of my time at Great Meadow, I stayed 24/7 in my cell.”
Shawn M., reflecting on his experience at Coxsackie Correctional Facility (reprinted with permission)
“I have had mental health issues for some time. When I was locked up on an earlier bid in the late 1980s, I had a mental health file then. I was diagnosed then with schizo-affective disorder and mood swings. When I came back into DOCCS on my second and current bid in the late 1990s, I was not on the OMH [mental health] caseload. But the SHU was really having an impact on me. I have been harming myself since the early 2000s. And I started getting the exposure tickets in the mid-2000s. In 2008, they put me on the OMH caseload as a level 3 patient and I was diagnosed with mood swings. It wasn’t until late 2014 that they made me a level 1S [seriously mentally ill] patient and diverted me from the SHU to the BHU. At that time, I couldn’t sleep was overdosing on pills, cutting myself, and hanging up [attempting suicide].
In the BHU [behavioral health unit], my mental health status is definitely not getting better. Something still snaps and I no longer think rationally anymore and all I think about is hurting myself or others. And the mental health treatment is not helping. The Office of Mental Health (OMH) unit chief never once called me out for a one-on-one since I was at Coxsackie. My mental health counselor didn’t do much for me. I kept asking him if he could sit down with me and come up with a treatment plan and see if I progressed or regressed. But he never really did it. The individual sessions should be once a month, though sometimes it is a little longer than that. They are generally around 30 minutes. I am in the cage in the outside room for the individual therapy. I don’t find it very useful. It is not completely useless. Some of the things the counselor says makes sense, but generally it is not that useful. I asked him for something to read or exercises to work on, but he didn’t provide anything.”