Originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 67, printed February 3. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Winter 2022 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
By Shaka Shakur
Within the context of a prison, i.e. penal facility, mental health both manifests and displays itself in many forms.
A lot of Us who enter into the Prison Industrial Complex (P.I.C.) come from the lower socio-economic strata of society and arrive with some form of existing psycho-socio issues, whether they hide/conceal themselves behind that of substance abuse, sexual abuse, etc.
A lot of times it is these underlying issues that often lead Us into the P.I.C. in the first place and go unacknowledged by the Criminal Judicial System. In fact the kriminal (in)justice system has become a substitute and replacement for the many mental health institutions and mental health treatment programs that have been closed down due to lack of funding, lack of caring and outright indifference.
So people who should be receiving some type of mental health treatment or intervention are now being warehoused in the prison system, while mental institutions are being closed down.
Mental Health issues and “conduct” are now being kriminalized and placed into that context, and the responses of the state and its agents is to that of a kriminal and not someone with mental illness. This triggers the full weight of the oppressive and repressive state. This also triggers more abuse, brutalization, solitary confinement, verbal abuse, beatings, manhandling, disrespect and disregard by people who are often untrained, overworked, underpaid and ill-equipped to deal with such mental illness or mental health issues.
So someone hearing voices, who is delusional, who might have PTSD, anger or rage issues, doesn’t take care of their hygiene, suffers paranoia, etc., becomes a “disciplinary problem” to be further controlled and repressed. Hidden away in segregation units, isolation units, placed into camera cells on suicide watch while stripped naked and clothed in suicide prevention smocks, only to have their good time taken, sentences extended – while adding another layer of job security for the employees of the state.
Then these same employees become resentful, hateful and vindictive because of having or choosing to work in an already high-stress-level environment, and this isn’t what they signed up for. I’ve seen prison guards and prisoncrats commit some of the most vicious abuse and treatment of those who really needed proper medication or mental health treatment, and then laugh and joke about it.
The flip side of this is those of Us who came into the system after suffering from issues that We have never been diagnosed for, or those of Us who have grown up in communities or environments that are war zones or where civil wars are raging over so-called “beefs,” territory and/or markets connected to the underground economy, where we have witnessed or seen a body before the age of 13, have lost childhood friends to violence, have lost a parent(s) to the drug game or P.I.C.
It has always angered me to hear government officials and other agencies talk about military veterans coming back from foreign wars who have PTSD and/or other mental health issues because of what they have witnessed or experienced, and yet we got children in Our communities witnessing school shootings, and street souljahs who have been involved in shooting wars, have buried friends and families or have bodies under their belts.
Ain’t no Red Cross for Us, ain’t no Veteran Affairs/Benefits for Us, ain’t no military courts for Us where convictions and felonies get deferred or mediated. The only thing left for Us is life sentences, extended aggravated sentences and a slow death.
The same applies to those of Us who have fallen victim to the government campaigns of chemical warfare raging in Our communities. Don’t talk to Us about weapons of mass destruction hidden in the Middle East when we got Meth, Crack, Heroin and every illicit drug known to man saturating Our communities.
Where We grow up on it in order to escape the deplorable and harsh reality, we often have to find ways to either cope or escape, only to end up in the Prison Industrial Complex. Where the side effects or aftereffects of years of drug abuse get misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. Where such is again looked upon as a disciplinary issue, when in fact some of these youngsters have been traumatized in the ghetto colonies of amerika and have been smoking embalming fluid and experimenting with all kinds of chemical cocktails or have suffered all kinds of mental health issues that go untreated.
If we aren’t cutting on Ourselves (some do), or aren’t threatening suicide (some do), We don’t get treatment. And if we’re fortunate enough to get into a program, many of them are racially and culturally biased and not grounded or rooted in a reality that many of Us come from or plan to return back to.
Many of these programs, including Re-Entry, do nothing to adequately prepare Us to return back to society and not recidivate. In some systems, in fact, it is just another way/scheme to get federal funding/dollars for programs that have no real substance. So once again, many of Us are shoved through the cracks in the system, only to get trapped in the vicious cycle of catch, release and return – caught in the cycle of carrying these mental health issues into Our communities, only to exacerbate already existing social ills and issues. A never ending cycle of Genocide!!!
FREE THE LAND!!