In a recent blog, my friend and colleague, Steve Moffic extolled the value and importance of time off. But the people with whom we work—incarcerated persons—never get a day off. For them, it is just monotony, monotony, monotony.
Here’s a snippet of a recent dialogue I had at work:
Me: “Ahhh, just back from a week at the beach. Hanging out with the family, biking, surfing, and no work.”
Inmate: “Haven’t had a vacation from this life since I was sentenced 15 years ago. Same food, same hours, same rules, same CO’s, SSDD.”
What does this mean for these folks’ mental health? Can’t be good, right?
As with most of us, I work very hard in my job, much of which consists of sitting in an office, typing on a computer, attending and participating in meetings or court hearings, supervising staff, and writing reports.
Not too taxing, at least not physically.
But at the end of the day, and at the end of the week, and when summer comes around, I get to take off, cool my jets, and regroup.
This is rather different from the lives led by the folks with whom I work.
Some are inmates in various correctional settings. Others are long-term hospital patients, committed pursuant to behaviors we call “criminal” but which have their genesis in the person’s underlying mental illness.
Most detainees and inmates can look forward to a future release date, but those in the hospital are “criminally committed.” We keep the latter group locked up until they either recover from their illness, or even if still suffering from that illness, are no longer dangerous due to it. This constitutes the “public safety” mission of the state hospital.
A byproduct of this public safety intervention is that the people subjected to it live lives that are ever the same, without a vacation, sometimes for years on end. Worse, they live in enclosed environments without the ability to choose with whom they live and engage with every day.
Never a vacation, unless you count weekends when the hospital doesn’t provide quite as much in the way of therapeutic intervention as during the week...
I do not begin to assume or presume that I have a better answer. You may note the delay between my last posting and this one. Yes, part of the reason is that I was actually on vacation. But another part of the delay is my mind needing to just “take a break”—even from writing polemics!
So, I will leave you with a question.
What does it mean for the people we incarcerate that they never get a break, never take a vacation from the monotony of their lives?
There may not be a ready answer, but that should not stop one from considering the question.
Erik Roskes, a regular blogger for The Crime Report, is a forensic psychiatrist and currently the Director of Forensic Services at the Springfield Hospital Center in Maryland. He welcomes readers comments. The opinions expressed are those of the author only, and do not represent those of any of Dr. Roskes’ employers or consultees, including the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. He can be found at http://mysite.verizon.net/eroskes