The World Through Tinted Lenses

Recently, someone asked me to write something about mental health care provided in prison. My first thoughts were: “I am not qualified” neither as a writer nor as a professional. Those have been my thoughts on most anything since I can remember, I am just no good inside. I don’t mean to be, guess I was just born this way.

As to my stories about how I see things, well, I am always willing to tell them. Now please remember that I see everything through tinted lenses (a mentally ill tint). So with your un-tinted, or different tinted lenses, we will probably not quite see the same.

As far back as I can remember, in prison, I have always heard mental health care providers say that their first and most important responsibility while working in a prison is to protect the public. That means putting a bullet in a prisoner that is trying to escape, or may hurt a staff member. Mental health is not a consideration in the use of deadly force which they are authorized to use.

The treatment of the mentally ill in prisons is to help us (the mentally ill) function within the confines of a prison. Their official responsibility as providers ends at the front gate when we get out. They are not here to help us become successful upon entering society. That is outside their official scope of professionalism in their chosen field.

Prisons rely heavily on medications, heavy medications, which they call chemical restraints. If you demonstrate any stressful reactions or behavior to the completely “unnatural prison environment,” then more medication is ordered for you.

When I first came here to Sheridan FCI in January of 2012, I was taking several antipsychotic medications which automatically qualified me as a mental health care level two patient. I met a lady that was the secretary in mental health and she was one of the nicest professionals here. She was always taking the time to listen and be helpful in getting you a radio, and some batteries if you were indigent and helping with some good inspirational/motivational books. Soon after my arrival she was promoted to case manager in the unit I was assigned. She never changed, a little round jolly lady that always had something good to say. At Christmas, she decorated her office, which was always open 9-5. It had a complete open door policy. Even when she was not there you could walk up to her window and the Christmas lights and music would come on. That was something in all my forty plus years of doing time I had never seen in a prison.

Then one day some men showed up and escorted her out of the prison. Then one of the inmates was taken to SHU. It was said she was spending too much time with him. Later that night she drove back up to the prison and parked as close as she could get to SHU. She then took a 9mm pistol out of her console and put it in her mouth and pulled the trigger…


It came screaming, splitting nerves and fibers without effort. Ever expanding… the last moment of things as they were… Then the world exploded!

Spiraling, shining ribbons of steel, coiling endlessly down corridors of chain-link-fencing, glinting with the reflections of the last rays of sunlight as twilight drew near. The sun, which fills my room chasing away the perpetual dusk that hides in the corners, drops off the globe.

Darkness comes as a welcome relief. My face still sore from smiling all day long, the mask I am forced to wear, lest I reveal the persona non grata within.

Suicidal thoughts rushing around in my head, thoughts like lies, you cannot tell which versions is truth. Like dreaming eyes wide open. Afraid of that moment between the bullet entering your head and being dead. Skeptical of death and dying being painless.

Seeing your blood gush out onto the floor, thinking thoughts you think when you see your life ending.

Then in a flash you return, like a deer, returning to the watering hole, after one of their own has been eaten there. Cautious, apprehensive, afraid in this insane world of prison.

Peace & Light
Aubrey Elwood

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