Personal Attention

Posted: April 12, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , ,

Last night an inmate called me from this area’s Protective Custody prison. I worked with this man in PreTrial, talking to him two or three times a week. He long ago reformed of his crime (in my opinion), but he still has a few more years of his sentence to go.

I don’t call him, he calls me and he has to pay for the call. He works as a tutor in the institution and makes a few dollars a day. I don’t know how much he paid for the phone call, but he talked to me for 45 minutes.

He told of his struggle with depression, a battle he’s been fighting as long as I’ve known him. I suggested he talk to a counselor there, one on one.

“There isn’t anybody here like that.”

person attention

Personal Attention = Success

“What? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“No, there just isn’t anyone here like that. I talk to one of the religion volunteers and a woman who helps me with my studies and you.”

“Come on. There’s 4-500 guys there. Many of them need help, I’m sure.”

“There’s no one.”

one on one

One on one

I was amazed. Many things help rehabilitate a man, but there has to be personal involvement. We understand that in a school environment – counselors help students from elementary school to post graduate. In the medical area, scientists are at the verge of a new age of individualized medicines.

It seems to me that a critical part of effective help is individual attention.


Isn’t that right? What’s wrong with the prison system?

Images courtesy of:

  •  // personal Attn.
  •  // one on one
  1. Joanne says:

    Well, Ed, you’ve finally really hit on the issue I am most upset and passionate about. It is also something I happen to know a lot about.

    Here’s the problem. Actually there are many. First, there is a limited budget for psychological services in prisons. I suspect that it has even been slashed even more quite recently. This means that the salaries are low and the positions few. Second, of the psychologists that work there, the bulk of their workload consists of assisting the Parole Board of Canada in making decisions about parole. In other words, they do risk assessments. This is followed by their work in crisis intervention, including responding to concerns about self-harm or suicide. Some psychologists can find time to do very limited short-term interventions on perhaps one prisoner in need at a time and that’s about it. There are usually only 2 psychologists for the entire population, so the availability of that is extremely limited. Finally, and this is sadly mostly accurate, the bulk of psychologists do not want to work in this environment. It is not considered a pretigious position and those who undertake it are generally considered less than. For this reason, the service also does not attract quality employees in this area and of those who do end up working there, few of the good ones stay for very long.

    Sadly, many prisoners who are “lucky” enough to have contact with a psychologist or other behavioural specialist, end up worse off. One of the reasons for this is that because of the turnover and chaotic work environment, many clients end up being abandoned–literally, they are seen once or twice, promised help and then never called back again. This can be very damaging to trust and trust runs low among prisoners as it is. Many end up becoming very jaded about the system and have a difficult time reaching out for help.

    I totally agree with you that individual help could go a long way toward helping many, many people. Unfortunately, by electing this government, our society has decided that we prefer an every-man-for-himself approach.

    By the way, the prisoner who called you paid $6.00 for that call, almost a day’s wages for him.

    Thanks for the great post, as usual!

    • Ed Griffin says:

      As always, Joanne, your posts are great. You lay out the problem in all its parts. The man I wrote about DID have a good psychologist to talk to in PreTrial, but none in federal prison.
      And to confirm another part of your post, that the job is not a status job, I met a prison psychologist who badly needed to talk to a psychologist.
      I would be honored if you ever felt like doing a guest post

      • Joanne says:

        Thanks Ed, I would love to write a guest blog, only I need some time to decide what to write on. There is so much that I am passionate about in this area. I will certianly let you know when I have something in mind.

      • Ed Griffin says:

        That’s great. The only rule I operate with is — no place names and no real person names.
        Thank you

  2. judith says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Crime is a community problem.
    Down here in the good old usa, contact is forbidden between volunteers and prisoners, between anyone on the outside, between people who come out and persons who knew them from inside as volunteers. I know this because I go into a prison to bring an aa meeting inside to some folks who want to have one. They are scared to get out, they aren’t allowed to prepare to return to society, and they aren’t allowed to actually work on the changes in their life that AA does so well, for some folks, because they a re not alowed to meet one on one with a recovering person.
    After they are released, we aren’t allowed to have any contact, and are required to report any prisoner who is seen after they get out of prison, so that we can’t help them get drugs, I presume. So, we do isolate people who then can’t get jobs, can’t deal with pain, can’t help restore any human dignity, and help set up relapse. We are required to violate that most human of needs – personal support and contact.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thank you for your post. That’s horrible. I never heard of that before, that an ex-con can’t contact a helping person on the outside. Prisons tend to make rules for us on the outside that are unconstitutional. I doubt very much that such a rule is legal. You have a right as a citizen to contact who you want to contact. And you are right — that those first days out of prison are very hard. A good friend would be very helpful.
      Again it seems that the prison system wants them back — After all that’s jobs for the future. The more inmates, the more staff needed. How sad. How terrible

  3. Ed, surely there’s a prison doctor who could prescribe anti-depressants. Most busy GPs are all too happy to toss them to their patients on the slightest indications. Although it may not be the ideal answer, and finding the right one often requires a trial and error approach, it might be better than nothing at all, and might hold the person until he’s released and can find more personal help.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      An inmate once described to me the process of seeing the doctor. You fill out a form and you have to be sure to do it exactly right, then you wait 6 to 12 weeks for the chance to see the doctor.
      You are correct, though, some inmates do get anti-depressants.

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