I was reintroduced to the Exonerated 5 by Ava Duvernay in the incredible Netflix Documentary entitled “When They See Us.” As hard as it was for me to watch, I pressed through the multiple episodes and often became teary eyed at the harsh treatments endured by these young black men. I realized that this series may have become the eye-opening topic for those who don’t think of the imprisoned and for others- it reminds them of their past. According to the NAACP, 56% of the prison population is comprised of Black and Hispanic people despite only making up 32% of the population (2015). It appears that we don’t have to go far for the experience of the imprisoned to hit close to home.
Men serving time are exposed to mental health issues such as depression and post-traumatic disorder that impact their ability to cope upon release. This article highlights some important coping topics that will help our released fathers, uncles, sons, and brothers that are trying to adjust.
Time: We know that it is ideal for us to want our loved one free, but for some people in prison, the outside world is scary. Please provide yourself time to adjust to not being told when to eat or sleep.
Identify support systems: Not everyone is supportive of your release. Prison can be an unsupportive place and identifying support systems that will influence the best version of you is important. Who can make you feel seen or doesn’t label you as a prisoner? Who forgives you? Who loves you? Who sees positivity in your future? Ask yourself these questions and build your support system.
Believe: Some people find strength or motivation in spirituality. Some find it in reflection. Whichever makes you believe that there is room for improvement and promise; find it and make it the center of your belief.
Goals: It’s always important to have something to look forward to, whether it’s getting off probation or finding your own apartment. These milestones and accomplishments are always things we can use to push us towards a better version of ourselves. Write down what you would like to do. Say it out loud to draw positive energy. Speak your goals into existence. Create an action plan of small tasks you can do and complete them.
Seek therapy: There are things that can’t be sorted out alone. Going to a therapist to discuss depression, anxiety, post-traumatic responses and any other issues attached to your time served is important. Talk with a professional. Your friends and family can be a part of your support system but seek help from someone who has been trained to discuss these things with you.
Redefine yourself: In prison you had a number, but as a free man- you have a name. Try and embody those roles that are outside of being a prisoner. If you are a dad, focus on being a father to your child/children. If you are an uncle, try to be closer to your nieces and nephews. If you are a carpenter, focus on calling yourself one. Reframing negative thinking can help process your new freedom.
We encourage you to use some of these coping techniques to adjust to a life of being released. Welcome home and happy healing!
Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved December 28, 2019, from https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/.