In recent years I have heard these words come out of my husband's mouth, "you, know I'm damaged, right?" he'll say. I know exactly what he means. He's not the same person he was 24 years ago and not always for the better. He is conscious of the toll prison has had on him both physically and emotionally. When we are on a visit, his eyes are often scanning the room. He is very aware of the environment, noticing things I never would have. If he senses that I'm getting annoyed, he'll apologize and explain that it's about survival. Then he wonders what life at home will be like. I have always said that we will need help, professional help. For many years he declared that nothing was wrong with him and therefore nothing needed fixing and he would not be participating in any head shrinking of any sort! I always stood by my opinion... we are going to need help.
Since he has been 'noticing' that he is 'damaged' he has been open to talking to someone (a professional, getting help). He admitted something the other day that brought me great hope. He said to me that he had been feeling "depressed." Coming from my husband, I could hardly believe my ears! You would have to understand who this man is. He is strong-minded and doesn't believe in excuses. He is resilient, speaks his mind, he is brave, unafraid, positive, intelligent, wise, independent, caring, resourceful, a leader and full of love for self and others. He has always believed in mind over matter. When he would stop calling for a few days he used to refer to his feelings as being in "his funk." He meant that he didn't want to talk to anyone, he was in a funk. Now he calls it depression. As he has grown, he has learned to recognize not only his strengths, but also his weaknesses and to call them by their name. There is power in acknowledgement, I think. Only then can one begin the work of dealing with the issue at hand.
How do you begin to repair yourself when the environment is damaged as well? The officers are damaged, too. Some are overtaken by power, letting it corrupt them no matter how well-intentioned they may have once been. Others become prisoners dressed in blue, going home but never leaving prison, then returning for their next shift. Counselors, doctors, nurses, civilians, they all have jobs to do but no one really cares about helping the inmates (a few do). So the damage continues to spread. The prisoners are not being prepared for reintegration into society. They are being set up for failure, a vicious cycle where everyone loses. All of this is enough to make anyone want to give up on themselves.
Sometimes the inmates are the ones who have to bring forth some sort of healing by giving each other support. By seeking out their own resources and by educating themselves. The ones whose families are involved also have that support but they, too can become damaged. Sometimes I feel helpless and frustrated. Sometimes I am depressed, just like my husband. I may question if all of this pain is worth it, fear lives in my heart at times. Sadness takes the space of happiness, I am damaged. So I get help. I talk to others; my family, my therapist, my husband, and then I feel better. I take care of myself so that I can take care of others. I have to be ready!
I give this man so much credit, though. He is able to bounce back each time he is knocked down, always emerging stronger. His eyes seem tired, his shoulders are smaller than they used to be, but his attitude is never negative. He looks forward to a future, living among his family but he is afraid. He wonders if he'll ever want to be around men ever again. If he'll be able to sleep in a quiet room or be in a crowded area. He has these thoughts and then he tells me, "I'm gonna need your help!" To which I say, "I can't wait for that day... you know I'm going to help you, WE are going to get help!"