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Isolation Lessons Learned in a Prison Cell

Who would have thought that I could share some tips for isolation that I learned out of lived experience of the criminal justice system? What lead to being locked up was a ‘perfect storm’ of low self-worth, DV and mental illness.

Our world has changed dramatically in the last few weeks. I see many parallels from the time I was arrested to being sentenced 17 months later after pleading guilty. I lost my employment, my routine and many people I associated with. I self-isolated immediately after arrest because of shame for about 2 months.  Imprisonment for 11 months was isolation at another level. For the first four months I was locked up 23 hours a day, 18 of those hours in a cell.

The remaining time involved lock up in a shared house for 18 hours a day. There were often 24-hour lockdowns in a cell. Many people in prison experience worse than this in total isolation, but I learned ways to cope and hope that these tips may help even one person.

It is normal to feel frightened and confused. It is normal to feel lost when your world is turned upside-down. It is normal to feel a range of emotions.

 We cannot control what is out of our control.

I hope these tips help as they helped me and I aim to expand on many of these over the next few weeks. 

Try to put these into practice

  1. ACCEPT – we cannot change things out of our control. We can control our response. The inner struggle with what was happening caused more angst and decline in my mental health.
  2. Let go of ‘what if’s’ – when all changes in our world we can start to regret things we wished we had done or not done.
  3. WRITE DOWN A TIMETABLE for your day and stick to it. Do this sooner rather than later. The hardest thing about having your world turned upside down or taken away from you is having something to get up for. Schedule activities to fill your day, hour by hour if you need to.
  4. MOVE – include exercise in your day. You will be amazed at ways you can exercise in a lockdown. You have a body – that is all you need. I did this at the start of every day in a cell. It was part of my mental health plan. I am grateful that in this lockdown I am able to get out for a walk or run, participate using an online group session or follow a pre-recorded one. Schedule it into your day.
  5. Include ACTIVITIES THAT ENGAGE YOUR MIND. Do what works for you. I used crossword puzzles, reading a book, doing difficult maths questions (I had my son gain permission to send me a 3-unit maths book into prison), watched some TV (I am not a big TV person but I had to fill those hours in lock up), started a scrap book, started writing a book (literally with pen and paper),  and I would sing (only had a transistor radio).
  6. STAY CONNECTED to your support network. I could not have done any of the above without knowing that I could write my family and friends letters. Writing to them made me feel close to them. Yes, actual letters sent by post; there is no email or internet access for prisoners. The six-minute maximum phone calls before being locked in your cell meant I could hear my loved ones’ voices, and this was comforting. Use your phone to message or call people regularly. Maybe buddy up with someone!
  7. DON’T LET PRIDE stop you from getting all the support you need if you have lost your job. It is only for now. It is numbing to lose employment. I know. I will not stay like this forever. You may even find other roles that you never imagined you could do, that use your skills.
  8. EAT WELL, from a variety of whole foods from all food groups. Even with limited funds, if you have lost your job, you can make healthier food choices. Food impacts not only our physical health but our mental health too.
  9. LIMIT the use of ALCOHOL. It is a mood amplifier, so if you find your mood has dropped, alcohol is only going to make this worse. On this note, also be aware of the sentiment of music, shows, movies and social media posts you focus on. If you need cheering up then watch/listen to programs and music that does so and limit time on social media.
  10. If you are on antidepressants – TAKE THEM. Would you stop using Ventolin if needed? No.
  11. MEDITATE/PRAY – it brings peace to your heart and mind.
  12. CONTACT PROFESSIONAL HELP IF YOU ARE NOT COPING, ARE IN DANGER OF DV or if you are concerned about someone else’s mental health or safety. We don’t want more crisis situations. YOU ARE WORTH LOOKING AFTER YOURSELF

For Australia:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service 1300659 467

Mental Health Crisis Numbers

Emergency 000

 

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March 31, 2020

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