*The following post contains descriptions of self harm. Please ensure you are in a safe place before reading*BANG! BANG! BANG!
“Hands where I can see them inmate.”
She woke with a start, disorientated in the bright fluorescent lights that lined the inside of her cell. She looked towards the small window in her door and saw the sneering face of the guard who had woken her.
“I said hands where I can see them or you’ll be in the padded cell for the night”.
She didn’t like being in the padded cell at night. It always felt colder at night, especially when you were forced to sleep on the floor. She rolled onto her back and placed her hands by her sides, then looked back at the door until the guard walked away. She shivered in the cold.
It was early August. She was sleeping in a concrete prison cell and the temperature dipped into single digits every night. The warden had seen her self harming behaviour as an act of defiance that needed to be punished. She was informed that the warden had given the guards instructions to remove her blankets.
The prison uniform in the secure unit consisted of a short sleeved, knee length gown. Even in winter. Her sheets were removed and she was forced to sleep on the cold plastic mattress that was issued to all of the prisoners. She wanted to curl in a ball to keep herself warm but every time she did the banging on the window would start again. She was not to be trusted.
Her self harm made her feel ashamed. She felt like an animal, ripping chunks of flesh out of her hands. Everything else was blunt, round edged and safe. The nurses chastised her, warning of infections that could kill. She didn’t care. She just wanted it to stop.
Some of the guards understood, many didn’t. Some of them wanted to learn, they asked questions and treated her like a person. Others refused to listen, refused to see her as more than an inmate number to record in a book. Inmate self harmed today. Inmate placed in seclusion. Inmate continues to be defiant. Inmate is not responding to punishment.
If they took the time to listen. If they took the time to hear their own words. Then they would already know that they were punishing someone who was punishing herself. She already thought she was worthless.
The preceding story isn’t fiction. It’s a mash up of my experiences while I was in prison. It tells the story of how the prison dealt with self harming behaviour when I was an inmate. I don’t know if it has gotten better, I doubt that it has. Other women were also punished for engaging in self harming behaviour. They were segregated and had privileges taken away because obviously what a mentally ill person needs is more time alone to think.