Life With Institutionalization

Ramon D. Villalolos

From Prison Focus Issue 55


I’m writing this article from the belly of a maximum security mental health facility for Inmates who can’t or will not function within the acceptable parameters of the CDCR guidelines and for the Prison Industrial Complex big wigs. I personally think I’m far from crazy, but I have had a couple of suicide attempts. I’ve also broken the code of some of what the general population might say is a “No No” by extending the olive branch and asking for healp, in a place where signs of weakness are not suggested. (No, it’s not spelled incorrectly, healp is something between Healing the mind and Helping the man!)

I’m currently serving 26 to Life for simple transportation and possession for sales of 1 pound of Marijuana (Yeh. Don’t laugh) I’m a validated gang member DROPOUT! Hoping to get my sentence reduced, or reversed. But until then I am proud to say that I’m a P.O.W. ( in America’s great war on drugs…

But with the recent passage of Prop 57 plus the sales tax, use and regulation act of Marijuana, I can see the light at the end of my tunnel getting brighter. I’ve got to take the initiative and educate myself on what my release means in terms of personal responsibility. So I’ve made it a priority to fix my mental health problems to the best of my ability. However this is where the lines of rehabilitation from the great state of California get blurry. Why is there no clinical diagnosis for Institutionalization?

It’s as if the institutionalization is the retarded older brother of paranoid schizophrenic or manic depressive’s weird coding who’s kept in the attic by all the psych. doctors who don’t want the embarrassment of making it a “real” diagnosis. PTSD is real.

I’m no psychologist, but I can sure notice it in a lot of men who have done large amounts of time. I think what separates me from the herd is my ability to see where the edge of the institutionalization cliff is. Long-term incarceration and time spent in solitary confinement (I’ve done approximately 5 years of 20 in solitary) puts your mind and emotions through so much trauma and hardship. It’s important to recognize the circumstances, and ask if you’re doing the time, or is the time doing you.

My objective is to get people to think about it; to identify his own institutionalized characteristics in his mannerisms - the way he acts, talks, carries himself, and socially interacts with others, but also – and here’s the biggie- conceptualize it, recognize it, and possibly even reverse the signs of it in his behavior?? (It’s like aging. You can slow it, but never stop it - unless you are released.)

Here’s the drawback. Some don’t have the foresight to see that they are afflicted. I know it because I live with it. She sleeps with me in my cell every night. But do you know you have it? Can you recognize it, or the million dollar question: Do you want to do anything about it?

I think conceptualization is at the heart of this issue. If you choose to self-diagnose it (cause no-one else will), do everything you can to treat it, heal it, and try to live with it and function on a continuous basis. Looking forward, your treatment has to be on your terms. specified by what you feel can help you in order for it to work. As for me, I’m spreading the word about this illness as a form of personal therapy – cause, even though I don’t have a cognizant disability, I’m angry, depressed, anti-social, and have been incarcerated for far too long. I still maintain the want and the need to get HEALP.

See I came to this mental health program diagnosed bipolar and manic depressive, and my focus was to de-institutionalize, correct some of my impulse control and criminal behavior. But no-one knows that institutionalization is? – or they won’t admit it. So for me I’m self-diagnosed. So why not ask for a personalized treatment program? Well, I did, and they balked. But I still strive to get intense one-on-one therapy sessions that are with someone decent and trustworthy (Good Luck). Start from the beginning with your earliest traumas in life up until the present, focusing especially on your time incarcerated, and addressing the severe traumas that you may have suffered in here: beatings, rape, theft, officer interactions, being housed so far from home, then on to what’s taking place outside: loss of family members, holidays missed, separation from your kids, etc….

It’s difficult because no two men are the same, and the toll it takes on one man is different from the next. Programs are generally geared towards getting you through to the next day, stabilized enough to feel confident within “yourself” so that you’re fit to be thrown back into the cog of mass incarceration, that must run smoothly for job security and for the wheels of tyranny to run effortlessly. I want to be a voice that asks for someone to be held accountable for what they are doing to men; A voice that asks them to stop ignoring institutionalization, put a label on it so as to stem the tide of this disease or learn new methods in which we could combat it.

I encourage anyone willing to speak up (and even self-diagnose) to take up this cause and combat mental illness at any level. My own personal fight will continue to wage on against the oppressive forces of mass incarceration, my personal struggle with mental illness, and the battle to shed light on America’s hidden disease created by its lust to make money.

I always hope and pray for my fellow man and his success – especially he who knows my sorrows from behind the walls. We all know you must be at your best to have a real chance “out there” after living most of your lifetime “in here”.

And now I leave you with one question - all you eight-year degree men… Pick up your pen now, and tell us, WHY ISN’T THERE A CLINICAL DIANOSIS FOR INSTITUTIONALIZTION?!

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