Joining in the Incarceration Experience: A Way to Bridge the Gap?

Joining in the Incarceration Experience: A Way to Bridge the Gap?

By Joseph A. Grillo, PsyD. (Licensed Clinical Psychologist-Forensics)


How can we "join” individuals who are released from custody to our facilities?Some individuals are happy to be released, and others who experience trepidation due to being institutionalized. Others may be "frozen in time,” such that upon their release from prison they find the world has changed so greatly they feel disconnected and consider themselves an alien on their own planet.


I have always suggested that mental health professionals engage the incarcerated person from their subjective experience, and consider how they too may be incarcerated (not physically, but perhaps psychologically). One way to do this is to imagine a time (past or present) where you believed that you had to go to a job you did not like, dreading that you would spend the majority of your waking hours doing something you detested, living only from Friday to Friday. Perhaps, you have been in a relationship where you felt trapped and while others gave you advice and you were unable to break free from dysfunction.


One of the major connections here, between you and the incarcerated person seated before you, is the perception of a lack of freedom.The ultimate question becomes, what does one do in the face of an immovable object?While it may be said that one can never fully experience the pain of another, perhaps bridging the gap in this manner can serve to approximate the experience. Hence, empathy can follow, fostering a therapeutic relationship.


I look forward to any comments about this perspective.


Dr. Grillo

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