trigger up: stop locking up my friends.

10/24/2011

hey reader! i know that lots of folks have experienced trauma at the hands of the mental “health” industrial complex (i.e. abusive therapy, involuntary incarceration, etc), and this post addresses some of those topics. please read with care and feel free to click away as needed. love and light, RD

i wish i had had the resources to do solidarity for incarcerated folks earlier in life, and/or learned how earlier. i remember the myriad times my friends were locked up, the stories they would return with–not just from psych wards, but from facilities we knew as juvie, rehab, or (ugh) “camp”.

here is what i know about how to practice solidarity for my friends when they get locked up involuntarily in the psych ward:

1) get their legal name, especially if they’re a trans person. birthdate can be helpful, too. depending upon where they are incarcerated, the medical staff may refuse to call them by their preferred name, and so you will need to use their legal name with those people.

2) get the name/phone # of the facility where they are incarcerated. if you can, find out what block they’re locked up in. some facilities are really big, and it’s easy for them to “lose” a person if you don’t have specifics.

3) call and ask to speak to that person.

4) call again. you don’t usually get thru the 1st-3rd times. sometimes you can leave a message. in your message, tell them (assuming you’re going to) that you will call back, and when.

5) if you’re able to reach your friend, ask if there’s anything they need. do they want you to get in touch with someone? what do they want you to tell that person? can you feed their cat, pay their phone bill, or complete some other time-sensitive task for them? sometimes it can be simple as letting their sweety know where they are.

6) ask (don’t insist!) if they’d like to be visited. if they don’t feel like being visited, accept their “no.” if it’s a soft no, let them know that it’s okay to change their mind later (like: cool, but if you change your mind, i’d still make time to visit you!).

7) if they’d like to be visited, ask if there’s anything you can bring them to make them more comfortable. food, a particular blanket or stuffed animal, art supplies, whatever.

8) call the day of your visit, and give them a time frame to expect you in, and set a limit for how long you will stay (this is healthy, and part of taking care of yourself!). confirm you will try to bring the things they have requested if that’s part of your agreement.

9) during your visit/over the phone: if your friend feels comfortable discussing it with you, you can ask if they are getting their needs met. ask if the doctor(s)/orderlies are listening to them and their experiences with their own body. sometimes the medical “professionals” will ignore what the “patient” is saying about their prior experiences with certain meds, and the results can be disastrously fucked.

as a person on the outside, you have the power to advocate for people on the inside. you can call the facility where they are incarcerated and ask them to contact that person’s prior healthcare providers, probation officer, etc, and/or to advocate for them to be supplied with whatever they need to survive. it doesn’t mean it will work, but you can try. it’s better than leaving your friends to rot, yaknow?

of particular note around meds and not getting one’s needs met: oftentimes trans people are denied their hormones while incarcerated, which can exacerbate any existing instability and be really really fucking upsetting.

10) keep your friend’s incarceration confidential, unless you are given permission to do otherwise! there’s a lot of stigma around mental “illness diagnoses/incarceration, so make sure you don’t jeopardize their safety by disclosing this information to others without permission.

11) provide support for them (if they want it) when they get out, if possible. that can look like: making them cookies, letting them crash in your spare room, whatever you want it to look like.

12) set and maintain boundaries. this helps keep you healthy.

13) when talking with your friend, use your active listening skills. don’t give them a fuck-ton of advice unless they ask for it. while there are some mental health facilities that offer not-fucked-up care, if your friend was incarcerated without their consent i can almost guarantee you that they are dealing with some level of trauma, so don’t make it worse by being a jerk! you don’t have to validate everything they say, but you can listen. sometimes this is one of the most healing things of all.

14) what else can you think of? i’m sure there’s lots of stuff this is missing, and i’d love to hear other ideas!

okay, time to call back and see if i can get ahold of my friend.

-RD

 

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