COVID Prison Testimonies: Mark Kersey in Virginia, September 2020

September 17, 2020
Mark Kersey
Sussex I State Prison, Virginia

Dear Friends, 

I hope & pray this correspondence reaches and finds each of you experiencing well being, especially in light of these critical times that are hard to deal with. 

I am a fairly new subscriber to the “Prison Health News” which I am grateful to be a recipient of. The information contained in each issue is very informative. 

I would like to contribute to the cause of keeping the prisons of Virginia population informed on various health news. 

As of now Sussex I State Prison has had a major COVID-19 “outbreak.” I believe it started being contracted through the facility’s kitchen supervisors who passed it on to the offenders who work in the kitchen. 

Continue reading “COVID Prison Testimonies: Mark Kersey in Virginia, September 2020”

COVID Prison Testimonies: Parish Brown

February 19, 2021
by Parish Brown
Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections

I wrote this poem in the beginning of this COVID pandemic. My first thought was, will I see my mother again? My second thought was, I should be safe because the only way I could get it is through the staff and the DOC is going to take extra care of their staff, right? But I was wrong. The COVID entered the prison as fast as the convicts that is housed in it. Before I even felt the symptoms of COVID it attacked my mental health. Everything I did became excessive. I washed my hands so much that my skin started to pull off around my fingernails. Cleaning my cell went from two times a day to five times a day. With only an hour for rec, I took a half hour shower. I did all of that and still caught COVID. I couldn’t eat for the first five days. I found out after I went to the hospital that I had pneumonia. I thought that I wasn’t going to make it because mentally I wasn’t prepared to fight it. I pulled through because I didn’t want my family to remember me for this. I have a higher purpose and through my poetry you’ll hear my voice. Continue reading “COVID Prison Testimonies: Parish Brown”

Promoting Mental Wellness in the Time of Coronavirus

By Rosa Friedman

From PHN Issue 42, Spring 2020

Being locked up is difficult enough under normal circumstances, and right now circumstances are far from normal. You may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, like loneliness due to lack of contact with peers and visits from loved ones, helplessness and anger at not being able to protect yourself, or numbness at the unrelenting nature of this crisis. You might shift dramatically between moods with little
warning, or have more thoughts about or symptoms related to other traumatic experiences. Whatever you’re feeling, remember there’s no wrong way to react to what’s happening. It’s normal to feel ungrounded, helpless, or just “off” in such an unusual situation, one where there’s so much uncertainty and powerlessness. It’s also normal to feel extra calm, especially if you’ve been through a lot of crises before. What’s important is to focus on what’s within your control and to do what you can to
care for yourself, mentally as well as physically. Here are some ways to practice selfcare during this difficult time:

  • Follow a routine. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it. It will help you stay grounded and not feel too overwhelmed.
  • Exercise. Movement stimulates chemicals that relieve stress and lift your mood, as well as keeping you physically healthy and enabling you to sleep better. Try the following exercises, with a 30-second break in between to catch your breath:
    • Squats (multiples of 5)
    • Push-ups (multiples of 5)
    • Jumping jacks (20+)
    • Plank (1+ minutes)
    • Lunges (10+ each side)
    • Crunches/Sit-ups (multiples of 5)
    • Burpees (multiple of 5)
  • Meditate. One practice called a body scan can be helpful for dealing with anxiety and other intense feelings. Sit with your eyes closed and make your inhales and exhales last the same amount of time. Starting at the top of your head, check in with each part of your body. Notice what feels comfortable and uncomfortable, whether there’s tightness, heat, or other sensations. You’re not trying to change anything, just notice it. If you get distracted, gently bring your focus back to where you left off without chastising yourself. Go through each part of your body, all the way to your toes.
  • Write. This could mean journaling or writing letters to people on the outside. Writing about what you’re feeling and experiencing can be a great release and a positive way to work through it. If you’re feeling helpless, it might help to write to local news organizations about how the jail or prison where you’re being held is
    dealing with coronavirus.

Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to follow this advice. It can be hard to find focus and motivation when you’re dealing with such challenging circumstances. The most important self-care practice you can do is be kind and patient with yourself, so give yourself credit for whatever you try, no matter how small and insignificant it feels!

Complex PTSD

By Lucy Gleysteen and Brittany Mitchell

From PHN Issue 41, Winter 2020

What is complex trauma, or complex PTSD?

Complex trauma is a trauma that is repetitive, occurs over a period of time, and is frequently interpersonal in nature. Complex PTSD most often develops in childhood and can include experiences of abandonment at an early age, physical abuse or neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, living in a neighborhood that has high levels of violence, being impacted by war, repetitive and invasive medical procedures, or other experiences of being in a traumatic environment for a prolonged period of time. Not everyone who has had traumatic experiences develops complex PTSD. However, those who do might experience certain difficulties that can be painful to live with.

What is the difference between complex trauma and regular PTSD?

When people hear the term PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), the first thing that often comes to mind is the experience of having suffered a traumatic event such as being in combat, exposure to gun violence, or experiencing a natural disaster. This type of trauma is called single incident trauma. Such experiences can contribute to having nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, fear, depression, anxiety, emotional withdrawal, numbness, hypervigilance (having your senses on high alert), avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event, irritability, guilt, and shame. This article will focus on complex PTSD. There is a lot of overlap between single incident and complex PTSD. While the two types of trauma have a lot in common, complex trauma often involves the set of symptoms below that were classified by Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror.

Relational Impact

Complex trauma can deeply impact one’s sense of self and how they relate to others. If, as a child, a person learns that it is unsafe to have closeness with others, that will impact relationships in the long term. This can create a strong sense of loneliness, isolation, and feelings of disconnection.

Emotional Impact

Complex trauma can create challenges in emotional regulation. This could mean that it might be difficult to control and process feelings of anger, sadness, disappointment, or other forms of emotional distress. Those who have CPTSD might have a difficult time with self-soothing. Sometimes a person’s tolerance for handling difficult emotions can be very low. People with complex trauma are more likely to use substances like drugs or alcohol or engage in other self-harm.

Impact on Consciousness

Individuals who’ve experienced complex trauma might experience difficulty with memory and attention. Sometimes when a traumatic event occurs, our body’s capacity to cope might be overwhelmed, resulting in an emotional and social “shutting down” process called dissociation. Dissociation is a mental process that involves disconnection from emotions, memories, body, or sense of self. Dissociation exists on a wide spectrum, and it is possible to dissociate a little bit (i.e., daydreaming or walking somewhere and suddenly arriving at your destination without fully remembering the process of getting there), or it can
be more severe and involve forgetting one’s own identity. Everyone at some point in their lives has experienced dissociation, but it is more frequent and severe for those who experience complex trauma. This is one of the brain’s ways of coping with feelings of fear, anxiety, and shame—or achieving emotional safety. However, it can be problematic when dissociation occurs so frequently that a person is unable to feel positive emotions or process their more difficult feelings.

Impact on Self-perception

Self-perception is how a person feels about themself. Complex PTSD can cause a constant feeling of guilt, shame, and responsibility for the trauma that occured. Over time, this can create a self-image in which a person views themselves as incapable, inherently bad, unworthy, or unlovable.

Impact on Worldview

Complex trauma can affect a person’s understanding of the world as a safe place. This can cause someone to be on high alert at all times, looking for danger, even when they are in a situation where danger might not be present. This might look like a belief that people are essentially bad, or the world is essentially unsafe. Beliefs stemming from this could include, “Nothing good will ever happen to me,” “No one is safe outside at night,” etc.

Impact on the Body

CPTSD and PTSD in general are associated with significant negative health effects including chronic pain, digestive issues, weight gain or loss, hypertension, and cardiovascular issues. We say about trauma that it “lives in the body,” meaning that our body holds reminders of our emotional states. For instance, a person who experiences a lot of hyperarousal (easily startled, always on guard, quick to fight or run, heart racing, sweatiness, difficulty paying attention) might hold that in the body in the form of muscle tension. This is a very simplistic description of trauma’s relationship with the body, but a whole field of study called Somatics is dedicated to better understanding the relationship between our mental health and its bodily effects and experiences.

What are strategies for managing the impact of PTSD?

  • If possible, engaging in individual therapy, group therapy, or both.
  • Spending time figuring out what activities help you feel soothed, calm, and in control. These are called “grounding techniques” and can look like mindful coloring, writing in a journal, praying, running, stretching, breathing rhythmically, humming, dancing, tapping, holding something soft or weighted, or playing with a fidget toy.
  • Developing safe relationships and seeking support. Think or journal about: Who am I with when I feel like my best self? Who am I with when I feel calm, soothed, joyful, engaged? What qualities about these relationships give me these emotional freedoms?
  • Identify triggers (situations that lead to painful reliving of memories or emotions).
  • Be gentle with yourself and speak reassuringly to yourself.
  • Owning your right to have boundaries AND developing the communication skills to clearly and healthily set a boundary with someone and keep it.

A Brief Overview of Psychiatric Medications and What They Do

By Lucy Gleysteen

From PHN Issue 40, Summer/Fall 2019

Below is a brief overview of psychiatric medications, what they are typically used to treat, their purpose, and common side effects.


The primary purpose of antipsychotics is to treat psychosis. Psychosis can involve the presence of delusions or hallucinations. They can also be used in combination with other drugs to treat other conditions. Continue reading “A Brief Overview of Psychiatric Medications and What They Do”

The Impact of Stress on the Body

By Lucy Gleysteen and Seth Lamming

From PHN Issue 39, Winter/Spring 2019

Everyone experiences stress. Sometimes stress can act to help push us through difficult situations. Not all stress is bad but when stress spirals out of control, it puts the body more at risk for developing serious illness. Stress is not something that is “just in your head,” because it can impact your body, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Being able to recognize stress is one step in reducing its impact. This article will explain the impact of stress, and things you can do to reduce your stress levels. Continue reading “The Impact of Stress on the Body”

Growing Through Depression: A Toolbox for Mental Wellness

By Faith, Latyra, Kima, Rusty, and Stephanie; Women in Re-Entry at the People’s Paper Co-op Arts & Advocacy Fellowship

From PHN Issue 39, Winter/Spring 2019

The following is our truth. Our voice. It’s written by powerful women, all formerly incarcerated. We want you to remember your worth, to know that we hear you, that you’re thought of, and that we’re sending our love!


I know what it’s like to be depressed and behind bars. Waking up, day after day, living in a box… not knowing when you’re going home… Locked down. Feeling like a number, not a person. I’d sit and wait. Continue reading “Growing Through Depression: A Toolbox for Mental Wellness”

How to Quit Smoking and How to Not Start Again

By Arielle Horowitz

From PHN Issue 38, Fall 2018

Most smokers know that smoking is bad for their health, but they also know that quitting smoking is not easy. According to the American Lung Association, quitting smoking can be easier if you know your reasons for quitting, talk to a doctor, understand what to expect, and get help. Federal prisons and almost half of state prison systems prohibit smoking cigarettes indoors and outdoors, but more than half of states still allow smoking in prison yards. For those who quit smoking while in prison and are soon to be released, it is important to think about how to not start smoking again outside prison. Continue reading “How to Quit Smoking and How to Not Start Again”

The PREA Problem

by Fatima Malika Shabazz

From PHN Issue 37, Summer 2018

Content warning: this article discusses traumatic experiences, including sexual assault.

I can safely say that at least six out of every 10 times I pick up an LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex community) newsletter or magazine, there is a person in prison somewhere in the country who is being victimized by prison or jail staff from weaponized PREA standards. If you are unaware of what the acronym stands for, it means Prison Rape Elimination Act. PREA was written to provide a resource (anonymous or otherwise) for people confined in America’s gulags (prisons) and mini gulags (jails) to report rapes and sexual abuses committed by both inmates and staff. However, this policy is often used as a hammer against the very people it was written to protect, while at the same time serving to shield the violators of its policies. Continue reading “The PREA Problem”