Miracle at Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution Forest

Cindy SanfordJuan (name changed), convicted of aggravated assault at 21, has been in solitary for five years. He has seen and experienced it all: brutal cell extractions, hunger strikes, flooded pods and endless hours spent screaming at his cell door.

By the time I met him, he’d racked up over 80 misconducts in numerous prisons and earned the enmity of most of the officers forced to deal with him. Hardly your model inmate.

Yet from our very first visit, I was struck by the humility and sadness in his eyes. Somehow, despite his “bad-boy” reputation, I sensed there was more to him, something worth saving.

Unfortunately, that was not an opinion shared by the officers at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Camp Hill. While corrections officers now receive some mental health training, most still have a mind-set geared toward control and punishment, not mental health care. So it was probably inevitable, given Juan’s conduct, that he would have a rough road in prison and numerous conflicts with staff.

But I am a registered nurse, not a corrections officer. My training never presumed that harsh punishment was the best cure for behavior disorders. A few months after I met Juan, he sent me his medical records, which were a depressing read to say the least.

Addicted to crack at birth, a victim of severe child abuse and neglect, four suicide attempts as a teen, multiple mental health hospitalizations and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. If that weren’t enough strikes against him, an MRI of his head revealed mild brain damage, presumed to be the result of a beating by his parents. In my view, this was a kid who never had a chance.

“Do you have any contacts or support on the outside?” I asked during that first visit.

Juan looked down but not before his eyes clouded over. “No.”

“Not even a friend — or some other relative?”

“No. There’s nobody,” he said quietly.

I smiled reassuringly, hoping it conveyed the right amount of support without leaving the impression I felt sorry for him. But it was hard not to. Far too many young people, seriously abused and neglected as kids, end up right where he is.

Some enforcement types refer to people like me as “hug a thugs.” I know how they think because I used to be one of them. My grandfather was a New York City police officer. My husband is a retired wildlife conservation officer.

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8 things judges need to know about teen dating violence

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By the Hon. Marshall Murray
Judge of the Circuit Court of Milwaukee
Member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

One of the most important duties for any court system is to ensure that youth in the community are protected. As the former Presiding Judge of the Milwaukee Children’s Court and Presiding Judge of the Milwaukee County Domestic Violence Courts, I have seen many young people who were survivors of teen dating violence. They included children who were both male and female, heterosexual and LGBTQ, and from every ethnic background imaginable. It was, and is, very sad to me that while these children are supposed to be focusing on the challenge of adolescence, they were instead grappling

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The Every Student Succeeds Act includes provisions for trauma-informed practices

Photo credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press _____________________________________

Photo credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press _____________________________________

Legislation to replace the 14-year-old No Child Left Behind law—The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed by President Obama on Dec. 10—was widely praised by the administration, legislators of both parties in the House and Senate, and the organizations concerned about education policy from the NEA to the Education Trust. The consensus is that the bill is not perfect, but provides a needed recalibration of federal authority over the states in education policy while protecting the most vulnerable schools, students, and communities. If carefully implemented at all levels of government, the major goals of the legislation have the potential to improve education for all students—including those from low-income families, those with disabilities and English learners.

There are many provisions in the new law that would qualify as trauma-informed, such as those to reduce over-testing and overuse of exclusionary discipline practices, as well as those that recognize the importance of early learning. There also are notable provisions that secure a specific foothold for trauma-informed practices.

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California high school health clinic asks students about their childhood trauma as a way to improve their health

AHSclinic

Elsie Allen High School student Anabel (l), and Erin Moilanen, school health clinic nurse practitioner (r) __________________________________

When students show up for an appointment at the Elsie Allen Health Center, which is located on the Elsie Allen High School campus in Santa Rosa, CA, one of the first things they do is answer questions about the trauma they’ve experienced during their lives.

That’s because research has shown a direct link between adverse childhood experiences — ACEs – and the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) — which has been replicated by 29 states — also show that ACEs create mental and physical health risks that continue to crop up over a person’s lifetime if not adequately addressed.

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A mother’s rage over her daughter’s high school sexual assault

Amomdaughter3

Woman embracing young girl, sculpture by Gustav Vigeland. Vigeland Museum, Oslo, Norway.

I recently viewed Lady Gaga’s new video, “Till It Happens to You”. I have stifled my rage for a number of years now, because it wasn’t my trauma and the healing process is about meeting someone where they are. But, I am a mother. It is my trauma. It is my rage. It is my guilt.

According to the White House’s web site, 1 is 2 Many: “Over 11% of high school girls report having been physically forced to have sexual intercourse.” Much focus has been on college students, and rightfully so. However, the epidemic of sexual assault is not confined to college campuses. The epidemic is in middle school, high school, college, and beyond.

In 2012, while living in Miami, FL, my oldest daughter — 15 years old at the time (her last name is different than mine, which I will not share) — went to spend the night at a friend’s house. I did not know she had other plans. She was invited to a party, which she attended instead. At the party she was given alcohol spiked with drugs. Apparently it was a gang initiation, and her blonde hair and blue eyes had made her a target. She was gang-raped and tattooed. Those words haunt me. I choke on them. I’ve been a practicing pacifist for a long time, but this rage made me question my core.

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Who helps our helpers? Vic Compher’s “Portraits of Professional Caregivers” documents their passion, pain

ACompher2Vic Compher, director and co-producer of Portraits of Professional Caregivers: Their Passion. Their Pain,” didn’t start out as a filmmaker. This documentary — his fourth — was inspired by his 20 years working in child protective services, and another 10 years working in hospice and clinical social work with older adults.

During that decade, he learned that many professional caregivers who work with traumatized people experience secondary trauma  — also known as compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma. This includes firefighters, emergency medical crews, ER nurses, doctors, police, and others.

The first part of the documentary — which was co-produced by  Rodney Whittenberg, who teaches filmmaking, and who also composed the music for this film — focuses on secondary trauma, or what caregivers experience when they respond to and care for people experiencing trauma.

“Secondary trauma, or compassion fatigue, is one more layer of the trauma experience,” says Compher, “a parallel process for many professional caregivers with symptoms that at times can somewhat resemble what their clients may be experiencing.

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