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Mental & Physical Health

When it comes to prison, most people arriving to these institutions or who have a friend or family member on the inside often focus solely on potential violence in prison. Violence is an ever lurking malignant presence, but what is often overlooked is the mental and physic

al threat that exists in prisons.

Prisons are simply concentrations of people who often come with many different issues in their lives. The drug addict, thief, or violent criminal is of course expected but also there exists a large population in any prison with mental issues that are not known to the prisoner, but there are lots of mentally ill prisoners who do not even know they are mentally ill.

When we concentrate large amounts of stressful personalities in one building, tier or dorm, it often turns into a “pressure cooker” environment. But this is also harmful to one’s mental wellbeing, which can manifest in stress, depression, or suicide. One’s mental status often affects one’s physical health, so the two are interconnected.

When I think back to trouble I have gotten into in the past it’s usually linked back to where my head “was at” or where the other parties head “was at” at the time of the incident. Oftentimes, someone was in a crappy mood or lashed out in a way that triggered more negativity to the situation. So what this means – and I believe most who read this will agree – is that many times violence in prison does not appear spontaneously, rather it’s often linked to emotions.

Most prisons do not have classes to help prisoners deal with their anger or other emotions. Many times the sad truth is if we don’t find ways to treat ourselves, we may not get any treatment at all. Some ways that I have found effective are by checking out self-help books. Most prisons and libraries have many of these books on all aspects of emotions and addiction. The best way that I have found in applying what I have read or learned is to discuss some of this with my cellie or maybe out in the prison yard I would bring one of these concepts up to my workout partner. When I see someone in prison behaving in a certain way, I will usually say to whoever is around me “You know, I read about this in a book I’m reading, this behavior is called…” In order to learn, we must apply what we learn to the real world and in this way, we also teach others in the process.

Humor is an effective way to keep a sane and healthy mental wellbeing. I try to stay as happy as possible, watch the comedies and read the funnies. You’ll be surprised how many barriers can be overcome with a good joke. Like the adage goes, when all else fails, smile.

Keeping a mental wellbeing is one hurdle in getting through the rigors of prison life, but another aspect is one’s physical health. When I talk about physical health, I am not talking about dodging a bullet or a prison shiv – although that’s pretty smart. What I mean about health is being disease free or at least managing any health issues you may have.

Our health as prisoners deteriorates at a faster rate than the general public, mostly due to our stressful environment but also because of our crummy prison diet. Those who are “lucky” enough to have outside supporters or money on their books are able to consume a steady diet of high sodium (chips) and sugars and trans fats (candy bars and pastries) that, when coupled with no exercise and a stressful environment, can be devastating to one’s health. This results in diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart trouble, to name a few and ultimately shortens one’s lifespan.

Keeping up a healthy physical wellbeing, like keeping in a good mental wellbeing, will usually come about from initiative. The first thing we need to understand is that maintaining good physical health in prison will be hard work but if we are to reach our goal of being healthy then we can’t just talk the talk but we need to also walk the walk.

Exercise is a must, there is just no way around this one. But the idea of exercise should not scare anyone because exercise comes in many different forms. Of course, there is lifting weights and doing push-ups, but there is also walking, playing handball, and other sports that qualify as exercise. Your body needs you to move around and sweat in order to flush out your system and get your heart pumping. But exercise must be coupled with healthy eating in order to be truly effective.

Most have heard about how horrible prison food is long before they entered these dungeons, mostly from movies or other media that has long depicted the prison slop for all to see. Today, there may be in some cases food that appears to be good but much of what we eat is canned, processed and stripped of its nutrients. When we attempt to eat healthy or as healthy as possible we must first look at what our choices are. I try to stick with dry goods when I have money so I’ll buy things like rice, peanuts, beans, oatmeal, and any other healthy choices I can find. I stay away from junk food and I exercise six days a week. I take no medication and I’m disease free. As I get older, I understand I will have to adjust my workout accordingly but I do as my body tells me. I can no longer work out as I used to, but I stay drug free and drink lots of water. We could never eat as healthy as people out in society but we can modify our eating habits and the way we live in small ways, and we must if we want to be healthy.

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