As most of you know, anyone that comes out of an incarceration situation is going to have varying levels of PTSD. What I have found rarely mentioned is that the loved ones, wives, children, parents and friends can also be afflicted with PTSD. It is not for the war torn anymore, unfortunately. Due to the trauma of our legal system here in the United States, the collateral damage is real and touches everyone that a person tangled in the legal system is close to.
I am sure there are some who scoff and say “but the people left behind have not experienced anything traumatic, they didn’t go to jail, combat or experienced a crime against them” or have they? For those that have never experienced or witnessed a warrant being executed or an arrest right off the street as you walk out of work with thoughts of running errands on your mind, this might be hard to wrap their heads around. These experiences whether you are watching a loved one being carted away in cuffs or you are watching your own home and belongings being ransacked, just because you weren’t the target of law enforcement doesn’t necessarily make it non-traumatic for you.
For friends and loved ones of the spouses, children, and families, they could find it hard to relate to what you have experienced. Many times they are hung up on what the accused has been arrested for, if they’re guilty or innocent, and are more interested in whether a crime was committed and if the person is guilty than they are about the emotional state of their friend. They aren’t uncaring friends, likely they have no clue and depending on your experience you may not either, which only adds to the trauma and uncertainty that you’re already going through.
I was told once by an ex-probation officer flat out, that not only was my husband going to come out of prison with severe PTSD but I will experience it too. I scoffed at him, thinking to myself that I was a strong woman, I deal with traumatic events better than most and I will not have this issue, because of my ‘well developed coping skills’. That was my first misconception of how PTSD works, I assumed that I had the right kind of coping skills, in some ways I did better than many and in some ways I didn’t, what it taught me was that no one can escape it. You can mitigate it, you can slog through it, but avoiding it or not letting it happen is a dream that belongs in the land of unicorns and rainbows.
This same ex-probation officer also told me that likely I’d want to seek counseling and my husband and I would likely need counseling in order for our marriage to survive. So far, for the most part, I have proven this prediction wrong. We have found my husband benefits from individual sessions with a psychologist and I have been able to leverage my network of friends, co-workers and family for my own mental health well-being, since I have found that for me, what I needed most was a sounding board and someone to bounce my ideas and rationale off of.
The key here is to realize that you should talk to someone or that your loved one needs to talk to someone and then encourage that, make excuses for them to pursue it and support them as much as you can when they do find a therapist that they prefer. These first steps, finding the provider and making the appointment are usually the absolute hardest to do for someone suffering from PTSD. So this is where encouragement and support are most needed, be this a loved one or the target of law enforcement, regardless of conviction. Remember, just because someone has been arrested doesn’t make them auto-guilty, otherwise our legal system just a crazy version of Minority Report, which may not be all the far from the truth in some ways.
I battle with PTSD everyday, I would consider my case of it as mild with flares of panic and anxiety, especially when I compare it with my husband and those I know that were in the military. My husband however battles a different variety of PTSD than I do, which is more severe, to the point that at times, we have just stopped our shopping errands because the stores was just too overwhelming as it was so busy that day. One of my friends who served in Afghanistan has very severe PTSD on top of a TBI (traumatic brain injury) from an IED that severely hurt his friends and almost killed them all. He has trouble with all the same kinds of things. I personally believe that most of us suffer from varying levels of PTSD, life in general is traumatic, most of which have been labeled other things for an umbrella that large will lose its meaning. Since after any traumatic event this can present itself from the very mild where only triggers elicit a response to the severe where the mere thought of going to a place where there could be large numbers of people cause paralyzing anxiety.
Watching your loved one arrested, charged and/or convicted is traumatic. It causes financial hardships at home, due to loss of income. Not to mention if there are children involved, they now immediately lost one parent, creating an unstable home environment, perpetuating this cycle just a little bit more. Don’t be afraid to look for help, don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t forget that you likely have a network of loved ones that want to help, leverage it all.
Before my own personal experiences, I’ll admit I was not very empathetic of the incarcerated, their families, or those on supervision. I’ll blame some that on the lack of caliber of the people I have known in the past and most of it on my own blatant ignorance, yep I sat on the side of the fence that taut the same rhetoric today. Boy was I wrong. Since living through my own experiences, I have adopted a different perspective and realize that PTSD is real, it is not just for veteran soldiers that have seen combat, but for anyone that has experienced trauma or traumatic experiences in their life. That there are reasons that offenders coming out of prison always seem to end up right back where they started and it isn’t always ALL their own fault, they interact with with agents, law enforcement, the public when trying to find housing and work. They encounter a stigma like no other and that same stigma has been also known to apply to their families and loved ones. Some of them are self-inflicted by the offender, but there are a great many that are inflicted by the state under the guise of keeping the community safe. Which always begs the question, that if you cause the loss of a job that an offender had to struggle to get in the first place, how are you helping them rehabilitate and reintegrate into their communities? Threatening offenders continuously with jail also does little to help someone stay out of jail, for the anxiety it initiates doesn’t allow a person to think rationally. They use ‘positive reinforcement’ in every other aspect of our lives, from our children through adulthood, with how some employers reward their employees, and how we train our pets, yet we are unable to apply this same kind of philosophy to our offender population? With all the psychology degrees and social worker degrees within the probation and parole offices of this country, you’d think they’d know that by now. Except they don’t, otherwise they would have changed how they did business.
Our Legal System (since what goes on in it has nothing to do with Justice) needs remedial lessons on Civics and the Constitution, because they tend to forget that as young as our founding fathers were, they were far wiser and more accomplished in their own right than we are now, with our ruling body at least twice their age if not more when you look at the number of years some of those legislators have been in office. Their actions, laws, and lack of making changes when they realize something is truly broken, yet do nothing for it could damage their chance of winning at the next election, are what drive the actions and policies of law enforcement and the department of corrections that invade your home, possibly kill your pets and tell you they are keeping you safe all at the same time.
John Adams said it best…
“It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, ‘whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,’ and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.”
The American people have given up so many freedoms for the illusion of security. Our right to privacy is the big one and is being invaded constantly, I mean that in the most literal sense too. This certainly doesn’t help the PTSD. Our right to free speech has been systematically eroded over the last decade, most people don’t even care that their voices are being censored, they are apathetic or afraid for any number of legitimate reasons. So they let their rights slip away out of shame and fear. This was also something that was predicted over 200 years ago by those that composed the Declaration of Independence.
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
For we all must remember, during our Revolutionary War, there were three sides, since one side won, there is far less talk of the other two. The main group we all know about fought for freedom from British rule, they were considered domestic terrorists by today’s standards. The opposing group were all for keeping British rule and didn’t want become their own country they were more than happy with the status quo, which likely meant they were getting taxed the least or were benefiting from the tax of others. Then there was the third group, the most frustrating of them all, the apathetic. They could have cared less either way for various reasons, likely most of them being that for them, regardless of regime their lives would change little, we’ll call them the Middle Class, they were still going to end up paying taxes and taking care of themselves.
It is why it is so important that when we need help we seek it out, leverage it for all it’s worth and keep moving forward. PTSD can paralyze, but it too can be overcome with the right tools, just like everything else in life.