I don't want this blog to become a continual whine about inmate conditions or the difficulties of a long-distance relationship with all the extra restrictions we face. However, at the moment my husband is in the middle of another episode of depression and it is increasingly frustrating that TDCJ provides no access to counselling that does not include religion or prescription medication.
When I hear and see others talk of how their son/brother/father/friend/fiance/husband has been to see their counsellor in whatever prison they are in, it makes me wonder why TDCJ does not have the same approach. But then, I wonder about TDCJ a lot still, even after almost 7 years of dealing with it.
Ray is in prison because of his actions while abusing substances. He made the decision once sober and in jail that he would not turn to substances (prescribed or otherwise) again when his depression returned. For someone who had been self-medicating for over 30 years, this was a big step and I am proud of him for his decision and for his determination to not fail. But this means he is extremely reluctant to take any medication that TDCJ might offer to help him cope with his depression. The alternative is to visit one of the TDCJ psychiatrists or psychologists (I am not able to verify which they actually are) to "talk", but the 2 times Ray has tried while at his current unit he has not had a good connection with the medical staff and now does not want to repeat the process. You can't open up to someone if you don't feel comfortable with them.
Other states in the US have various methods of helping inmates cope with the mental effects of being incarcerated. Some allow inmates more recreation time outside of the housing buildings. Some allow outside groups and charities to go into the prisons and offer classes in art, music, drama, and in Maryland there is a group "Knitting Behind Bars" where inmates are encouraged to knit dolls that are then given to abused and neglected children in the local community.
A small number of states allow extended, family visits (often known as conjugal visits). These are not just about sex and I think it says more about the people who think that is their purpose than it does about the States who permit them. Being able to spend a few hours away from the threats that are always present while in the exercise yard or housing unit or chow hall is an extremely good way of "medicating" a mind. Being able to play with their children in a family atmosphere and not a correctional atmosphere is important to maintain the relationships between inmates and their families.
More importantly, for us if we had access to these visits, it gives the inmate an opportunity to talk frankly about their emotions and fears, and cry if that is the outcome, without losing face in front of other inmates or guards. Inmates cannot cry in the visitation room, or down the phone line in the day room. Putting these things in a letter is not the same - especially when there is a delay of around 3 weeks before you get the response.
If we had access to these visits, I am certain that Ray would not have as many episodes of depression. If we had access to phone calls, that would help to a lessor extent, but we don't because TDCJ only permits calls within the US.
Many in corrections see things through a filter of not making life too easy for the inmate. This is understandable, as they have security to consider and the safety of their staff. Many inmates are not at all nice to be around - and please don't think that I am one of those European women who think the majority of US inmates are innocent or victimised and suffer harsh confinement conditions, because I'm not. But I do think that those responsible for corrections policy need to retain some consideration for the families of inmates and the stress that this kind of relationship and situation can place on them.
I support my husband in every way. Many other women do the same - working, taking care of their kids and parents and studying as well as writing, visiting and supporting their incarcerated loved ones. Most of us doing this see the bigger picture: if we withdraw that support, then the inmate is likely to become more reckless towards their own and other's safety, and is likely to be antisocial upon release (at least 75% of all inmates are released eventually). We are doing everyone else a service by trying to maintain a sense of connection with out loved ones. Sometimes, it would be good if those in charge of corrections policy would recognise that and give us a little support in return.