Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

My name is Jamar Glenn, a 40-year-old father, son, sibling and activist in my community. 

I was incarcerated at 16 years old, and I served an 18½-year sentence for second degree murder. I was 36 years old when I was released from prison in February 2016.  

Serving a sentence that was longer than I had been alive really took a toll on my mental health and development. I never thought I had mental issues. Whatever emotions I had were quickly and deeply buried inside of me because of the prison culture.

I had to uphold an image. Although I wasn’t the biggest guy, I would allow my attitude and temper to compensate for what I lacked in size, which meant trouble across the board. I had over 50 major infractions in this time period.

To be totally honest, I was completely broken by the age of 14. I know now that I had been affected by what is now identified as adverse childhood experiences. This includes abuse, neglect, parental addiction, mental illness, divorce, and incarceration.

So all the abuse I had seen and experienced was still inside me, buried, overlooked, and untreated for 22 years. Why? Because I didn’t trust the system, their doctors, counselors, and correction officers.

I was afraid of their medications and being put on a medical hold, which could prevent me from transferring to institutions closer to my family. And — most importantly — could I really trust my most-personal information and feelings to the people I considered “the police?”

So in 2016, I was released back into the community, physically a 36-year-old man, but mentally a 22-year-old young adult. I looked good, and I felt great! But I was broken and hurt, wearing a mask to hide what was going on for fear of being labeled “institutionalized” or the “weirdo” who couldn’t cope in society. Both prevented me from seeking help. 

I still have mental issues deep inside, and no breathing exercises can help me mentally.

Unfortunately, I’m back in prison, but this time I’m aware of my issues, and I’m attacking them at the root. Through self-preservation, proper reading materials and the love and support of family and friends, I believe that this too shall pass.

I believe we need better mental health programs throughout the corrections department, and more felon-friendly mental health groups and institutions on the outside. If we can address childhood trauma in the earlier stages of life, we can prevent mass incarceration of the youth in our communities. 

Mental health is a serious issue for the formerly — and currently — incarcerated man, woman and child. Incarceration without the proper assistance cripples us.

I hope that me lighting this candle in this dark room shines light and brings awareness to some of the issues we still have to face from the inside out.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Jamar Glenn is a writer and activist incarcerated in Washington.