I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “out of sight, out of mind.” Whether it’s a long-distance couple or friends that drift apart, humans are forgetful of things that are not right in front of us.

What if there was something we Americans needed to be reminded of collectedly, something hidden from us that will only get worse if we continue to overlook it? In 2004, studies suggested that around 320,000 inmates in America were mentally ill. After that, The Great Recession hit and states cut public mental health spending by 4.35 billion.

Hillary Clinton said:

“The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population.”

Photo by izhar khan

Sure, there are plenty of easy targets to blame. Ronald Reagan passed the Omnibus Reconciliation act of 1981, which enabled the federal government to stop providing services to those with a mental illness. There was also the movement in the 1950’s that pushed “for deinstitutionalization.” What about Bill Clinton’s welfare reform that required welfare recipients to participate in work-related programs? While it seemed like a bright idea, the mentally and physically disabled fell through the cracks, along with many others. We could make it a party issue, blaming republicans or democrats. But is it really that easy? No. And how does placing blame help us fix the problem?

Heard, if Not Seen

It’s no secret that America needs mental health reform. But how? And where do we start? Thanks to Doran Larson, America’s prisoners now have a way to at least be heard, if not seen with the creation of the American Prison Writing Archive (APWA). The APWA is “an open-source archive of essays by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, as well as correctional officers and staffers.”

In an essay called “Being Mentally Ill in Prison and Not Knowing What is Going On,” Kemp-Horton, an inmate in Arizona, discusses a prisoner a few cells down from him who smeared feces all over himself and his cell. This cell was only cleaned “once a week,” and the prisoner was forced to eat in this state. After a year, the guards beat the prisoner up who had “no clue what [was] going on.”

mental illness and jail time
Photo by RODNAE Productions

This is only one account of so many that are now available to be read by the public. The more America’s prisoners stories are heard, the more they stay in the forefront of our minds. We must keep reading and sharing these stories, pushing ourselves and those around us to push for change.

To get started, here are six things you can do right now:

About The Author:

Josie Thornhill is a freelance writer and forever student. She is probably having a panic attack in a fast food restaurant or doing yoga with a cigarette between her teeth. She is working on her first novel. You can learn more about her at her website.

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