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Homecoming & PTSD

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

Email from KC Walpole of Gateless Gate in Florida (reprinted with his permission):


Hope everyone is well. bear with me as this is nothing more than a rambling. I am just exploring a thought and want to see if it has any validity.

Yesterday I spent the day at Lowell CI teaching Zen in the morning at the Annex and the afternoon at the Main. For who knows what reason, on the way back I was playing with the statistic that I had heard at a re-entry coalition that it took on the average of a year for people getting out of prison to emotionally leave prison.

When I got back, there were three letters waiting for me. The one in particular was from a middle age women who is headed here in May/June. She pointed out that she was terrified of coming here because she felt she would not be accepted. Then there was another from a young lady who has been practicing with me for 6 or so years and has another 6 or so years to do. There was another middle age woman sitting at the main yesterday afternoon that had indirectly voiced a concern about being accepted.

When I got back, I made a short list of 12 ex-offenders that I had the opportunity to watch closely in the 2 to 6 years after they got out of prison. This includes both men and women and covers inmates that had been in prison or jail for violent and non-violent crimes as well as first timers and repeat offenders. Then I looked at ages, education, family support and etc. all of this was in a stubby pencil form on a sheet of paper.

The only commonality they share is that to one degree or another they share or shared a practice of Zen or meditation. The second commonality is that for whatever the reason they have kept in contact with me. For the most part, their patterns of contact are similar but it seems to me that they have kept me informed of all the normal benchmarks of life (babies, marriages, deaths, family status etc.)

In every case, there was a major emotional crises at the one to three year mark. In a weird way I could relate to it after I came back from Vietnam and again after I retired from the service. The initial transition of theirs and mine for that matter was marked by feeling that I had to prove myself as a good person.

My sense is if they don’t get the recognition deserved or felt it was deserved there was a major emotional crises. I think I am ready to state that if you are coming out of a jail or prison where you have lived for maybe a year or more then this is in your future and something needs to be done to organize and prepare for it.

Think in terms of the first crisis being the radical change in living conditions where you are packed like sardines in a sea of emotional chaos organized by a dysfunctional system, where you are in a hyper-state of arousal and for the most part under the 24 hour supervision of a work force (ed: not schooled in ’emotional intelligence’). This in no way includes the guilt and shame that is instilled either directly or indirectly. Then there is the total dependence on those that support you directly with commissary money, phone call permission or outside tasking. They too have an agenda be it benign or self serving that is not always in the best interest of the person being supported.

Most likely there are a lot more dynamics but that comes of the top of my head. What I have not heard or seen covered in the literature is any mention of this problem. If it has been covered then please point it out to me. For the last year, I have been working on designing a transition program built upon the premise everyone has taken what I call MBSR level one as designed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Up to this point it has been a collaborative effort between the inmates and myself to determine what we will discuss and cover.

I am on the second class and with each group I am amazed at what I learn because what I thought they needed or wanted is not always in sync with their concerns. Make no mistake it has been an exploratory event for both of us and fortunately there are have been repeat offenders in both groups to temper us with a dose of reality.

Been working with the Gainesville VA on PTSD and relationship workshops and what I have seen emerging is a tremendous world of similarities between men and women coming out of combat zones and men and women coming out of prison. For that reason, I have enclosed the most recent study guide from the transition course I have been working on. The forward and intro serve as an executive summary and that info does not need to be repeated here.

I guess my question to y’all is do we need to pursue this topic and if so what is the best venue where we can develop a meaningful product that will best serve the population we serve. Sorry about putting this on the table on Sunday morning but it has to get out of my brain. Know I wish each and every one of you well. do good and take care. KC Walpole

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