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Blindspots: Unexpected Findings from Jail Trauma Research

The immediate and then compound ripple effects that come from just an arrest process, then a jailing process are serious and last a lifetime. All this happens before a court is even involved or a person is charged with a crime.

Blindspots: Unexpected Findings of Jail Trauma Research Study

Blindspots: Unexpected Findings from Jail Trauma Research

The immediate and then compound ripple effects that come from just an arrest process, then a jailing process are serious and last a lifetime. All this happens before a court is even involved or a person is charged with a crime.

This chart is a reflective diagram that Joy Gilfilen produced after deep many-hour long interviews with 79 people who have been involved with the Whatcom County Jail and Justice System. She interviewed 53 people who had been arrested and jailed previously. They were folks who had worked with her in reentry processes and were willing to open up emotionally (it is traumatizing to talk about – even second hand). They did it to help others, and help the system be reformed. The experience of finding out the depth of the trauma on people, caused Joy to interview 26 other people who were involved to seek confirmation of the impacts. She found out that there were hidden, secondary, and many layered psychological impacts and side-effects that lasted their lifetimes.

Joy interviewed loved ones, employers, 1st Responders, prosecutors and defenders, court, law enforcement, and emergency room staff who were involved. “These charts are rough to read, and raw. For we are not talking about the long term impacts on a person and their families. These charts are only about what happens in the first 24-72 hours after a crisis precipitated an arrest,” says Joy. “It was shocking to find that people go through a kind of “split-brain” or “split reality” experience that jars the soul deeply – because it cuts the foundation of safety in our lives away at the roots.” Why? “In every case, people needed help. They did not need an arrest to make lives worse – massively worse. People were involved in an accident where someone was hurt. Or they got in an argument with a friend, or were having trouble with legal medications or were dealing with chemical addictions, or deep emotional distress from a divorce, firing or death of another. They were in trouble, and needed help, yet it turned into an arrest and the psychological impacts were jarring – almost like a tsunami that no one expected. “I was blindsided as an interviewer, for I had never read anything about this. No-one talks about this in the Task Force, or justice system conversations. That talk is all about the crime – what happens AFTER people are arrested and go to court. It is not about what happened BEFORE people are charged in court. We have a gap. By the time they get to court, they are non-functional and emotionally traumatized by the process and are told to “remain silent”. “I found that people experience such unspeakable deep grief – they can’t even talk about it. They are in an early stage of something I called Complex Post Traumatic Shock and cannot think straight. “This is at the base of the problem: A human being made an error in judgement of some kind. They are already emotionally vulnerable, scared and grieving. Then, rather than receiving any help, they are prejudiced against (pre-judged): betrayed by the alleged “protectors” they are handcuffed, isolated and punished, disregarded, dismissed, thrown into a kind of purgatory – a hostile, terrifying environment where there is NO SAFETY. Only judgement, blame, shame and condemnation.” These charts are not about what else happens to people after they go to court the first time. This is only about the initial psychological shock and emotional impact of what happens in the space between the crisis and court.

Whatcom County Jail Trauma Chart

Whatcom County Jail Trauma Chart

The red and black side is the Whatcom County Jail Trauma side of the chart that lists the RADD-RAT symptoms – “Radicalized Acute Distress Under Duress” and the escalating “Repetitive Accelerating Trauma” that people arrested go through in the first 24-72 hours. The mostly yellow and black side is what happens to everyone including the family, friends and others involved. This impact is the unseen, subliminal Unexpected Findings that lie silently in social circles, hidden behind the “shameful” story of the “criminal”. The dramatic loss of reputation, the escalating and uncontrollable costs, the emotional shock and the long-term psychological impacts of having freedom taken away and families thrown into investigations and examination where a whole new reality appears. Inmates and even families are shunned and can end up living inside a kind of “hostile emotional purgatory” that they cannot escape from or even talk about. They are “branded” and labelled as networks, friends and allies disappear – often with the first news reports. Most of us only scratch the surface of the alleged “crime” itself and the court responses. Joy continues, “Even after 10 years studying thousands of people and helping with reentry and recovery in the families, I was stunned when I discovered the hurt is so deep and so tumultuous to the psyche that no-one ever wants to talk about it again. That hurt is silenced and buried, but the ripple effects continue for lifetimes, even generations.”

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