Trauma and the Criminal Justice System – My Experience
“On May 9, 1991, I entered the judicial system as an 18-year-old man-child from South East Washington, D.C . 1991 was one of the more volatile years in what was called the crack-era. As a young man, I was trapped in an environment where, before my young mind could recover from one traumatic experience, I was faced with another. I began losing playmates at 15-years-old. My homie Boo got shot by an adult in the backs of his legs, his back, and then point blank in the back of his head. The head shot left his mouth twisted. Forget about broken homes, this intergenerational drama broke a community. To survive I had to become hyper-vigilant towards anyone or anything that could prevent me from making it home each night so that my family could still their worries.
Rabb works as Preset’s Reentry and Outreach Educator. Photo: Rabb
On that day in 1991, I was falsely accused of murder. Despite my plea of innocence, at 18-years-old, I was ushered into the adult system and sentenced to 26 years to life. To my amazement, I encountered waves of people who had obviously shared most of my traumatic life experiences in prison. This helped me to conceptualize my initial overwhelming feeling of woe. Therapy came by way of my shared experiences in prison with other vetted prisoners. Each of my experiences with prison psychologists was very distrustful. They treated me as my prison jacket instead of me. I also found myself associating their help with the unnecessary administration of compliance inducing drugs. It was always traumatic to have to see them, which was usually during intake. On the intake form there is an emphasis on suicide. Being trapped within a system that seemed so expectant of trauma is still traumatic for me. The safe spaces for me were through the mutual discovery and support that many were experiencing much worse than me which helped strengthen my resolve. In a concentrated sea of despair, I no longer felt hopelessness approaching it – it lived with us. I found a way to dilute my trauma through sharing in others’ stories. After discovering rather quickly that many people were illiterate, I found an opportunity to connect. I read motions, legal mail, and letters from loved ones with my guys. This mutual sharing bonded us. Writing and reading is still the way I deal with my trauma.” - Contributed by Yusef Rabb from Washington, D.C. where he works as a consultant and educator with multiple re-entry programs.
Rabb graduates from the Pivot program after his release from prison. He stands between Alyssa Lovegrove, academic director of the Pivot Program and the managing director Josh Miller. Photo: Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business
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Update: The Justice department announced at the beginning of this month that it will begin an investigation into Mississippi state prison conditions after an upswing in deaths. [Washington Post]
What’s Next: The state started transferring inmates out of infamously violent Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman to a for-profit facility, Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility this past week. [The Hill]
More: Even guards aren’t safe as staffing drops to all time lows while the Mississippi population grows behind bars. [The Marshall Project]
Prison abroad: A prison in China found 200 inmates tested positive for Corona Virus and seven guards after a guard showed signs in early Feb., read more for details of infections in the country’s other prisons. [South China Morning Post]
See inside: Thiago Dezan takes viewers on a visual journey, “Stripped of Basic Human Dignity”, into El Salvador’s prisons. [Washington Post]
Listen to reform: What would a world without prisons look like? This audio journey’s into the future of prison abolition. [The New Yorker Radio Hour]
Change? Over four years after the Justice Department settled with L.A. County’s jail system, mental health for inmates is still inadequate. [Witness L.A.]
Watch: Inmate accused of faking medical symptoms, dies of Leukemia days later, according to new report. [KIRO 7]
Leaked: Billy Smith died years ago in prison, this week a leaked report detailed alleged horrific abuse by guards before his death. [Injustice Watch]
Study: This research digs into how lawmakers are reacting to fentanyl crisis with punitive measures that rely on punishment in justice system. [Drug Policy Analysis]
“Since 2011, 45 states have proposed legislation to increase penalties for fentanyl while 39 states and Washington, D.C. have passed or enacted such legislation.”
The Des drops into your inbox every Sunday with a collection of small and digestible snippets concerning the criminal justice system. It promises to be humanizing, spunky, and educational.
Our name: Des is short for Desmoterion, “place of chains”, used to describe prisons in ancient Athens. We like the idea of the chains because incarceration expands far beyond prisons to laws, policies, belief systems, and private industry.