Many young adults struggling to address the effects of adverse or traumatic life experiences make unwise choices that lead to personal disintegration and encounters with the justice system. We see hopeful possibilities of healing, recovery and a new chance to make life meaningful and whole.
The United States incarcerates a larger percentage of its population than most other countries. On the surface the reason would seem to be that a larger percentage of our population engages in criminal activity (or perhaps that our laws are more stringent than those of other countries). We rarely ask why that is. Mostly, we may simply assume that people in the prison system are just bad people.
In fact, it quickly becomes obvious to those who engage with the men and women in our jails and prisons that no small number are there because their own life experiences have left them confused, wounded and unlikely to make better choices. Studies of incarcerated men, for example, report that up to 98 percent have had at least one lifetime traumatic experience and that many have experienced multiple traumas. Our work with inmates would confirm this.
Lifetime traumatic experiences (LTEs) broadly include such things as direct personal experiences of victimization, threat of serious injury or death, experiencing serious injury, learning of a serious injury or death occurring to a loved one, or personally witnessing an event that involves death or serious injury to another person. Many people who experience such things struggle with the adverse impact but do not turn to criminal activity. Those whose struggles are not so successful often turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of addressing their pain. Many of those are eventually arrested.
When we meet them in our work inside Pike County Correctional Facility, some will tell us of their childhood and adolescent experiences. It is not difficult to see why they landed in jail. Consequently, what we see convinces us that healing must be a component of their successful reintegration.