Valley Life for All: Incarcerated with a traumatic brain injury
Valley Life for All
Editor’s note: The Vail Daily, in conjunction with Valley Life For All, continues a monthly series of profiles to increase awareness of the value of people of all abilities.This is the second installation of a two-part series on people with brain injuries.
Imagine telling a judge that you have no recollection of doing anything wrong, but still find yourself behind bars.
This may sound like an excuse, but people with brain injuries often do not recall what they’ve done or even that it’s criminal, yet end up incarcerated.
“A lot of the incarcerated have had a brain injury, so it can be very frustrating for the judicial system to understand what (people with traumatic brain injury) are going through,” says Audrey McNeely, a navigator and advisor at the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado. “For those with brain injuries to say to a judge, ‘I can’t remember,’ doesn’t seem adequate, and it’s not met with understanding. There’s a big challenge then in the legal system.”
Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado — which offers therapy, support groups, skills-building and other resources for those with a traumatic brain injury, or TBI — is available to judicial systems, but McNeely emphasizes that the organization cannot diagnose nor give legal representation for the incarcerated with TBI.
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“We can educate the lawyers, courts, judges and detention centers, but they have to reach out to us. We are very open to offering them information and professional training to better understand TBIs within the incarcerated population. The more educated we are, the better off they are,” McNeely said.
Behavioral health therapists also work within the judicial system, like Anna Sage, who works in the Garfield County jail. She is a jail-based behavioral services case manager and mental health professional who also does work for Correctional Health Partners. Her caseload includes two incarcerated clients with traumatic brain injuries.
Sage helps those incarcerated with traumatic brain injuries with resources, therapy and coping skills. The most frequent mental issues she sees are anxiety, depression and confusion.
“People with TBI don’t remember things well. I also see a lot of anger issues because they process things differently,” says Sage, explaining why some may find themselves in jail. “They need someone who is patient and will repeat information for them. Sometimes, I just listen to them and let them vent; it helps them process their feelings, especially if they’re not expecting to be incarcerated. They may not even understand the charges against them.”
Like McNeely, Sage believes education is key: The better educated people are, the better chance the TBI incarcerated have of being understood by the judicial system and the general population.
“It’s not something people talk about, they’d rather sweep it under the rug — if we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist,” Sage says is a common response to people with traumatic brain injuries.
Yet, there are blessings working with the TBI incarcerated, she says. “I remember a recent experience when a client was able to finally calm down and think a little better. Or I will get a little smile back, a little thank you, and that’s really welcoming, that’s where I see what I’m doing is working.”
For more information about training and education on traumatic brain injuries within the judicial system, contact Liam Donevan at 303-562-3298. For Correctional Health Partners, contact 866-932-7185.
Local nonprofit Valley Life for All is working to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute. Find us at http://www.valleylifeforall.org or on Facebook.