Mental Illness Among Prisoners

Jewel Deane Suddath   -  
You might be surprised at the number of persons with mental illness who live in prisons. Statistics reveal that 37% of incarcerated persons have a history of mental health problems, and up to two million persons with mental illness enter jails or prisons yearly. The data is appalling; however, my article does not intend to tackle the wisdom or benefits of such incarcerations. That is beyond my pay grade. Instead, I hope to share ways church members can be a blessing to some of God’s children that live with mental illness.
My grandson has an IQ of 64. I will omit details of the many attempts to deal with his behavioral issues and begin with his incarceration at age 21 on a breaking and entering charge. Currently, he is age 27. His prison term has been prolonged numerous times when he assaulted guards or fellow prisoners.
Let me share an incident during a White Memorial Circle Meeting in October 2023. Perhaps it will allow us to see ways we can help such prisoners. Circle members were discussing Jesus’ encounter with the Gerasene man said to be afflicted with demons. (Luke 8:26-39.) I was participating from my home via Zoom. We discussed ways our society has approached mental illness in the past and the present. Our leader asked for ways we might get personally involved and help such people. Dead silence resulted.
Then my home telephone rang, and I hurried to answer the call. It was my grandson making his weekly call to us. I explained that I was in a church meeting and asked if he could call back in an hour.
When I returned to the Circle discussion, the leader was still trying to get replies to her question. I told what had happened and shared what my husband and I do for my grandson. Writing letters, sending appropriate devotions and scriptures from The Upper Room, sending snack packages, and listening to his problems – these are a few ways we show him love, respect, and kindness. A Circle member suggested that members of our group could write letters to my grandson, too. I emailed them his address and they wrote to him.
Surely, that telephone call was God’s way of letting the Circle members know they could support a person who lives with mental illness and is incarcerated. Wisdom we gleaned from the incident can be a help to anyone in our church who wants to assist such persons whether they live in a prison cell, reside in our neighborhood, sit near us on a pew in church, or seek food in a downtown soup kitchen.
Who knows what blessings might result?