Getting a job

Hard Lessons Learned From My Internship Behind Bars

As a first year forensic psychology graduate student, I had a made-up mind to intern at my state’s only maximum security prison for female inmates.  I learned early on in life that squeaky wheels usually get greased, so with my own personal mantra in hand, I sought my internship by communicating directly with the prison’s warden, herself.  After several carefully timed emails, I received a response from the prison’s chaplain asking if I could meet with her the following day at 10 am in her office at the prison.

Being familiar with prison protocol was in my favor.  Those weekly twelve-step meetings gave me an upper hand on what I could and could not wear, as well as what I could bring inside with me.  Although I had never been incarcerated myself, I had something much more valuable in common with the female inmates.  I was there to give them hope.  If not all of them a little bit of hope, then at least one of them a lot of hope.  Hope came in real form:  me!  With my physical scars and a story for each one, I shared how my former life as a heroin addict had its one and only purpose, in my eyes, and that was to show other alcohol and drug-addicted women they do not have to live that way any more.

My desire to intern at this prison, I told the Chaplain, was to carry a message of hope two days a week in four group sessions.  I started the following week.  My hopes were high to help many, but reality proved otherwise.  My groups dwindled and participation lessened; however, I do know I helped change one inmate’s life.  I rallied on her behalf to the Department of Social Services, as well as her attorney for this particular inmate’s fight to keep her parental rights of her 3-year old son.  She won.  It was simple to me:  an inmate working hard to rehabilitate herself—which she was—does not need to lose her rights as a mother…leave those cases up to those inmates who have no desire to get better and believe me I encountered many of those during my internship.

At the end of my internship, I was exhausted mentally and emotionally.  My dreams of carrying hope almost turned me into a cynic.  It is sad but true. However, what I gained from this internship is perhaps my most important life lesson learned to this date—approach everything you seek with an open mind and let go of any expectations.

 

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Meredith Ten Eick

Meredith Ten Eick is embracing her second year as a graduate student in forensic psychology at Argosy University online division. She holds a BA in English from Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. She enjoys working with incarcerated women who struggle with substance abuse. She plans to continue her education with a professional goal combining research, writing, policy making, social services and substance abuse. She is married and the mother of a 15-year-old daughter.