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.