Them, Me, and PTSD… by Rory Andes
The first time I touched live ammunition, I was in seventh grade and it was on an outside basketball court at my junior high school. The first time I heard live gunshots fired in succession, it was during a drive-by in front of school where I had no idea of the target. I hid behind a parked bus and waited. I was a sophomore in high school. That was circa 1992. Twelve years later, I would be in Baghdad experiencing the devastation of combat that would invoke psychological trauma that was second only to the trauma of coming home.
The latter would become the origins of my prison sentence. I had a loving home as a kid, before the army, before the war in Iraq, before the homecoming. Although I grew up in a community in southern California that knew its share of crime, I didn’t develop PTSD from growing up. My parents were amazing and my family supportive. But I sure as shit developed it later. I promise you, I’m the lucky one. Others in prison learned hate, others were beaten, others were destroyed emotionally, all as part of their family legacy. All from day one. A lifetime of trauma and the stress disorders that comes with it…
In 2014, I sat in a conversation with a Hispanic man from Texas who spent his whole life in a gang family. He deeply respected my service and made sure I knew that about him. To this day, I think about how he shared powerful compliments. For him though, as a kid, he dealt drugs, got into gunfights, ran missions for family members in a Mexican cartel and spent his entire childhood worried about getting his ass kicked until he was responsible for doing the kicking. It was a childhood that would lead him to prison for life. Trauma in unbelievable measure. He wanted help for PTSD, but felt because he wasn’t a veteran, he wasn’t worthy of asking to be free of his demons. My heart broke. You don’t have to be a veteran to be damaged by violence and fear, but it was tough to convey that to him. His family, his homies, and his self beliefs all confirmed that help is for those that are worthy and he wasn’t. It’s a bullshit view, right?
This week, I ran into another man who expressed his PTSD and he explained how he’s not worthy either. Fear, anxiety, anger, rage, depression, and suicidal ideation are this man’s normal range of emotion. He grew up as a white supremacist under the discipline and instruction of a grandfather who was in the Ku Klux Klan. He was beaten to toughen up and at the age of thirteen, he discharged his first firearm with intent to kill. He missed and the black kid he shot at, shot back. While he wasn’t wounded, the fear of death still sits poorly with him. He was beaten harder for being “a failure for not doing his family duty” per his grandpa’s instruction. A failure! He cried as he told me how much he hates his family for the ways they believe. He’s forty five now and knows he could use help, but “that kind of help is only for veterans. They earned it.” He did, too. He earned it through being born into a hellish life.
I don’t know if the average citizen sees what trauma leads to here. Trauma creates more mental illness in prison, years after convictions. There are more trauma victims in prison than I could ever explain and many victimizers have endured a lifetime of unmanaged pain. They are long standing victims from long lives of trauma. It’s a deep cycle that is too often disregarded as simply, “criminal behavior”.
Here’s my experience of how prisons deal with trauma… When I first came to prison, I tried to address my combat related issues, but the psychologist said that the department “doesn’t deal with PTSD. But if you agree that you’re a threat to yourself or others, we can deal with that.” Was he fucking serious? Agreeing to that gets a guy put in the hole for a crime not committed, as a matter of security. No thanks. I’ll spend the next decade or so sleepless with anxiety and depression, until the VA can help after release. I figure that’s not nearly as bad as spending an entire lifetime in the trauma of a terrible family legacy. One with no hope. One without help.
PTSD is real in prison and everyone deserves the opportunity to heal. But I, like my incarcerated brothers and sisters, am not worthy anymore either, at least not for now, because we’re confined for carrying the felony conviction. Please recognize their damages and don’t throw these people away for their traumas. They do that enough to themselves…
by Rory Andes
Everything you read here is written by a human surviving some trauma….
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