The connection between trauma and incarceration runs deep.
ILLUSTRATION BY KEITH BISHOP/GETTY IMAGES
To read more of Allen Arthur's article, please click here.
Shawanna Vaughn fights prisons with equal amounts of forgiveness and fury. The forgiveness she offers is one that she hopes everyone will embrace — one that sees people who have committed harm as wounded, not evil, and that can become the basis for prioritizing healing over punishment.
She even extends forgiveness to the man who killed her brother.
Through her small nonprofit Silent Cry, Vaughn battles that system — one often unwelcoming or even hostile to ideas of forgiveness — to change it radically. While education, housing, and employment have long made up the pillars of reentry, Vaughn is among a growing movement of formerly incarcerated people who see this list as incomplete.
“If we don’t deal with the mental health aspect of it, what good is [having a] job?” says Mannie Thomas, co-executive director and director of programming for the transformative justice organization Success Stories, and previously incarcerated himself. “[We’re talking about] dealing with the root problem so that I can maintain the job, so that I can maintain healthy relationships, so that I can be part of the community.”
The connection between trauma and incarceration runs deep. A 2016 study found that people reporting four or more traumatic experiences were five times more likely to be incarcerated than those reporting none. Around 30-60% of incarcerated men exhibit PTSD symptoms, and a 2020 Urban Institute study found the same for more than 50% of women. The harm, perpetuated both by other incarcerated people and staff, only continues inside prison walls.
“Nothing about [prison] is rehabilitative,” Vaughn says. “It is human carnage. You might go there whole, and you come out fractured and broken.”