Prisoner Self-Help

tools for healing, changing, growing

My Journey of Change

By Trevor Tacey www.realchangesforlife.co.uk 

One of the main memories that I remember really well is lying in bed, and I might hear the pigeons cooing and even feel some sun on my face… I would stretch and slowly open my eyes and BANG! I suddenly realised where I was and this was the first day of another sentence and everything that went with along with that.

In my earlier sentences it didn’t cause me as much grief because I was just an angry junkie with a chip on my shoulder the size of a house who just saw prison as an occupational hazard! That’s just the way I felt about myself. It was a “dog eat dog” environment, and self-preservation was the order of the day. So all I had to do was get through the day, and that’s all that mattered. I had cut off any connection to Trevor pic with a falcon portrait.JPGmy outside world other than the odd mate that would come and visit me or my brother. So my self-preservation was not only the external environment of the prison but my internal environment. I had an ex-wife and two children and it had been an extremely painful split, so I refused to see them.

I could put on a front and behave as if nothing bothered me, but every night anger, guilt and shame would do a dance together until I could finally escape into sleep.

I didn’t think much about how what I was doing affected my family. I just thought “What I do only affects me, so what is the problem?”  That all came crashing down on that first sentence when my Dad died, and the priest came into my cell one night to tell me. After he left I just smashed the cell to bits I didn’t know what else to do with all these feelings that I had tried so hard to stuff down for so long! I was 22 years old and it was the first of many sentences.

The latter ones were more difficult because by then I had remarried and with three lovely children and here I was some thirty years later after the first sentence in the same place! Only now I had all the feelings when my young son or daughters would ask me on a visit “When are you coming home Daddy?” It was like a cut to my heart and I would also wonder if my wife would wait for me this time?

I could go on and on but the point is that not only did I not have any tools to help with these feelings, but because of that I would be acting out on that anger, sadness and frustration. So I would find myself in front of the Governor or down the block and losing remission.

If I had been able to find some help to calm these negative thoughts and emotions, like some of the self-help techniques on this website, it would have been a godsend to me in at those times. I would have tried anything for a little peace and some hope for the future. I thought my life would always be that way but it was a lie. Eventually, I learned about techniques like these, especially EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) in 2004. It is 2019 now and I have been in recovery for 22 years and not seen the inside of a cell for over 30 years.

I now work with other people drug and alcohol problems. I still have my wife and children around me and much more.

All you need to realise is that your thoughts and feelings will dictate your reactions and outcomes, so if you can learn to calm them in any way your life will become easier.

Trevor pic in the garden.JPGTrevor’s struggle with drugs started when he was 16 and lasted over 30 years, during which time he was in and out of prison. In 2004 he came across EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) which really helped his recovery and healing, and soon after that he trained in this therapeutic approach and started supporting other people struggling with addictions, which he continues doing to this day. Trevor’s website is www.realchangesforlife.co.uk

Prison “Postcode Lottery” for Women

Prison Reform Trust has published the figures from the analysis of court data, showing the disparity for imprisonment rates for women in different areas in England and Wales.

You can find further details here: http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/PressPolicy/News/vw/1/ItemID/651?platform=hootsuite

Funding for Mentoring Prisoners in Scotland

Scottish government will provide funding for prison leavers to get one-to-one mentoring, improving their chances of rehabilitation. £3.4 million have been allocated to fund four programmes in Scottish prisoners.

Support and guidance will be offered before and after the individual leaves prison, helping them be better prepared for the life on the outside. Some of the trained mentors employed by these projects have their own experience of imprisonment, which gives them a first-hand understanding of the challenges that prison leavers face.

Such schemes can make a big difference to those who have little support on the outside of the prison system, and can significantly reduce the risk of re-offending.

You can find further information on the BBC webpage here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-48058699?platform=hootsuite

Fear of Emotions

by Masha Bennett http://www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

Most of us are scared of our emotions. Some of them may seem unacceptable, wrong, even dangerous. We spend a lot of time and energy on suppressing these emotions, hiding them even from ourselves and definitely from other people.

It is not surprising that our emotional world can seem confusing, challenging, and sometimes threatening. Our parents could only teach us what they knew themselves – and many of our parents and grandparents had also learnt to be scared and ashamed of their feelings. Knowingly, and most often unknowingly, they pass this learning onto us. They cannot give what they have not got. And we will pass this fear and shame around emotions to our children, unless we heal, unless we learn otherwise.

The truth is that every emotion has a function, a useful purpose in our mind/body system. Emotions give us vital information on what is happening in our world, and how we need to act in response to it. It is just a signal from our body, from our nervous system. For example, running a high temperature means that there is inflammation in the body, and you need more rest to allow the immune system to fight it. When you are thirsty, your body is letting you know that you are getting de-hydrated. When you feel your bladder is full, it is a clear sign that it needs to be relieved. These are common and understandable signals from your body, that demand certain action.

When emotions arise, they also carry information, just like the physiological signals above. When we feel scared, it is a signal of a real or possible danger, which helps us to keep ourselves safe. The difficult bit is that often the danger can reside not in the present, but in the past – in our memories, flashbacks, dreams of the traumatic or frightening things, maybe from a long time ago. And sometimes the fear can be in the future – in our worries and thoughts about the things that could go wrong. In both cases, our nervous system may respond with fear and anxiety, as if the danger is current and real – even if it is long gone, or is just an idea of something that could happen in the future.

Oil painting - Crying for Mother Earth

When we feel sad, it usually indicates a loss of some kind. If the loss is significant (for example, loss of a person close to you, your home, your liberty), the body will actually need to adjust its physiology to adapt to the new situation or environment without that person, or a job. This can result in slowing down, loss of appetite, apathy, disturbed sleep, and other symptoms that are associated with grief and depression.

Anger is one of the most misunderstood and maligned emotions. In itself, there is nothing wrong with feeling angry. It is a signal to let you know that someone or something has crossed an important boundary, or that a value you hold dear has been infringed upon. Sometimes feeling the anger may feel overwhelming and frightening. Sometimes the way we act upon our anger can cause terrible consequences, where we may harm others or ourselves. However, the response to the emotion is not the emotion itself, and we can learn to understand and manage our anger in a way that is healing, protective and creative. After all, many projects and charities that have been set up to fight injustice, discrimination, cruelty, indifference, are likely to have started off as someone’s anger, as rightful indignation about some wrong in the world.Oil Painting - Oya Goddess of the Storm

When we cannot fully feel, understand and accept our emotions, they tend to come out anyway, often in unexpected and damaging ways, no matter how much we learn to suppress them. These emotions may come out as explosive outbursts, or as panic attacks. They may show themselves as physical symptoms, or depressed mood. We may feel unbearable shame about having those “unacceptable” feelings, and shame itself acts as a “wet blanket” and stops us from feeling, connecting with people, and taking the right actions.

This short video explain how to notice and name the emotion you are experiencing, and how it may be helpful.

To conclude, here is a poem from the 13th century Persian poet Rumi, The Guest House.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(Translated by Coleman Barks)

The two paintings are by Masha Bennett – Crying for Mother Earth, and Oya, Goddess of the Storm

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Your Mental Health in Prison

The Mental Health Foundation have published a helpful free guide to looking after your mental health in prison,

It offers some tips on self-care and basic information on how you can improve your wellbeing even in the difficult circumstances of being in jail.

The guide can be downloaded from the following page on the MHF website: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-look-after-your-mental-health-prison

 

Self Holding Exercises

By Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk 

These simple techniques can help with calming, relaxation, managing anxiety, and reducing overwhelm, interrupting the Fight-Flight-Freeze response. Most of these exercises have been developed by Peter Levine, the creator of Somatic Experiencing, which is a type of body psychotherapy. These are usually done whilst sitting, but you can also try them lying down or even standing up.

Version 1.

Put your right hand under the armpit of your left arm, and the left hand over the right upper arm. Hold your hands there gently, for a couple of minutes. Be aware of the sense of touch, the warmth (or coolness) and the weight of your hands. You may notice some relaxation and calming, or sometimes you might not – both are ok.

Version 2.

Put one hand on your chest/heart area, and one hand on your forehead. Hold your hands there gently, without putting pressure on, for a couple of minutes. Then, move the hand that is on your forehead to your stomach, with the other hand remaining on your heart area. Hold your hands there gently, without putting pressure on, for a couple of minutes. Just be aware of the warmth (or coolness) and the weight of your hands.

Version 3.

Put both of your hands over the centre of your chest. Hold your hands there gently for a couple of minutes. Just be aware of the warmth (or coolness) and the weight of your hands.

Version 4.

Put one hand on your forehead, and one on the back of your head, with your thumb resting at the base of your skull. Hold your hands there gently, without putting pressure on, for a couple of minutes. Just be aware of the sensation of your hands, the temperature and the weight of them. It can be a bit tiring to hold your arms up to do this exercise for more than a minute or so, and some people prefer to do this whilst lying down. If you have a friend whom you trust, you can ask them to hold your forehead and back of your head like this for a couple of minutes, which can be very relaxing.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

The Butterfly Hug

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing) is a complex and powerful therapy that is used to treat Post Traumatic Stress, anxiety and some other mental health issues. Unfortunately it can only be safely used by specially trained mental health professionals and at the moment is rarely available in prisons. However, the so-called Butterfly Hug is one small tool in EMDR toolbox that can safely be used by anyone (even children) for self-help. You can try the Butterfly Hug to soothe yourself when you feel anxious, uncertain or fearful. Similarly to the full EMDR procedure, this tool employs bi-lateral stimulation, i.e. stimulation of the two sides of our brain, which is thought to help process trauma and calm anxious feelings.

This is how to do the Butterfly Hug. Whilst sitting up with your back straight, cross your arms across your chest, as if you are giving yourself a hug, with your right hand resting on your left upper arm, and your left hand on your right upper arm. (It doesn’t matter which arm is on top.) Observe any feelings of anxiety, fear or upset in yourself, and tap your hands on your arms alternately – left, right, left, right – at whatever speed is comfortable for you.

After tapping for a minute or two, stop and take a deep breath. Notice how you are feeling – are you a little calmer, somewhat relaxed, a bit more comfortable? Just notice whatever feelings or sensations you are experiencing, and continue tapping until you feel as calm as you would like to be.

Picture for Facebook Blue Butterfly

Butterfly is an ancient symbol of transformation

If you don’t notice any change, try tapping for a little bit longer and you may feel it then. You can do the Butterfly Hug for as long as you like, and as many times a day as you like. You can do it on your own, together with a friend or with a group of people.

This method was created by EMDR therapists who worked with children in the aftermath a natural disaster in Mexico City in 1998.

The Butterfly Hug is a useful tool but it will not work for everyone every time. If for any reason you begin to feel worse, please stop tapping and try calming yourself down by using any other methods that are available to you.

Another simple way to do bi-lateral stimulation (which should have a similar effect to the Butterfly Hug) is to pass a small ball or even a pebble from one hand to another repeatedly – it appears that almost any type of repeated left-right stimulation of our body is likely to have a balancing and soothing effect.

Here is a short video demonstrating the Butterfly Hug.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Useful links and references

EMDR Association UK & Ireland

EMDR Europe

EMDR International Association

Nancy Napier’s website

Yogic Eye Exercises

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

This is a simple exercise for relaxation, relieving tension in the eye muscles and to help improve sleep.

It can initially feel a bit strange and tiring for the eye muscles, as we are not accustomed to using our eyes in this way. These exercise are said to be used by yogi, but you don’t have to know anything about yoga to benefit from them.

Important note: if you suffer from cataracts or other eye problems it may be better to avoid these exercises or consult with a medical professional before trying them.

eye

When doing these eye exercises:

*Keep your head straight and do not move it, only moving the eyes.

*Close and relax your eyes for about 30 seconds between the exercises.

*If you normally wear contact lenses, it’s better to take them off for these exercises.

1.Keep your head still and look ahead. Look up and down, floor to ceiling, 10-15 times. Close your eyes and rest for half a minute.

2. Look left and right moving your eyes sideways as far as you can 10-15 times. Close your eyes and rest again for half a minute.

3. Move the eyes diagonally as far as possible 10-15 times one way, rest, then move them 10-15 times the other way, rest.

4. Move the eyes in a 180 degree upwards arc (like a rainbow) 10-15 times. Rest.

5. Finally, move the eyes in a 180 degree downwards arc (upside down rainbow) 10-15 times. Rest.

If you feel a bit dizzy or uncomfortable at any point during these exercises, just stop, close your eyes and allow them to rest for longer.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Innocent man re-building his life after 20 years in jail

Frankie Carillo was falsely convicted of murder when he was just 16. Twenty years later, the eyewitnesses admitted that they had lied. Now Frankie is making a new life for himself, has become a student and is beginning to develop a relationship with his son who was just a baby when his father was wrongly convicted.

See a video of Frankie talking about re-building his life on the BBC website.

 

 

Stepping Back from Negative Thoughts

by Andy Hunt www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

We do lots of thinking every day. Our thoughts come and go constantly from the moment we awake until the moment we fall asleep.

Depressed

Each of these thoughts has an effect on us. Many thoughts trigger emotional states in us for good or ill

Thoughts like this probably make us feel good:

  • “I think this is a great song”
  • “That chocolate cake looks good”
  • “I love you too sweetie”
  • “I’ve done well at…”

Thoughts like these probably make us feel bad:

  • “She makes me so angry”
  • “How could I be so stupid”
  • “I am so fat!”
  • “I am a failure”

Sometimes we are stuck to our ideas of ourselves and what is going on. If these ideas or thoughts are unhelpful this identification with them can be very stressful because we believe that what we are thinking is true. The thought triggers an emotional response whether it is appropriate or not. Our mistake is that we forget that the thought is just a thought about something, not the something itself. It’s as if we see a sign saying “Beware of the bull” and become afraid even though the field is quite empty.

A common response to having negative thoughts can be to try to add positive thoughts to the mix as an attempt to counteract or attack those negative thoughts.

This is like putting another gladiator in the ring and expecting the fighting to stop.

What we don’t do, or can’t do, is step out of the mental arena and let the thoughts go.

Fortunately, there are ways to ease the power of these thoughts by stepping away from them. One way of doing just that can be found in the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. It is one of several, simple techniques that you can use to step out of unhelpful thinking patterns.

The process is simplicity itself. Let’s imagine that you have the thought “I’m no good” going around in your head. When you have this thought it provokes a very stressful and debilitating reaction.

First I would ask you to think the thought: “I am no good” then notice what effect that has on you.

Second I would ask you to think the thought: “I am having the thought that I am no good” then notice what happens when you do that.

Third I would ask you to think the thought: “I am noticing that I am having the thought that I am no good”, then notice what happens when you do that.

When they do this, people usually report that this technique puts the original thought “at a distance” to them, and that they are less troubled by it.

Instructions

1. Choose a thought that stresses you.

2. Think that thought and notice what it does to you

3. Then think “I am having the thought [insert the thought here]

4. Then think “I am noticing that I am having the thought [insert the thought here]”

This is a really simple process for taking the charge out of negative thinking.

The only challenge is remembering to use it. Here are two approaches that might help:

1. When ever you have an unhelpful thought make a note of it in a journal or piece of paper. At some convenient time of the day, review your notes using the technique for each thought that causes you trouble.

2. When ever you are in difficult or stressful situations ask yourself the question “What am I thinking now?” and make a note of your answers, treating each one with the process.

Image courtesy of Sander van der Wel

Andy Hunt is a therapist, advanced practitioner and trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and master practitioner and trainer of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). His website is www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

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