Mental health groups help inmates set goals

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton A gratitude card from inmates at the Warren County Jail has been just one outgrowth of mental health groups that mental health specialist Kari Swanson has started in the facility.

Jail might not be the first place you would look to find some positivity.

But some targeted mental health services are fostering just that for a couple groups of inmates at the Warren County Jail.

Kari Swanson, the jail’s mental health specialist, said she started the groups for men in the jail. The current population, she said, has many that are headed to state prison.

It’s a 10-week program and a total of 25 inmates are part of the effort.

“They have homework every week. All have done their homework,” she said. “They are really good. They have read their assignments. They talk about it. I was worried it may become a complaint fest and it isn’t.”

Swanson said the curriculum is geared “toward helping them live in a prison system,” dealing with complaints and learning how to be positive and have goals.

She explained that each group starts with each inmate identifying something positive that happened that week and they’ve told her that exercise makes them find things.

“Several of them will have two, three, four things to tell me,” Swanson said. “They have journals. One of our groups was on gratitude and how it’s hard in the jail to sometimes find gratitude when you feel like you don’t have control over things.”

One of the groups without any prompting got together and put together a gratitude card.

The inmates, Swanson said, also have prepared over 20 cards for patients on Warren General Hospital’s Behavioral Health Unit.

“That was from an inmate who wants to do something positive for somebody else outside of his own headspace,” she said.

Swanson said the groups are taking some ownership in defining what kinds of group they want to have once the course is over and identifying what books they were looking to work out of.

“I’ve been very impressed,” she said. “(I) wasn’t sure what to expect from it.”

She wasn’t the only one that wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I was hesitant,” Warden Jon Collins said. “Kari’s intentions are fantastic.”

Collins explained that, whether it be groups, TV time or yard time, “if you give them something they know they can possibly lose” the inmates “behave a lot better. It’s good for the inmates and also good for behavioral issues we’ve been having.”

A misconduct would result in an inmate being removed from the group.

Five weeks into the 10-week course, there have been no misconducts from the inmates participating with Swanson’s program.

The letters to hospital patients surprised Collins even more.

“I was just in awe,” he said. “This is probably (the) most challenging housing unit and they’re showing compassion that I just didn’t think was there.

“I’m really impressed with the inmates and Kari’s programs.”

Swanson said that the inmates “want more of that – things that…. They have nothing to lose if they behave badly. They like having things that give them an incentive to behave. They’ll be the first to say that. They know that they need that.”

She said several inmates told her that their week could have gone a different way at points.

“They’re navigating a different mindset which is what we want,” she said, calling the inmates’ work “very proactive right now.”


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