Tag Archives: A Hard Name

Incarceration Day

2prison-05Today I had lunch with an old friend from high school. We hadn’t seen each other in about 25 years; needless to say we had a lot of catching up to do.

It was great fun to meet again and catch up (of course Facebook provides advanced info). Beyond discussing our youth and mutual friends, S. and I have something else in common – we both work in the field of mental health, family and corrections.

While S.’s work involves hands-on counselling, social work and research, I interview experts and write about issues related to these same topics. We had a stimulating conversation about what’s at the root of offenders – what makes them tick and what many have in common.

This topic deserves pages and pages of research and writing. But, because this is in blog format I will get straight to the point: We agreed that mental health challenges and a history of violence and abuse is at the core of most offenders/offences.

This discussion reminds me of the painfully honest film that shines a light on offenders who have gotten out of the prison system and are trying to make their way in the world. Just thinking about A Hard Name hurts my heart.

While it’s easy to say: “Lock ’em up” (and so we should in many cases), dismissing or hiding offenders away in the prison system does not get rid of the problem. Having a better understanding of good mental health, neglect, and child and domestic abuse is the key to preventing offences and ripping peoples’ lives apart.

Maybe it’s just me but I feel like governments and the public at large are realizing more and more that good mental health makes a huge impact on society.

Out of the Shadow documentary

The other night, I watched (most of) the documentary Out of the Shadow. Written and produced by Susan Smiley, the doc features Smiley’s mother, Millie, an intelligent, likeable woman diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Here is some promotional material from the doc’s web site; I found it quite moving:

Image and text from official Out of the Shadow web site

You are not alone. Come out of the shadows. Fight the shame and stigma.
This is an honest, moving, profound film about mental illness, and a family who copes. Here you will find hope, compassion and inspiration.

Even with today’s focus on support groups and sharing information, in our “Free to Be You and Me” society there is still a lot of shame and confusion around mental illness. Many are driven to hiding their condition and some to suicide.

Out of the Shadow ends on a positive note for Millie but it does not paint  a pretty picture of children, adults and families living with schizophrenia. The various doctors Millie saw, the drug combinations she contended with, and the vast economic difficulties and social stigma she felt left me feeling raw and drained.

It’s not for the faint of heart but it is a riveting and important film. If you’d like to learn more, you can watch a film trailer on the site or order a DVD online.

A Hard Name = A Hard Life

Can One Overcome An Abusive Childhood?

Last month, I watched a heart-breaking, raw documentary on TVO. A Hard Name details the life and times of ex-convicts trying to make their way through  our world after serving time in jail for a variety of horrendous and petty crimes – robbery, assault, fraud, etc.

It’s easy to judge criminals – they’re “bad”, they don’t care about society, they’re selfish and careless. This may be true to some extent. However, an inconvenient truth reveals that many “bad” adults have been violated, assaulted, insulted and abused as children.  This lethal treatment has left them numb to the world, incapable of making sense of normal and of legal paths.

One man, an ex-con, featured in A Hard Name recounts how his mother sent him off to live with his biological father in a distant city when he was a small child. The man’s step-mother felt threatened by this little boy – beat and humiliated him and finally convinced his father to send the boy to a psychiatric facility. A few years later, after suffering through his experience at the facility, the boy was told his father had died. He attended the funeral and then went “home” to live with his step-mother. After a short time, his step-mother told the boy they were moving. “Where are we moving to, Mama?” he asked. “You’re not moving, WE are moving,” he was told. The woman then packed up the rest of the family and moved away leaving this boy to fend for himself on the streets.

Can you imagine? Tell me: how can you grow up to love and appreciate yourself and others after suffering through such trauma? Can one ever recover from a harsh and brutal upbringing? What do you think?