This summer, under the mentorship of Kneia DaCosta, I researched decriminalizing mental illness. This project was inspired by three years of volunteering to educate inmates at Montgomery County Correctional Facility. For the majority of the summer, I conducted a literature review to investigate the vast number of mentally ill individuals recycling through jails and prisons. In addition, I translated my experiences volunteering into a collection of vignettes about some of the inmates I have encountered. With these writings I hope to tell this story from the inmates’ perspective and give them a voice. Lastly, I synthesized my research and firsthand experience to create a draft for an intervention program to treat mentally ill female inmates.
What Was Valuable About the Experience
Summer Fellows granted me the opportunity to spend my summer researching an issue I am genuinely passionate about. Dr. DaCosta pushed me to challenge myself and expand my project into new directions. Overall, I had a great experience this summer. I learned a lot about myself and developed new skills during this process.
The Coolest Part of the Experience
The coolest part of this experience was being able to raise awareness about mentally ill in jails and prisons. Instead of treating mental illness, our nation is punishing an extremely vulnerable population. Mental illness is exacerbated during incarceration and many inmates leave jails and prisons much sicker than when they entered. For three years I have witnessed firsthand the heartbreaking mistreatment mentally ill endure while incarcerated. It feels good to know that my Summer Fellows project is bringing some well-deserved attention to this issue. Even if I was only able to reach a narrow audience, I hope my project was one small step in advocating for treatment over incarceration for the mentally ill.
Who I Met that Made a Difference
The inmates I have met through volunteering at Montgomery County Correctional Facility made all the difference in my project. Throughout my time volunteering many of the inmates, especially the women, have been very open about their personal histories. After hearing their heartbreaking stories of mental illness, addiction, physical abuse, and sexual abuse I was motivated to research and raise awareness about this issue.
In addition, my wonderful mentor Dr. DaCosta was incredibly helpful in completing this project. Her expertise in mental health and program development was especially valuable in creating the intervention program.
Bonner Leader, President of Psi Chi International Honor Society for Psychology, Phi Alpha Psi sorority, UC Admissions Tour Guide, Alumni Relations Student Assistant, Library Circulation Desk Worker, Psychology Office Assistant, Academic Affairs Student Associate