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Hard Lessons Learned From My Internship Behind Bars

forensic psychology
Meredith Ten Eick
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Published on January 26, 2016

As a first year forensic psychology graduate student, I had made up my mind to intern at my state’s only maximum security prison for female inmates.  I learned early on in life that squeaky wheels usually get greased, so with my own personal mantra in hand, I sought my internship by communicating directly with the prison warden herself.  After several carefully timed emails, I received a response from the prison’s chaplain asking if I could meet with her the following day at 10 am in her office at the prison.

Being familiar with prison protocol was in my favor.  Those weekly twelve-step meetings gave me an upper hand on what I could and could not wear, as well as what I could bring inside with me.  Although I had never been incarcerated myself, I had something much more valuable in common with the female inmates.  I was there to give them hope, if not all of them a little bit of hope, then at least one of them a lot of hope.  Hope came in real form:  me!  With my physical scars and a story for each one, I shared how my former life as a heroin addict had its one and only purpose, in my eyes, and that was to show other alcohol and drug-addicted women that they do not have to live that way any more.

My desire to intern at this prison, I told the Chaplain, was to carry a message of hope two days a week in four group sessions.  I started the following week.  My hopes were high to help many, but reality proved otherwise.  My groups dwindled and participation lessened; however, I do know I helped change one inmate’s life.  I rallied on her behalf to the Department of Social Services as well as her attorney for this particular inmate’s fight to keep her parental rights of her 3-year old son.  She won.  It was simple to me: An inmate working hard to rehabilitate herself—which she was—does not need to lose her rights as a mother…leave those cases up to those inmates who have no desire to get better, and believe me, I encountered many of those during my internship.

At the end of my internship, I was exhausted mentally and emotionally.  My dreams of carrying hope almost turned me into a cynic.  It is sad but true. However, what I gained from this internship is perhaps my most important life lesson learned to this date—approach everything you seek with an open mind and let go of any expectations.

Meredith Ten Eick

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