By Lauren Rearick
America’s corrections system locks away a staggering number of people with mental health issues.
An estimated 20 percent of people in jails and 15 percent in state prisons have a serious mental illness, according to a paper compiled by the Treatment Advocacy Center. Resources for these conditions aren’t always available during incarceration or upon release ― and lack of access to care can cause a worsening of symptoms or adjustment issues after a former inmate’s release.
Thad Tatum, a behavioral health specialist and drug counselor who spent nearly three decades in prison, knows firsthand the difficulty of transitioning to life at home after spending time behind bars. With a strong focus on mental health care and support, he has devoted his life to helping formerly incarcerated people make this transition.
Tatum is one of the founders of Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), a nonprofit whose mission centers around advocating for and empowering those personally affected by the criminal justice system. A small part of the New Orleans-based organization’s efforts involve fostering an open dialogue around mental health and the trauma that incarceration may cause. VOTE says it has 10,000 people in its network across the country.
Tatum, who comes from a family of 14 siblings, spent time in prison for armed robbery, attempted armed robbery and burglary. He speaks candidly about his past and how it inspired his work today.
“My family was never hungry or short of any kind of attention,” he told HuffPost. “It was surprising to everyone that I became a delinquent because I was one of the better students in my school. As I got older and realized that people aren’t born with the mentality to participate in illegal activities, I wanted to better understand the mental health behind it.”