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Volunteering at a prison? - January 29th 2018, 04:21 AM

This may be the worst idea I've ever had, I'm not sure. I tend to be very soft-hearted and think with my heart, rather than my brain so I'm not sure if I'm looking at this the wrong way. This year, I'm studying to become a caseworker or social worker. It's the same course regardless of which title I choose. I'm only seventeen years old but I'm turning eighteen this year.

I currently work at an animal shelter. Only really because I knew it was something I was able to do and because it was the only place that replied when I inquired about job placements But that's not what I want to do forever. Initially, I wanted to work in a hospital as a social worker. Like, just a general hospital not a psychiatric hospital. I'm not saying that I'm definitely not doing that anymore but I'm curious about other areas. I've always been interested in ASPD or psychopathy and sociopathy, more so than mental health in general. I don't know why but I think I feel some sympathy for them because they just see the world and feel differently but can never change, it's in the way their brains been hardwired. And I also feel like there's not a lot of resources for people like that because others just don't want to deal with them.

In order to finish my course, I have to do so many hours of volunteering related to social work. And I thought if I really wanted to work with people with ASPD, a prison would be the best place to go...apparently something like up to 80% of prisoners have the characteristics and about 15% meet the full criteria of psychopathy.

I want to work with kids, specifically. I've always wanted to work with kids, I guess because I find them easier to talk to. So I'd actually have to go work in a juvenile detention center but we don't have one in our city. We only have the prison, maybe thirty minutes out of the city. The nearest juvie is seven hours away so I'd have to move. I thought maybe I could volunteer at the prison first, see how it goes and then move to work at the juvie. I believe the prison is all-male and is moderate security...they also have a farm (???) that is low security. I kind of worry about working there because I'm small (5'6 ish) and I am biologically female so maybe they won't respect me as much? The juvie is co-ed, 75% male and most kids are there for violent crimes (murder, assault, armed robbery, etc).

I guess I just feel bad for the kids in a way. I know they've done some vile things but I like to think there's some good in everyone. I don't think that they should be isolated in a jail cell for their entire lives. I mean, if they're dangerous then prison is the best place for their safety and the safety of others but I think they deserve some contact with the outside world and someone to talk to. They shouldn't be isolated and just forgotten about. That makes mental illness worse. But as a caseworker/social worker, I'd be someone they could talk to and I might be the only person they can talk to. I know rehabilitation might not be realistic but my end goal would be to see some kind of improvement. I like to think that I'd be someone they could trust with their problems but I know that might be pushing it.

I just think, all the time, a million people would be willing to work at an animal shelter or a hospital. There's always going to be someone to replace me
but how many people would be willing to try working at prison or juvie?
But I don't know if I'm really being rational or if I'm just a...bleeding heart, basically. I've never even been inside a prison so I don't know if I have realistic expectations. I just don't want to get there and realize I'm in way over my head or get hurt (more emotionally than physically).

Is this a bad idea?
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Re: Volunteering at a prison? - January 29th 2018, 05:26 AM

I don't think it's a bad idea and I think that you are talking about a population that is widely ignored. We definitely need more people who are willing to work with this population.

Before you commit to anything it may be useful to call up the prison you would like to volunteer at, first to see what their protocol is. If they accept volunteers, ask what your potential roles would be and also what safety precautions are taken if necessary. They may or may not be willing to give you a tour. I had a roommate who toured a prison once, but it was with a class so it may be a little different.

I'd say it's worth a shot, but definitely learn a bit about the prison and ask questions before committing.

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Re: Volunteering at a prison? - January 29th 2018, 03:26 PM

I have personal experience with this because I have family who have been in the prison and juvie system and I know a few people who have worked in my states prison and the state hospitals. You are correct that this population is widely ignored and mistreated and that there are a lot of people who fall through the cracks. However, there are also a lot of really bad people in the system who don't have a good bone in their body. I used to think a lot like you until the family members I had who were in prison told me that there are some good people but a large majority aren't and they gave me a ton of examples.

I think that working with this population can be great but you shouldn't go into it feeling sorry for them or thinking they all have good in them. A lot of these people are very good about manipulating people because that is how they have learned to get what they want. If you go in feeling sorry for them there is a higher chance that you will face difficulties due to that especially if any of these people see that in you.

Please don't get me wrong, I DO think that working with this demographic is really important and I have thought about it before but it is important to go in there with a clear understanding of what a lot of these people are like. Can you make a difference/impact some of them? Yes, I whole-heartedly believe that which is one of the reasons that I believe working with this population IS important because there are people in there (at least in the USA prison system) who fell through the cracks and need to know that they can overcome these things. You just have to be aware of the people who will try and take advantage of your kindness.

I think that it might be a good idea to discuss this with the people in charge of the prison. See if they accept volunteers and what you would do. It is probably unlikely that they would let you work with the prison population much because of the risks that would be involved for them but they might have other things you could do. Also, if you cannot get in with the prison and still want to wok with people who have been in trouble there might be other opportunities in your community. I know that the Domestic Violence shelter does court ordered classes for people who abuse and they do allow volunteers out there. The volunteers tended to mainly deal with paperwork but I know some people were able to do other things. Those opportunities might not be the same as volunteering in a prison but it would still give you experience with people who have done some relatively bad things but it wouldn't be the same amount of exposure as you'd get in a prison which might be a better way to work up to that.

Also, there are actually a fair few people who want to work in the prison and there are a ton of reasons why. One thing I can say is that there are people who go into that type of job with the same intentions/thoughts as you. However, they do end up getting burnt out. I have a friend whose parents worked in a state prison and a state hospital. They did get burnt out and they were able to share a ton of insight into working with that demographic and it is really tough for a number of reasons.

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