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Interview with a Peer in a Texas County Jail

Oct 1st, 2019 | Category: Peer Voices

Part of Carolina Molina’s job at the Local Mental Health Authority has involved working as a peer reentry specialist in the Hidalgo County Jail. She worked with people experiencing mental illness, providing information about resources they could use once out: housing, jobs and medical care. But first she had to overcome their distrust and fear. Here Carolina talks about how the peer model worked in the Hidalgo County Jail:

“It’s basically about bringing them back into the community, making sure they have a good treatment plant and helping them plan how to be self-sufficient once released. So then they would have housing, a doctor’s appointment, medications. Did they have a CPS case? What do they need help with?

“And some of them were so anxious and fearful of being out of jail—really scared of failing again. I am there to help them move forward, help them make plans to live without going sure back to old friends and old habits. When I told them how I had been arrested, I would tell them of my own mental disorder, that I did drugs and put myself in danger over and over. 

“Whenever I started telling my own story, a layer would come off of them. I could see it in their eyes, there would be this light come on and you could see them thinking ‘here is somebody who can relate to me, not judge me, she has been here too.’

“Mine may not be exactly the same struggle as theirs—I’d only been incarcerated in holding cells—but they knew I had dealt with mental illness and substance abuse. While in the jail system, most of the guards see them as another number and don’t see them as human beings. 

“That’s why the men and women are so relieved when somebody like me comes in to talk with them—somebody that they can relate to.

Bottom line? People with mental illness don’t belong in the jails, but while they are there, they must be treated well. Not made worse by new traumas.

“We need to find a way to change the attitudes of jails and guards, that to educate and convince them that these persons shouldn’t be punished and put in solitary because they really are sick.”

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