Mount Tamalpais College recently hosted its second Alumni Conversations event on October 27th, delving deep into the complex realm of mental health before and after incarceration. Led by the insightful facilitation of Dr. Jenny Espionza-Marcus, MD, the event brought together Alumni Bonaru Richardson, Aly Tambora, and Eddie Herena, who openly shared their journeys and shed light on the challenges of mental health in the prison system and during the critical phase of reentry.
The conversation begins with the profound acknowledgment from Dr. Espionza-Marcus, emphasizing the importance of understanding mental health as a spectrum of general wellness. The panelists then opened up about their childhood experiences, providing a glimpse into the barriers they’ve created, and encountered and the environments that shaped their mental well-being.
Bonaru shared the tale of his upbringing marked by violence, poverty, and race. Running away when he was four years old, Bonaru witnessed his mother’s abuse, he internalized a lack of confidence in education, leading to a downward spiral. Aly, though initially from a rural area filled his childhood with joyful activities, but later faced the challenges of racial differences as he got older. Eddie, reflecting on his carefree early years, began questioning his mental well-being as he grew older, recognizing self-imposed barriers that hindered his progress.
The discussion then steered toward the inadequacies of mental health support within prison walls. Aly highlighted the emotional struggles faced during incarceration, emphasizing the inability to express grief to the corrections staff, a sentiment echoed by many incarcerated individuals. “I remember losing loved ones, and I’m not going to go to correction’s staff and tell them how I’m feeling about losing one of my loved ones.” Aly instead, expressed that he would turn to “my friends inside” as they were the ones who truly understood what he was going through. Building a community is essential for mental well-being among alumni.
The conversation then rotated to the transformative power of education within the classroom setting. Eddie shared how college programs became a lifeline, fostering a supportive community that helped him break free from the cycle of prison culture. “I really didn’t know Eddie until I was in the classroom with him,” Aly shared, emphasizing how education provided a path to self-improvement, enabling individuals to focus on personal growth and escape the negative aspects of prison life with like-minded people. Bonaru echoed these sentiments, underscoring the power of community expressing that Kenyatta Leal, another Mount Tamalpais College alumni, helped him and many others get into educational programs that not only challenged them intellectually but also connected them with compatible individuals, fostering personal growth and mental well-being.
However, as the alumni pointed out, the challenges persisted during reentry. Finding employment and reestablishing family connections emerged as daunting tasks. The strain on family relationships, combined with the overwhelming demands of employment, posed significant mental health challenges. The discussion highlighted the need for comprehensive support systems, not only focusing on practical aspects but also addressing emotional and mental well-being.
This Alumni Conversation offered profound insights into the intricate confusion of mental health within and after incarceration. The stories shared by the alumni emphasized the importance of understanding mental health as a holistic journey, shaped by early experiences, environments, and the challenges of everyday living. The event served as a poignant reminder of the need for empathetic support systems, destigmatizing mental health, and fostering communities like MTC that uplift individuals on their journey toward mental wellness.
You can watch the full conversation here.