Every so often I spend a day in prison. Not because I’ve been convicted, I deliver a workshop to pre-release prisoners. Going through the security and talking to the people about their daily lives makes me realise how much we take for granted.
The workshop covers controlling our emotions, building resilience and achieving goals. First, we talk about what strengths and skills they have, and what their experience has taught them. All of them want to make a fresh start and never come back to prison. Then, we discuss what they will need to thrive in the future and avoid returning. By the end of the day, they always figure out what the behavioral scientists and psychologists have spent years proving. There are several factors affecting resilience, some of which we can control, and some of which we can’t.
We’re more likely to be resilient if we grew up in a loving home, with safety and sufficient nutrition, exercise, and health. Traumatic events and periods of prolonged stress damage our abilities to heal mentally and physically. Yet there are a significant number of people who overcome very deprived backgrounds.
Research about resilience
Psychiatrists Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney worked with patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression for years. Their patients suffered from traumatic and life altering events, yet some people went through the same events, but recovered more quickly. So, Southwick and Charney studied people who had been exposed to similar events but did not end up with PTSD. They identified ten factors that make people resilient: realistic optimism, facing fear, moral compass, religion/spirituality, social support, resilient role models, physical fitness, brain fitness, flexibility, and purpose. (Southwick & Charney, 2012) A summary of their findings
Finding the silver lining in prison
The prisoners listed their own top ten to survive in prison and thrive outside:
- Be positive AND realistic. There is a lot they can’t do right now…focusing on what they could do helped
- Look at what strengths you have really helped, as does working on making the most of them
- Be brave, learn to listen to your conscience
- Keep fit, and make an effort to look good–though sometimes it’s hard if exercise is limited and the food is mainly carbs.
- Learning and gaining qualifications
- Good friends, not ones who are negative or who influence one to make bad choices.
- Having a reason to succeed
- Support and practical help once they get out
- A good attitude.
- Someone to look up to–a mentor, a tutor and role model
If you’d like more information and resources on resilience,contact me