May 13, 2015

In Prison, and Unaware of Trauma’s Impact

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Tabitha Kincannon was released from prison in March and has felt empowered by her trauma therapy at Just the Beginning, a nonprofit based in Tulsa.

Arianna Pickard / Oklahoma Watch

Tabitha Kincannon was released from prison in March and has felt empowered by her trauma therapy at Just the Beginning, a nonprofit based in Tulsa.

Oklahoma Watch is reporting a year-long series on mental-health issues in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Watch is reporting a year-long series on mental-health issues in Oklahoma.

Many women in prison don’t realize they are suffering from long-term trauma effects.

If they did, says former inmate Tabitha Kincannon, they could take the first steps toward recovery.

Kincannon was 6 years old when she saw a man shoot her father in the head in their home.

Her babysitter had sought refuge from an abusive husband, and in the middle of the night her husband broke into the home and shot Kincannon’s father.

Her father lived, but Kincannon, now 37, can still picture the pool of blood on the floor.

At a young age, Kincannon developed issues with rage and began cutting herself on the arm. Her father took her to various therapists and mental institutions, and she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

At age 16, Kincannon left home, and a drug-clouded decade followed as she worked at a strip joint, went to prison and tried to become a drug dealer.

Kincannon said she didn’t seek mental health treatment or participate in any programs the first time she was in prison. She also said it was easy to get illicit drugs.

“You can get high quicker in prison than you can on the streets off of prescriptions, meth, weed,” said Kincannon, who left Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in March. “Heroin is real thick right now.”

Kincannon said the second time she went to prison, she saw dozens of additional inmates – a sign of the state’s rising prison population.
“You have very little room, there’s not enough room to put their stuff, their clothes, I mean nothing. You have to literally fold them up and put them under your mat,” Kincannon said.

“They’re keeping them on lockdown more. When you keep them on lockdown more, it’s awful. I mean imagine being locked in with 70 women in one pod.”

During her second sentence, Kincannon participated in a program in which inmates receive substance abuse treatment in a separate housing unit. She also started attending church, which she said helped her more than any medication she’d received.

When Kincannon was released, she sought help from Just the Beginning in Tulsa. She said she’s felt empowered by learning what post traumatic stress disorder is and simply recognizing her trauma-induced symptoms.

Kimberly Cummings, of Just the Beginning, said that during one of Kincannon’s first meetings at the facility, others asked her if she realized she had trauma.

“(We said), ‘You do realize you have trauma,’” Cummings said, “and it broke her.”

Cummings said it’s essential for trauma victims to receive therapy in order to work through their experiences.