Thad Tatum served nearly 30 years in prison. He says, “It was surprising to everyone that I became a delinquent because I was one of the better students in my school. As I got older and realized that people aren’t born with the mentality to participate in illegal activities, I wanted to better understand the mental health behind it.”
With estimates of 15 to 20 percent of inmates having “a serious mental illness,” Tatum states, “the majority of inmates are not getting the right mental health attention.” He now works to help formerly incarcerated people transition back to life in society through a nonprofit he co-founded, Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), “whose mission centers around advocating for and empowering those personally affected by the criminal justice system.”1 Tatum believes that people released from prison have a voice and a story of struggle that society needs to hear.
“When we take on the habit and the action of judging others, we also take on a false understanding of ourselves.”2 The judgment of others comes from a place of believing we fully understand someone else’s situation and of believing we are entitled to place judgment on that person and his or her situation. Many judgments come from assumptions, some or all of which are false.
Many in our society assume criminals do not deserve mental health treatment and cannot be rehabilitated. Few in our society comprehend that incarceration creates trauma in individuals. People like Thad Tatum are working to redefine society’s judgments against former prisoners. When we judge a person based on a criminal record or mental health needs, we judge something about ourselves, too. May we come to value God’s beloved human creation over our own assumptions.
- Why would formerly incarcerated people need mental health support? What programs in your community assist former prisoners?
- What assumptions do we make when we judge others? When have your own assumptions in judging someone else proven to be false understandings?
- How can your local faith community proclaim value for and advocate on behalf of individuals released from prison?
From “Why This Man Crusades for Mental Health After Nearly 30 Years in Prison,” by Lauren Rearick in The Huffington Post (huffingtonpost.com/entry/prison-mental-health_us_5b2b9bc1e4b0040e274032d0).
2From Adult Bible Studies, Summer 2018, by Randy Cross (Cokesbury, 2018); page 71.