When They See Us: A Therapist’s Personal & Professional Reflections, raw & uncut

It’s done. In two days, with breaks I completed the 4 part series produced by the genius of Ava Duvernay. By the 3rd episode, it started to take an emotional toll on me, but I needed to complete the series. We (society) owe it to the five men to witness their story as told by them.
Sadness. Anxiety. Anger. Rage. Regret. Irritation: the mix of emotions I felt watching the series. If you watched this and felt any other way, there is something wrong with you!
Let’s rewind.
I am a trained mental health professional with years of experience in psychology and trauma, and yes I was still impacted.
I needed to write this right after I completed the watching the series to help me process and integrate the stories as I witnessed it through the eyes and lived experiences of the five men or I would likely remain angry, then sad, then feeling pity for myself and that would be inauthentic to who I am.
Why pity for myself? Because I reflected on working for years in the juvenile correction system as a mental health lead clinician and watched this wondering, Did I do enough for the boys and men I worked with? I believe I did, but watching this I have to wonder. I liked my job in juvenile corrections and like the nurse in the series, I observed injustices and knew that things will get worse if situations aren’t handled delicately. I never and can say never would allow a young person to be abused in that system without making it known. But where my colleagues and I struggled, was to assert our credibility, expertise and authority to advocate within. a system that made it known , “your work as a mental health professional is second or last to the blue (correctional system) and the security of the facility.”
I also started to recall memories of my family member who was in that system. They were and are my heart and I did my best to keep track of where they were. Though miles apart I visited as much as I could to stay connected and to remind them they were thought of and loved no matter the circumstance. So again I asked myself, Did I do right by them? Did I do enough? for them
I asked my family member to read this before sharing to get his opinion, and said,”You can share if you like, I believe in you.” What I heard in his statement is that he trusts me to make right. Just what I wanted and needed to hear.
Here’s what everyone should take away from the series, even if you cannot watch it to completion at this time.
1. Trauma existed long before we had a name for it. There is no amount of money that will heal the trauma and abuses that will torment the five men for the rest of their lives . None.
2. Things like this- that are told by the five men- happens every day!!!!! Are we as a community doing enough to support our youth who are incarcerated and confined in a system that breeds a culture of injustice.
3. Families also suffer vicarious trauma through our loved ones who hurt. We all suffer-it ‘s collective injustice and collective trauma. We all need healing. The correctional system is a form of legal slavery. Even after 400 years, we remain mentally enslaved to the abuses of those who are in authority. But times are a changing!! (say it just like that).
4. If we feel traumatized just watching their story, imagine the traumatized existences they lived for all of their adolescent and much of their young adulthood.
Say their names. Get to know their story and pray for them because there are millions mass incarcerated today; some innocent like the stories of the men named the Central Park Five. Others who were guilty and were handed time that is extreme compared to non minority groups.
Yusel Salaam
Raymond Santana
Kevin Richardson
Antron McCray
Korey Wise
If you are experiencing your own level of vicarious trauma watching the series, I suggest you do what I’m doing…talk about…process it..write about. Do something. Do not let your feelings and thoughts sit and fester into undigested emotions that render you powerless and helpless.
There is something we all can do.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.