Psychiatric Reflections on Black Incarceration


Can psychiatrists help be the champion for those behind bars?




The carceral system is fraught with deception and disparities. In my mind, it is the antithesis of rehabilitation. Our society has stripped incarcerated individuals of their humanity and dignity all in the name of an eye for eye and greed.

I believe that the alternative name for the jails and prisons should be Orange is the new Black (pun intended) given that Blacks and other communities of color are disproportionately represented in a system that is chronically oppressive and socially unjust. Mental health outcomes are poor, and society turns our back on what many may refer to as the scum of the earth or, better yet, thugs.

What ever happened to believing that transformation can happen in the hearts and minds of human beings? Maybe we have become a calloused society that is in need of transformation. Maybe we need a vaccine that engenders love. Hypocrisy is a ravenous beast with fangs of stamina looking for its next prey. I challenge us to be advocates for humanity and justice. With this armor, we can move mountains and narrow (hopefully, eliminate) the health disparities in our carceral system.

I pray that this poem fosters reflection.

Black Incarceration

Caged ebony lepers

lesions weeping with

historical trauma

Middle Passage revisited

and shackles whimper

confinement walls

a camouflage for

atrophied melanin

Justice system paradox

a discriminate repugnant sentencing

for life’s super-predators

penal rehabilitation

an inhumane antidote

a fixed delusion

Prison PTSD

cortisol overload

desensitized orange attire

pallor is the new shade


a perennial oppressive gift

Lawmakers infested

with Grinch odor

an intoxicating allure

Grace is her name

a lurking angel

a beacon for social justice

and reentry

Dr Clark is an outpatient psychiatrist at Prisma Health-Upstate and clinical associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Greenville. He served on the American Psychiatric Association’s Task Force to Address Structural Racism Throughout Psychiatry, and he currently serves as the Diversity and Inclusion section editor and advisory board member for Psychiatric TimesTM.

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