USA (MNN) – September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month in the United States. That latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that Suicides increased 85 percent in state prisons and 61 percent in federal prisons over two decades.
The report goes to 2019 and does not yet cover pandemic numbers, but does include Anne Hamming Crossroads Prison Ministries says COVID has made prisoner mental health even more challenging.
“Due to the pandemic, especially when the lockdowns were in all facilities, [we saw] just despair and loneliness,” says Hamming. “‘I can’t leave my cell. I don’t get any visitors. The only way I can communicate with my family is through mail, sometimes not even that.” There were staffing issues so many inmates didn’t even get their mail during parts of the pandemic due to COVID causing staffing issues. It was just a huge conglomeration of issues that added to the isolation and it was prolonged.
“Now we are three years into the pandemic and things have of course opened up and gone back to much more normality. But there are still those conditions that lead to isolation, on top of the conditions that have already contributed to the risk of mental illness.”
Crossroads matches prisoners with Christian mentors to write letters and conduct co-mailed Bible studies.
Hamming says, “First of all, we are eyes and ears. So if a student expresses thoughts of suicide or thoughts that concern us in a Bible study or in a letter, our staff will immediately contact the facility where the student resides to ensure appropriate action is taken.”
The greatest role Crossroads Mentors can play is to provide emotional support and spiritual encouragement.
“That is the role of our mentors – to pray for the students, encourage them and write them a letter at each lesson. The effect of this is that students know they will not be forgotten. This is the inmates’ biggest concern because the vast majority of them do not receive mail. A significant number of them remain unvisited and feel utterly forgotten.
“They keep saying, ‘Thank you for remembering me and letting me know I’m not forgotten. Thank you for letting me know that God loves me. Thank you for letting me know and showing me that God has a purpose for me and that incarceration is just a part of my life. I am not my crimes. I am the person I am now in Christ.’”
Hamming emphasizes, “We are not mental health professionals at Crossroads, but we are able to offer some things that would complement mental health services for students.”
If you know someone behind bars who would benefit from participating in the Crossroads program, Refer them to Crossroads here!
You can also Become a Crossroads mentor yourself. Hamming says, “TThe beauty of Crossroads is that you can do it anywhere. People who are mentors say, “Man, I don’t have to travel miles and go to jail. I can have that connection.’ And they never cease to be amazed at the connections they make simply by writing a letter and going through a Bible study with a student.”
Finally, pray for men and women in prisons across the United States and around the world that they will know the hope they have in Jesus Christ.
Header photo courtesy of Ye Jinghan via Unsplash.