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What Happens When You Voluntarily Go To Jail? An Interview With Monalisa Johnson

When Monalisa found herself behind bars and in a prison jumpsuit she had committed no crime. You must be wondering, “how did that happen?”, well, she did this voluntarily. Monalisa Johnson voluntarily went behind bars for 60 days to understand the prison system, and the life of her incarcerated daughter through A&E’s 60 Days In.

Monalisa gave a jaw-dropping talk on our stage August 16th at TripAdvisor, and I was so moved by her talk I wanted to ask her questions and share her answers with all of you.

Oddly enough, my first question for Monalisa had nothing to do with what happened while she was inside, rather how she felt leaving the prison system. She told me that leaving so suddenly and dealing with what she had seen and experienced while inside left her with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Following this experiment, Monalisa seemed treatment for PTSD and a Staph Infection she developed from the system.

Monalisa tells me the seriousness of her infection, and my first thought was, “why couldn’t you get treated inside for this?”. She tells me that in the grand scheme of things, the health systems behind bars are worse to a school nurse, and the treatment for everything is an ibuprofen. What she told me about the health system inside prison that was so shocking, was that the nurses were writing prescriptions in prisoners names and using them to sell drugs inside the jail; she saw this first hand.

Feeding off of my last question, I asked Monalisa if she had seeked any psychological help while imprisoned. She tells me that a typical psych appointment in a jail system can last just ten minutes and is mostly filling out a survey on how you feel. It is very hard to get antidepressants in jail if you did not enter the system already having a prescription. I learned that in most cases, people need to be treated for psychological illnesses when they are released, but if they are in jail for life they could potentially live untreated.

Monalisa’s jail she was in was a maximum security. The set up of her living situation was an all-girls section with a common room, and around 8-10 rooms with 4 beds. She said the environment played an impact on how she and other prisoners acted. It does not change everyone the same way, and some can change for the good and some the bad from the environment. Monalisa says at times the section could feel like a big slumber party, but for the girls who don’t like who they are living with, the environment cold drive them to violence or depression.

When Monalisa’s incarcerated daughter found her mother was going to jail voluntarily, she was upset. However, she made her promise that she will take what she learned and help people when she gets out. Monalisa’s talk on our stage not only serves as a learning tool for America on caring, but is a great resource for people who were incarcerated or know someone who was.

Ww thank Monalisa for sharing her inspiring story with the TEDxBeaconStreet community.

To watch a previous talk she did and to learn more, watch HERE