Home Mental Health & Well-Being Although It’s Remote, There’s a Fantastic Opportunity to Coach Prisoners

Although It’s Remote, There’s a Fantastic Opportunity to Coach Prisoners

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Prisoners are humans just like us. Unfortunately, the circumstances they grew up in didn’t help them comprehend the laws of the state. Their past experiences haunted them to become victims of hardwired painful memories chained for life. Living in a cell, the prisoners are perpetually haunted by the past which creeps up whenever fear kicks in. Fear makes the brain foggy.

As some parts of the brain are revving up, others are shutting down. When the amygdala (integrative centre for emotions, emotional behaviour and motivation) senses fear, the cerebral cortex (area of the brain that harnesses reasoning and judgment) becomes impaired – so it becomes difficult to make good decisions or think clearly.

Here are the symptoms prisoners live through: 

Mental disorders

Characterised by a clinically significant disturbance in a person’s cognition, emotional regulation, or behaviour. It is usually associated with distress or impairment in important areas of functioning. More than two-fifths of state prisoners (43%) and more than half of jail inmates (54%) reported symptoms that met the criteria for mania. About 23% of State prisoners and 30% of jail inmates reported symptoms of major depression. The types of mental disorders vary. Some of them are anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, eating disorders, disruptive behaviour, dissociative disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Most scientists believe that mental illnesses result from problems with the communication between neurons in the brain (neurotransmission). For example, the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin (a chemical that carries messages between nerve cells in the brain and throughout the body) is lower in individuals who have depression.

The part of the brain that is affected by mental illness are the amygdala (integrative centre for emotions and motivation); hippocampus (plays role in learning and memory, a vulnerable structure that gets damaged by neurological and psychological disorders); and prefrontal cortex (plays a major role in cognitive control functions thereby influencing attention, impulse inhibition, prospective memory and cognitive flexibility) areas in the brain that are implicated in the stress response.

High activity in the amygdala shows increased activity in brain scans. Increased and sustained reactivity in the amygdala is characteristic of depression and other mental health diagnoses

Drugs and alcohol dependence

Different types of drugs affect the body in different ways. They can have short-term and long-term effects, both physical and psychological. They significantly deteriorate health by weakening the immune system. They can cause a variety of cardiovascular conditions ranging from abnormal heart rates to heart attacks. It can also affect mental health leading to paranoia, depression, hallucination, impaired judgement and memory loss. 

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works. Alcohol makes it harder for the brain areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes. The brain is a delicate and intricate organ that must maintain a careful balance of chemicals, called neurotransmitters, for a person to function properly.

Drugs interfere with the way neurons send, receive and process signals via neurotransmitters. Some drugs such as marijuana and heroin can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of natural neurotransmitters in the body. This allows the drugs to attach to and activate neurons.

Sexual and physical abuse

Victims suffer significant psychological effects, including anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep disorders, weight loss or gain, nausea, lowered self-esteem and sexual dysfunction.

During the traumatic experience, the sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones throughout the brain, preparing to fight, flee or freeze. During a sexual assault, the mind and body are in survival mode, trying to get through the event and process it later. But it’s the “after” part where your brain undergoes biological changes similar to that of a combat fighter or first responder struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These changes start with the continued activation of the sympathetic nervous system (a network of nerves that help the body activate fight or flight). In less extreme circumstances after a stressful or threatening situation, the parasympathetic nervous (network of nerves that relaxes the body after the stress or danger) system takes over to reduce stress hormones and bring the brain back into equilibrium. In cases of traumatic sexual abuse, though, the sympathetic nervous system continues to release stress hormones, fatiguing the body and mind.

The brain also undergoes changes in two key parts of the brain: the amygdala and the hippocampus:

  • Amygdala. After trauma from sexual abuse, the amygdala, an almond-shaped mass deep within the brain, becomes overstimulated. It associates your traumatic experience with specific emotions and falsely identifies seemingly harmless situations or individuals as threats.
  • Hippocampus. Opposite to the amygdala, the hippocampus actually becomes less active after a traumatic experience. Stress hormones from the sympathetic nervous system kill cells in the hippocampus, weakening its ability to consolidate memories and recognise that the traumatic experience occurred in the past and is no longer a threat.
  • Hypervigilance. Because prisons are dangerous, studies show that inmates become hyper-vigilant about signs of threat. Hypervigilance is a biological adaptation to stress. It’s your brain’s method of trying to keep you out of harm’s way by being highly alert and aware of your surroundings. Hypervigilance can cause significant distress, impair functioning by reducing the attentional resources to focus on the task at hand, and contribute to the maintenance or onset of other symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as re-experiencing and avoidance.

Research from 2019 suggests that those with trauma experience increased activity in their amygdala, the part of your brain that sends out the “code red” signal.

According to a 2016 review of Trusted Source, researchers have found that it generally shows up in two scenarios.

  • The first is a looming threat, common with anxiety disorders.
  • The second is a reminder of a previous threat, common with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma manifestations.

Hypervigilance is not a diagnosis on its own. It’s a symptom. This means that it’s part of a set of other symptoms. Some common diagnoses associated with hypervigilance include anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, and signs of hypervigilance.

Hypervigilance looks different for everyone, but there are some signs that many people share. Symptoms such as emotional outbursts, fearing the worst without an obvious cause, feeling overwhelmed in crowded or noisy places, overreacting to stimuli or to those around you, compared with what’s usual for you, and persistent worry.

What can we as a coach do to make a difference?

As an ACC (Associate Certified Coach) transformational, the law of attraction neurobehavioural coach, I know that even one drop in an ocean makes a difference. Through my coaching power, I know I can help the prisoners attain peace within.

Various methods of coaching are through communication techniques

Metaphors through imaginations & fantasies- Metaphors derive their power from how confused we as human beings are. Our brains have evolved to confuse the literal and the symbolic meaning by cramming viscerally similar functions in the same brain areas. For example, the insular processes both physical and moral disgust.

Metaphor, which allows writers to convey vivid imagery that transcends literal meanings, creates images that are easier to understand and respond to than literal language.

Metaphorical language activates the imagination, and the writer is more able to convey emotions and impressions through metaphor. A metaphor is a literary device that helps readers understand, pay attention, remember and act on messages. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable: Lips are volcanoes, for instance.

Humming or singing

Research has shown that humming with awareness creates chemical changes in the body, particularly in the brain and helps to cease the conflict between the body and mind.

A lot of energy is saved when your body and mind are in harmony and hence you will never feel tired or exhausted when you are humming. Research has shown humming to be much more than a self-soothing sound: it affects us on a physical level, reducing stress, inducing calmness, and enhancing sleep as well as lowering heart rate and blood pressure and producing powerful neurochemicals such as oxytocin, the “love” hormone.

Slowed-paced humming causes both our blood pressure to be significantly decreased as well as a decrease in heart rate. Thus, it promotes deep relaxation and reduces stress, including reducing all those hormones associated with stress such as cortisol.


The part of the brain responsible for is your subconscious; more specifically, a network of neurons in the brainstem called the reticular activating system. What the mind believes, the body manifests or acts on, and the emotions feel or respond with.

People store both healthy and destructive thoughts and beliefs and respond to life’s circumstances in the most prominent manner. Neural Manifestation by Lacy Phillips is based on raising your self-worth and stepping into your unique authenticity by reprogramming the subconscious limiting beliefs that you picked up during childhood and throughout your life.

You suddenly feel hopeful about the future, you start seeing signs everywhere, you meet someone who can help you, you get an unexpected windfall, you have a strong intuitive hit, you find yourself daydreaming about your goal, and you start making positive changes in your life.

Affirmations to rewire the brain

It fires up your neural pathways and makes changes to those areas of the brain that makes you happy and positive.

Various studies also confirm affirmations can decrease health-deteriorating stress, increase the amount of exercise people do, help you to eat more fruit and vegetables and achieve more academically. The continued repetition of certain thoughts over time has been proven to change the brain cells, and even the genes, which is done via neuroplasticity.

Essentially, through positive affirmations, individuals can rewire certain thoughts, practicing self-affirmation activates the brain’s reward centres, the ventral striatum (VS) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC). To put it another way, these are the same reward centres that react to other joyful experiences like eating your favourite food or earning a prize.

Affirmations can help to rewire your brain in the same way as undertaking physical exercise. They can increase the level of feel-good hormones, such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin and can motivate your brain to form new clusters of “positive thought” neurons.

Breathing techniques

Research shows that deep breathing can have a direct effect on the overall activity level of the brain. What this means is that slow, deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the abdomen and is in charge of turning off the “fight or flight” reflex.

Deep breathing and relaxation activate the other part of your nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, which sends a signal to your brain to tell the anxious part that you’re safe and don’t need to use the fight-flight-freeze response. Deep breathing gets more oxygen to the thinking brain strengthening the brain and boosting the attention span.

Yoga masters say, breathing properly improves attention span and helps focus better. A new study has found a direct neurophysiological link between the breath and the brain.

Simple workouts

Exercise improves memory by increasing molecular targets like the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This molecular factor increases synaptogenesis (synapses between neurons in the nervous system), forming new synapses that mediate learning and memory, making it easier to absorb information and form long-term memories.

Physical activity can improve cognitive health. Helping to think, learn, problem-solve, and enjoy an emotional balance. It can improve memory and reduce anxiety or depression.

Any amount of physical activity can help. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It aids the release of hormones which provide an excellent environment for the growth of brain cells. Exercise also promotes brain plasticity by stimulating the growth of new connections between cells in many important cortical areas of the brain.

Mary Gandhi, PhD is the director of HR recruitment at ICF Coach.

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