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Friday, April 20, 2012
Brain injuries invisible . . . and real
From the Abbotsville Mission Times:
A brain injury can change the direction of one's life, and that new road often leads to prison.
Recent studies show that a large segment of U.S. prison inmates - an average of 80 per cent - have had brain trauma before they became embroiled with the law.
The Canadian experience is the same, said John Simpson, with the Fraser Valley Brain Injury Association.
A former insurance case manager for ICBC, Simpson is a passionate advocate for brain-injured people, and an educator.
Since 1991, he has volunteered at B.C. prisons, supporting inmates and providing in-service training for prison staff on how to recognize signs of brain injury.
The men he's met in prisons are "truly the walking wounded," he said.
"The vast majority have no visible signs of a brain injury. They look perfectly normal on the outside but only when you begin talking to them you see some have speech difficulties, behavioural or cognitive problems."
At the request of inmates and staff at Mission Institution, he is in the process of re-establishing a brain injury support group at the federal penitentiary. There are already 10 men signed up, he said.
Brain injury effects vary from person to person, but generally alter behaviour, memory and cognitive skills such as communication.
Medication can help, but in support groups inside or outside of prison, members receive encouragement, empathy and help from each other, said Simpson.
Through countless interviews, he's found many inmates had multiple concussions starting in childhood.
"An awful lot stems from child abuse, from step-parents," he said, as well as from accidents and sports injuries. The results lead sufferers down the same road, however.
"They did poorly in school, they got in the wrong crowd, they started using drugs and their behaviour spiralled downward," he said.
Their judgment is impaired, so they don't consider the consequences.
For Simpson that means, "you don't need bigger and better prisons. You need bigger and better programs in the community."
The FVBIA struggles with dwindling funds, as grants shrink or are redirected to other causes, he said.
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