We asked participants of the ADHD Corrections Project to share their stories of how ADHD has impacted their lives, and how this might relate to their experience with the criminal justice system. The resulting journal entries, written towards the close of their eight-week group coaching session, were remarkably thoughtful, hopeful, and compelling. While each inmate’s story is unique, we can also recognize in them some of the unfortunate experiences that are all too common among those with ADHD. With the permission of our anonymous authors, we’d now like to share with you these powerful first-person perspectives on the relationship between ADHD and the criminal justice system.
“I did not realize that I had ADHD until a few weeks ago. As a child growing up I assumed that I was normal and developed coping strategies to deal with my inability to focus on tasks and my lack of attention in general. My coping mechanisms were so effective that I was an honor roll student and graduated in the top five of my high school class.
The demands of college coupled with living on my own exposed flaws in my coping mechanisms. In no uncertain terms college would become the first in a long line of failures. Even though I eventually graduated from college it was a long drawn out battle with myself.
As the complexity of adult life continued to unfold my ADHD started to exert more influence over my life. Life became not a series of accomplishments to celebrate but one of stress and failure. I approached each challenge in my life; from jobs, relationships, family, and even recreation, not as an opportunity to succeed but as an opportunity to fail.
Finally, after decades of this destructive cycle my coping mechanisms failed completely. A broken marriage, questionable career decisions, and a home lost through foreclosure were just symptomatic of my life with ADHD. Other psychological conditions; including suicidal thoughts and tendencies, just exacerbated my problems.
At some point in my life I finally made the decision to just give up. Coming to prison became my new coping mechanism. The structure and lack of choices allowed my earlier coping mechanisms to become effective again. Once I was released from prison “real life” quickly caught up with and overwhelmed me. Not realizing that there were legitimate problems that I could seek treatment for, I instead made choices that would return me to prison.
This is where both my ADHD and other psychological conditions were initially diagnosed. Although I am dealing with my ADHD I still have other conditions that cannot be addressed until my incarceration is complete. This is because DOC does not currently have the appropriate treatment programs; and probably never will.
I view my ADHD as the tip of the iceberg. I am aware of it and learning new ways to deal with it. Being able to put a label on it has helped. It’s that portion of the iceberg that I cannot see that has worried me.
As an afterthought I reflect back to my first conviction in 2002. At that time the court ordered that I be sentenced to the Patuxent Institute, a facility that specializes in psychological evaluation and treatment. The court orders were never followed. I sometimes wonder what my life today if that order had been followed.”