Imagine if your job was to live 24/7 with mentally ill inmates at L.A. County Twin Towers. The L.A. County Jail system is arguably is the largest mental institution in America with close to 5,000 inmates incarcerated. In this interview, we talk with Craigen Armstrong and Adrian Berumen who have lived embedded in the Forensic Inpatient Program (FIP) Step down unit for over three years. As general population (not mentally ill) inmates, facing potentially long prison sentences, they are part of a remarkable L.A. County pilot to incorporate incarcerated peers into the role of “Mental Health Assistants.”
Adrian and Craigen self-published a book this past August bout their experience. It is called The Solution: Mental Health Assistants and it shares all that they’ve learned about how to care for mentally ill patients in the jail. They hope their experience will inspire other county systems to adopt this approach and they are generous in sharing the curriculum they have developed.
This pilot was awarded an achievement award by the National Association of Counties in 2020. As described: this program is a collaboration between Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Correctional Health Services nursing and mental health clinicians…Patients at risk of requiring inpatient services are provided increased intervention in their housing unit with the goal of increasing medication compliance, improving socialization, attention to self-care and developing trust with healthcare providers.
This interview will provide a glimpse into life inside the jail and open your eyes to the tragedy of how the American mental health system too often relies on our jails to provide the “beds of last resort” for people who cannot get a foothold into housing and/or stable treatment in a community-based setting.
Having lived in this environment since 2017, Adrian and Craigen have a lot of insights into a better way to do incarceration of seriously mentally ill patients/inmates, and more importantly, they have a vision for a “post-incarceration” residential community. That vision – New Life Creating Community – would help to stem the recidivism of mentally ill inmates who are released and with very little treatment or sustained support, are enticed by meth, or lose ground and end up in jail again and again. But, that will be a conversation for a future episode!
We are grateful to the team at L.A. County Twin Towers – involving the Sheriff’s Department and the Jail Mental Health Division – for supporting this work and granting access to interview Adrian and Craigen for this podcast.
To contact the authors
Letters can be written as follows (must use booking numbers)
Craigen Armstrong #4805708
Adrian Berumen #3651882
Use this address and only send a letter on paper with no staples, attachments of photos. Envelope must not have a metal clasp.
PO Box 86164
Los Angeles, CA 90086
Emails are checked by family members