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Waiting For an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration
By Christine Montross, M.D.
“This is a tremendously important, transformative book. Dr. Montross poignantly captures the unnecessarily brutal experience of individuals incarcerated in America. As a nation, we should heed her call for meaningful change to restore basic humanity.” – Ellen Gallagher, Department of Homeland Security attorney.
Dr. Christine Montross has spent her career treating the most severely ill psychiatric patients. Several years ago, she set out to investigate why so many of her patients got caught up in the legal system when discharged form her care – and what happened to them therein.
The stark world of American prisons is shocking for all who enter it. But Dr. Montross’s expertise – the mind in crisis – allowed her to reckon with the human stories behind the bars. A father attempting to weigh the impossible calculus of a plea bargain. A bright young woman whose life is derailed by addiction. Boys in a juvenile detention facility who, desperate for human connection, invent a way to communicate with one another from cell to cell. Overextended doctors and correctional officers who strive to provide care and security in environments riddles with danger. In these encounters, Montross finds that while our system of correction routinely makes people with mental illness worse, just as routinely it renders mentally stable people psychiatrically unwell. The system is quite literally maddening.
Our method of incarceration takes away not only freedom but also selfhood and soundness of mind. In a nation where 95 percent of all inmates are released from prison and return to our communities, this is a practice that punishes all.
“Waiting for an Echo is a towering indictment, a shocking expose’, and somehow also an elegiac ode to those that society has left behind. Montross writes from inside the ranks of our broken mental health system, but she does so with a poet’s eye, bringing to life the human toll behind the horrifying statistics. The result is a rallying cry that is both personal and universal – and hopefully, one that we will not be able to ignore.” -Susannah Cahalan, author.
Christine Montross is an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a practicing inpatient psychiatrist. She is an award-winning poet and the author of Body of Work and Falling into the Fire.