Saturday, May 8, 2010

Brain Injury and Crime

funny pictures of dogs with captions

Before my medication, I was ... kind of crazy. I remember thinking horribly aggressive and violent things (they would just pop into my head) and then the rational side of my brain would act as school teacher and tell the class to 'cool it'. Shock would follow.       I was ashamed, and didn't really tell anybody about this, not in detail anyway. I didn't want people to be scared or ashamed of me.

For example, last summer,  G was helping me out in the kitchen (he's really good in the kitchen). He was peeling vegetables. It looked like he was being painfully slow about it. I was also peeling vegetables, with a knife in my hand. Out of nowhere, I wanted to scream at him and tell him to " get the f*ck out of the kitchen if he was going to be so gddmned slow".           I know.  What a way to treat someone you love, huh?   I quickly realized what was going on in my head, and I re-focused on another task.  I scared myself. We had dinner. I didn't say anything, I was too ashamed and scared. I didn't want him to leave me on a Mental Institution doorstep.

loldogs, cute puppy pictures, lolcat, I Has a Hotdog
G on the left, me before medication on the right

  I recognized this new pattern, and  actively worked to keep my frustration levels to a minimum, even employing some quick mental meditation when I felt a building up of emotion.  I would remove myself from a situation and either stare at trees or puppies or imagine my anger and frustration draining away from my body. It worked pretty well.

Things that make me laugh.. funny dog photos

All this with a mild Traumatic Brain Injury. I can only imagine what would happen with a more serious injury. At least I could recognize what was going on (even though a lot of other things went over my head).  The brain works in a way that doesn't quite alert you to the injury, so unlike a broken bone where you can recognize a problem.. the brain acts like water wings and convinces you you're fine in deep water (pay no attention to the shark).  It's ok to drive, it's ok to go to work, it's ok to feel really pissed off and want to start throwing loaves of bread at strangers in the grocery store just because you can't find your favorite bread (I didn't throw the bread... I just REALLY wanted to,  instead, I stood in the aisle with my hat pulled down over my eyes and choked back tears).

funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures

So, when I read this article on Roethlisberger, I wasn't shocked.  Roethlisberger sustained a head injury years ago in a motorcycle accident (he wasn't wearing a helmet). There are now sexual assault allegations.

"on the spectrum of severe neurobehavioral concerns, a “jock in a bar incident” doesn’t truly engender a lot of societal concern. Why do I continue to blog on this topic? Because it has serious implications for our society and the brain injured community whom I represent. "

"Finally, a history of head trauma and TBI has been linked to violent aggression and criminal behavior, and the prevalence of TBI among violent offenders has consistently been documented as higher than that of the general population. In a sample of 279 veterans who had sustained penetrating brain injuries during military service in Vietnam, Grafman and colleagues (1996) found that veterans with ventromedial frontal lobe lesions had an increased risk of aggressive and violent behavior, relative to veterans with nonfrontal brain lesions and normal controls. However, research on the prevalence of closed head trauma among criminals is often based on the self-report of inmates in correctional facilities (e.g., Schofield et al., 2006). Such studies have documented extremely high rates of self-reported incidents of closed head trauma, including 86% of prison inmates in New Zealand (Barnfield & Leathem, 1998) and 87% of county jail inmates in Washington (Slaughter, Fann, & Ehde, 2003). In a sample of 15 convicted murderers sentenced to death, Lewis and colleagues (1986) found that 100% of this death row sample had a history of severe head injury."

"Should society thus excuse everyone with frontal lobe damage from criminal punishment? Of course not. We can’t set all of our criminals free, regardless of what explanation there may be for behavior that threatens society. I am an advocate for the brain injured, but I am not a fool. Yet justice does require a further incorporation of what we know about brain damage into our criminal law. We must define diminished responsibility into categories more than “sane versus insane”. Brain damage can dramatically change the capacity of an individual to behave like an adult. We do not punish children like we do adults. We should not punish the brain injured like adults either.

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