Occupational therapy as a profession is based on the premise that everyone is entitled to a life that strikes a balance between work and leisure, one that includes independence in daily activities. For those who are recently released from prison or suffering from mental illness however, this may be difficult. Social stigma combined with personal difficulties may prevent these individuals from leading a balanced and independent life. In such cases Occupational therapists can assist them by advocating for their rights and benefits, while helping them to identify their skills and learn new ones, so they may lead productive lives. New York State Occupational Therapy Association (NYSOTA)’s ‘OTs Walk with NAMI’ pep rally on February 6th at Touro College, drew attention to this premise.
The evening began with a performance by Figures in Flight Released, a modern dance troupe which includes formerly incarcerated men. These men use this group as a means to express their life experiences. “Modern dance,” said Andre Noel, the troupe’s director, “is a venue to express ourselves emotionally; (to) go into ourselves and dance our hearts out. We may not be able to express our emotions through words, but we can, through dance.” By finding a way to express their emotions in a productive and meaningful way, these men avoid one of the common causes of re-incarceration.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 63% of offenders released from prison, were re-incarcerated within 3 years. Although there may be many reasons for this, the most common one was their inability to adjust back to life outside of prison, one that required them to find and maintain jobs and re-establish relationships with family and friends while avoiding the people who initially led them into trouble. Additionally, if their lives on the outside did not go according to their plans, their inability to handle the resultant frustration, contributed to the overall difficulties in readjustment. Many offenders revert to the life that initially led them to prison, after being unable to find a job and manage their money, or avoid drugs, and as a result find themselves back in prison. Occupational therapy could be a great resource in helping these men build the necessary skills to stay out of prison; but as such, prisoners remain an underserved population.
The evening continued with a presentation by NAMI, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI is an advocacy organization that provides education for those who are affected by mental illnesses, another underserved population. This year, NAMI’s 8th annual walk, their largest fundraiser of the year, is on May 10th, and will begin at the South Street Seaport Promenade. Every year, NYSOTA sponsors a team, ‘OTs Walk with NAMI’, to walk together in support of this organization. This year, students from NYU’s Class of 2016 will be joining them. For more information, those interested may contact Ariel Roth at email@example.com.
The final presentation of the evening was given by Jeff Tomlinson regarding Lobby Day, which is set to take place on February 26th in Albany. On Lobby Day, occupational therapy practitioners, assistants and students can meet their legislators to discuss any legislation that may impact the profession. This year, there are 3 things on NYSOTA’s agenda: diminished funding for early intervention services, licensure for occupational therapy assistants, and occupational therapy services being covered under worker’s compensation. For more information regarding Lobby Day, Jeff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NYSOTA’s ‘OTs walk with NAMI’ pep rally reiterated what an important resource occupational therapy services can be. There are many areas that occupational therapists can provide support, but it is also clear that many cannot avail of these services. By expanding the horizons of where occupational therapists can practice, services can be brought to populations that do not currently have access to them.