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Blog: Survivor Stories

Working to Make a Difference for Justice-Involved Individuals

Black and white photo of empty jail cells.

Making a difference is what we are passionate about at the Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska. Helping individuals find their voice and share their stories is a step toward finding purpose and healing. Hearing those voices share their journey warms the heart and keeps our passion alive to keep working at making a difference.

In North Platte, Shir Smith and I (MenDi McCuiston) are passionate about working within the correctional system and we are working to raise awareness about brain injury there. In 2022, we began screening in the Lincoln County Detention Center (LCDC) and completed the OSU (Ohio State University TBI Identification Method) screening on 116 inmates in the general population. The report came back showing the number of individuals who received a blow to the head or reported being strangled at some point in their lives was 109, or 94% of the individuals screened. Seeing this staggering number of individuals who were unaware of the changes that could occur within the brain after trauma, Shir and I set to work at making a difference in our community. 

Once approved, we began introducing the MindSource Modules to the inmates who were interested in learning more about brain injury and making a change within themselves. The group started with 6 individuals on March 31, 2023.

The Mindsource modules helped provide individuals who’ve screened positive for brain injury with the insight and tools to better cope with and address the symptoms that they deal with, such as short-term memory loss, delayed speed of processing, and difficulty with emotional regulation. 

Over the next 10 months, we screened 43 individuals specifically for the program. We were limited to only 6 participants at a time, so some of the 43 individuals were released or sentenced to other facilities during the process. However, 10 individuals received a certificate for completing the MindSource Modules.

With continued interest in learning from individuals in the system, we were able to adapt a Wise Mind Curriculum to be brain injury specific and added that education to our curriculum. 

The Wise Mind Curriculum we use is a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) that uses the concept of a reasonable, emotional, and wise mind to describe a person's thoughts and behaviors. The reasonable mind is driven by logic, the emotional mind is driven by feelings, and the wise mind is a middle-ground between the two. With this approach, individuals learn skills to use their wise minds and better manage their behavior. This curriculum is longer so we had 7 individuals that were able to complete the curriculum and receive a certificate for completing the BIA Wise Mind Curriculum.

While some of these numbers and dates may be boring to read and come across as cold or unfeeling, Shir and I are very passionate about the work we are doing to help those who are ready to better themselves and move forward. These numbers represent individuals–not just statistics–and a few of them wanted to share their thoughts on the class with you:

“I want to say thanks for giving me the opportunity to be a part of your class and thanks to everyone in this group for acceptance.”

“This class has taught me a lot about myself, where my problems really come from, and how to accept them and move forward with life.”

“I have come so far so many times in my life only to let my past grab a hold of me again and pull me down. I know it is on me and that we all have choices. No excuses at all for my choices and I do take responsibility for my actions. This class has been good for me. Since I have started going to classes, some of the things I learned that I suffer from may have come from the injuries I have endured to my head. My head may be telling me how I see things and I am missing how things really are, also me responding or reacting to those things. Reacting vs responding has helped me a lot because I have been one to just react and with our first reaction usually following is the emotion of anger. I have been trying to work on responding and staying in control of myself than reacting and not having control. Another big one for me is the acceptance of others and trying not to have expectations from others. It feels to me that I have always had expectations from others like they owe me something and high expectations at that. This one to me has been hard for me and I do continue to struggle with having expectations of people.”

“Thank you MenDi and Shir for all the support you guys gave me with wise and emotional mind classes with brain injury. Now I understand how to deal with my brain injury trauma, and I understand how to deal with people with brain injury signs and symptoms. I now understand how to use these tools to navigate my life and use [these] coping skills to better my life and future.”

Individuals in the detention center still expressed interest in further education, so we were able to implement a Mentorship Program within the detention center to offer further instruction for those interested in mentoring others. So far, we have had 3 who want to enter this program and 2 of them have received certificates. 

Changing lives doesn’t happen overnight and not everyone is open to making changes or ready to make changes, but making a difference in one person’s life is enough. We are passionate about getting out there to raise awareness, to be the change needed to make a difference, and, to hopefully reduce recidivism rates.

We will continue on this journey of education and we hope to raise awareness and spark passion in others to join us on this journey.


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PO Box 22147, Lincoln, NE 68542