A Glimpse into the Role of Psychology in Prisons

By Sally Kate Zaft, Staff Writer-

Although crime dramas may provide viewers lots of entertainment, the reality of working in prisons is not as glamorous as it is portrayed. 

On March 3, Dr. Veronica Tetterton, a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Anticipate Joy, shared some of her experiences. A Zoom event was held for students to join, listen to her story, and ask any questions.  

Tetterton also serves as an author, public speaker and is a UTC alum. She worked in a women’s prison called FMC Carswell where she was a clinical psychologist and correctional officer. 

During Tetterton’s time at FMC, she dealt with high-profile inmates and former death row inmates. She is often asked why she would want to do this type of work with the people she deals with.

“Working with this population really requires the ability to get past the crimes that the inmates committed in order for you to have the compassion and a genuine empathy that you need to really be able to help them,” Tetterton said. “But the question that sometimes I’m asked is how do you have compassion for a murderer?”

Tetterton shared that getting to know the people she was working with and their backgrounds really called her to help them.  

Tetterton also shared that her roles as a clinical psychologist and correctional officer in the prison often overlapped with each other. She spoke about how she tried to keep them separate from each other. 

“In the prison system, you have to be very careful because you have to have very good boundaries, to ensure that inmates don’t try to use you or manipulate you,” Tetterton said. 

She tried to be as open and honest with the people she was working with while also setting clear standards. 

“They knew that if I had to engage in a correctional role that it didn’t mean that I wasn’t still a caring person, that still when I sat in front of them, and I was providing them with services they could still see me as a person who cared,” she said.

Tetterton gained inspiration for her job while mainly working as a trauma treatment coordinator. She realized, in this area, that she was doing the right thing for her career. 

“I so often had those opportunities to do that when I was working with the trauma offender, so it would have been later on working with trauma offenders that I really learned treatment and helping people live their best life was exactly what I knew I was supposed to do,” Tetterton said.

Tetterton also talked about the uglier side of her job with topics such as sexual assault and drug abuse. 

After working in the prisons, Tetterton branched out into her own practice and co-founded Anticipate Joy with Dr. Carla Evans.  

“One of the things that I discovered is that there were so many people who were free in the society; they were free in the Community but still, in bondage to mental health concerns,” Tetterton said.

With all the different paths that Tetterton has gone down, self-care still remains an important part of her routine. 

“Self-care for me looks like waking up a little bit earlier than everybody else in my home when it’s really, really quiet and the kids aren’t up yet, so nobody’s asking what’s for breakfast,” Tetterton said. “In that quietness, I go to our exercise room, and I do exercise, I meditate, I do some studying, some reading, kind of those types of things to get myself together for the beginning of the day. That’s one of the things that’s really important to me.” 

Tetterton also shared that spending time with her family is another version of her self-care and very important to do in any way she can.

“Other things that are important for self-care for me is really being connected to my family. So activities and doing things with my family, whether or not we’re going out to eat, we’re cooking a meal together in the home, just engaging in my family, that’s what brings a great deal of joy for me, so I make sure that I try to do that,” Tetterton said. 

In the conclusion of her story, Tetterton wanted to stress the importance of students becoming a part of things now rather than later. 

“I wanted to just encourage the graduate students, undergraduate students, to get involved in as much work as you can,” Tetterton said.

Even though not all the work students may be doing now seems fun or important, Tetterton still stresses the need for it. 

“I want to encourage those people that are looking at the big things to really appreciate and don’t despise the smaller beginnings,” Tetterton said. “Really go hard for looking for opportunities to get involved in that capacity.”

This event was sponsored by the Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies program, Department of Psychology, Department of Social, Cultural, and Justice Studies, and College of Arts and Sciences.

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