Guest blogger—taking on mental health in prisons

By Sue Westwind author of the blog: The Nutrient Path

Check out the rest of her blog. It’s all good. Thank you Sue for letting me end the week with a good piece. I’ve needed a break and now my readers can feast their eyes on your wonderful thinking and writing while I continue to rest.

Have We All Gone To Jail?

As speech after speech at the Democratic National Convention urges hope about the promise of America, I recalled a recent Associated Press story:


Record-high ratio of Americans in prison

From the perspective of the nutrient path, we must reject the following, oft-heard reasons why so many of our fellow citizens are behind bars:

  • Crime rates are the result of the breakdown of the family and bad morals pushed by the liberal media
  • Better reporting only makes it look like there is more bad behavior
  • Crime happens because the poor and persons of color–the majority of prison populations–won’t work hard and better themselves
  • Criminals should be rounded up and set on an island to fend for themselves, a la the movie “Escape from New York,” where all of Manhattan was turned into a maximum security prison

Luckily there is research to support an entirely different, compassionate yet scientific view of the incarcerated, who are often diagnosed and treated as mentally ill, not to mention sedated with medication:

Persons who “offend” also harbor toxic metals and nutrient deficiencies in their bodies that far exceed the average individual.

And yet this nutrient-poor, body-burdened profile is apparently spreading throughout an America wracked by violence, addiction, white-collar crime and juvenile mayhem.

Shouldn’t we now question scientists who claim offenders are the recipients of bad genetics that only affect less than one percent of the population? Their studies focus on areas of the brain such as the amygdala, which processes emotion, or the pre-frontal cortex, the long-term planning and judgement site. Meanwhile researchers at UCLA have shown that even at the level of the brain of a fruit fly, a genetic tendency toward aggression can be reduced by simply altering diet!

Without awareness of the real interplay between our genes and those environmental assaults that may begin in the womb, prison is the ready solution for a society clueless about its “psychopaths.”

Roger Masters and colleagues ( believe there is converging evidence that heavy metals are implicated in violent crime. They cite seven studies of prison inmates with higher-than-average levels of lead, cadmium, and manganese, and sometimes abnormally low naturally-occuring lithium levels (known to detoxify manganese). They also note the high levels of lead found in soil along heavily traveled urban automobile corridors, plus the usual culprits: industrial plants, water pipes, leaded paint in older homes.

Last month researchers at the University of Cincinnati released evidence of the strongest link yet between lead exposure and crime rates, over a study that spanned 20 years. Scientists are also coming to see lead as a problem beyond so-called poor neighborhoods–our soil everywhere is highly contaminated with the treacherous metal.

But leaders in orthomolecular medicine have had the lowdown on crime for some time. William Walsh, now senior researcher at the Pfeiffer Institute, changed his belief about prison inmates while working at the Argonne National Laboratories. After developing an ex-offender program in 1975 that tried “the usual do-gooder things” with limited success, Walsh discovered the physiological burdens inmates carried. Like elevated serum copper, high blood lead levels, low plasma zinc (which removes copper) and elevated blood histamine were found.

Apparently, with more and more of us in jail, Pharma compounds the problem. I was struck by a headline, “Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline Help Send Kids to Prison.” Here we read the story of 12-year-old Christopher Pittman, within days of being put on Zoloft, who murdered his grandparents and set their house on fire. And that of Zachary Schmidkunz, who had suddenly stopped Zoloft without supervision, murdering a female friend in the basement of his family home.

Pharma sends adults to jail too. Donald Schell, a retired oil-rig worker on Paxil for only 2 days, shot and killed his wife, daughter, and granddaughter before committing suicide. Brynn Hartman, who shot actor-husband Phil Hartman as he slept, had been complaining that she felt odd after taking Zoloft. Stories like these are far too numerous, and rip the heart with grief.

But maybe there is hope for America yet: by looking, and learning from, across the sea.

Since 1990, England and Scotland have been exploring new ways to deal with inmate discipline among violent offenders. Prison officials in conjunction with Oxford University ran pilot studies at three institutions to guage the effect of appropriate vitamins and other nutritional supplements on the behavior of young offenders. They saw “one-quarter fewer disciplinary offences, and 37% fewer violent offences.”

The first large-scale study was finally launched this year, based on the previous success. Inmates who are not on placebo will receive more than 30 vitamins and minerals plus omega-3 fatty acids.

Anecdotally, clinicians here and abroad have discovered a decrease in violent behavior in juveniles when an offending food substance was removed from the diet: cow’s milk, for example. Orthomolecular giant Carl Pfeiffer found a pattern of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in some offenders.

And always there is the shining example of one school in this nation of ours:

Central Alternative High School in Appleton, Wisconsin was plagued with discipline problems and weapons violations among its students. The administration took a risk that paid off: they eliminated junk food, soft drinks, and processed snacks from the corridors and cafeteria. Salads, healthy meats, whole grain breads, fruits and vegetables now rule, and the students drink water.

Today is much different: grades are up, truancy is gone, arguments are rare and teachers can focus on teaching. Why hasn’t this made front page news? (Read the full story here.)

What will it take, America? Must a majority of us suffer lockdown? We need a concentrated, nationwide effort to duplicate the promise of nutrient therapy and healthful food in the UK and in one plucky USA midwestern town. No clinical trials needed. No side effects, either. And what of the cherished “bottom line?”

Our country’s annual cost per prisoner today is $23,876. The annual outlay for Appleton, Wisconsin to turn around AN ENTIRE SCHOOL? You do the cost comparison: $20,000.

I have worked as a volunteer in prisons, both women’s and men’s. That incarcerated human beings are hurting is evident. They were some of the most raw, needy, yet honest and insightful people I’ve met. Yes, they could play manipulative games, and yes, society must maintain a system of consequences for those who transgress its laws.

However, it would be my great joy to review a news story detailing the success of nutrient therapy, heavy metal detox, and special diets–combined with yoga and meditation perhaps–in our prisons. A story touting a national decline in the overall population behind bars, an emptying out of these hard places for the most physiologically assaulted (internally) among us. A story that reports how parole officers and others who interface with ex-inmates are trained to follow up and support efforts on the nutrient path.

This story–if made reality–would shift our fear of “criminals” to understanding they are not “the Other.” There but for one more toxic exposure, go I.

3 thoughts on “Guest blogger—taking on mental health in prisons

Add yours

  1. To j12, I would be honored to have your husband share the article! As I said, it is a closely held dream of mine to reach such institutions with this news. You have given me great satisfaction to think that an educator might carry it to them. Let me know how it’s received, could you?

    How insightful of you to note that schools and hospitals are patterning themselves after prisons. When people don’t know what to do, it appears the fallback position is to “crack down.” But with folks like you and your husband out there willing to consider alternatives, I feel hope.

    Jim S: thanks for sharing your experience. I too wonder how much the toxic body burden never acknowledged disrupts our sleep. For many kids, just a dose of B6 or zinc can really help, or even something as basic as calcium and magnesium.

    My husband works in the juvenile justice system and he noted a new protection-from-abuse case in our county that involves a boy whose only “abuse or neglect” is that he doesn’t get enough sleep! The mother was turned in by the school, because as a student he’s always tired and irritable. The boy is 14. How I wish someone could just tell her about simple nutrients to take before bed! I hate to see this go to court and ruin lives.

    Thank you both for supportive and perceptive comments,
    Sue Westwind

  2. This is an important idea. I also volunteer in the jails. Most of the people I have dealt with seem to be decent people, but they often go with their impulses and do not get sucesses from finishing things, like high school.

    I have seen studies showed that the amount of misbehavior in classrooms directly related to lead levels. I’m near Rochester, NY. The schools are loaded with poor people who live around places with high lead levels. We also have major behavior problems with a very low graduation rate.

    One would suppose that there are many other chemicals besides lead that are causing school and society problems, at lease in subpopulations of sensitive individuals.

    When I taught, noticed that many students with problems did not get much sleep. They were trying to function with a major sleep deficit all the time. They could never function unless there was movement involved in class activities. There are probably many things in the environment of students that really affect their performance in school.

    Thanks for your insightful article.
    Jim S

  3. Sue,
    Awesome article–I found Gianna while trying to research high histamine levels this summer, believing that the basis for a loved one’s suffering could be changed by altering diet. Thanks–I learned a lot from reading it, but it’s so very sad to know that much of those lives could have been changed before they met the justice system by simple nutritional changes…

    My husband teaches corrections and criminalistics at a local community college. He finds this quite interesting, and helpful, too. Would it be ok with you if he uses this piece in one of his classes (giving credit to you, of course)? Most current text books don’t come close to considering this, as you can imagine. I would like to share the stats, too. I worked in hospitals for the first half of my career, and schools for this half…(It occurs to me that schools and hospitals are becoming more like prisons, especially now.) Wishing the world contained many more such compassionate souls, as yourself, I love your closing statement:”There but for one more toxic exposure, go I..” so true!

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