When I was in the 4th year of my acupuncture training, myself and my classmates would take a weekly trip out to Arohata Woman’s prison to give treatment to the women in the Drug Treatment Unit.
What I noticed was this – almost every wāhine in the unit was Māori. This gave me a visual reference to the statistics that point to the fact that Māori are disproportionately represented in the incarceration system.
When talking to these wāhine it became clear that their incarceration was heavily impacting on their health outcomes in the negative sense, despite the fact that they were in a programme of rehabilitation.
Most women complained of weight gain and digestive issues that had only started to occur since being in prison – they pointed the finger at the terrible quality of kai that they were given. They also complained of insomnia and headaches which were often induced by the huge amount of stress that they were feeling from being disconnected from their whānau, as well as the stress that they felt from the DTU programme itself – some aspects of which were in fact working to compound trauma and also the sense of shame that many of them already carried around with them in their daily lives.
These health complaints were not adequately addressed within the prison and the women felt as though their well-being was not being taken seriously.
Some women already had pre-existing health conditions (mental and physical) which they had been using drugs to self-medicate for as they were not receiving help elsewhere and did not know where to turn. One woman had been using methamphetamine to relieve her chronic constipation for which she was not receiving treatment.
Many Māori use drugs to cope with the ongoing negative impacts of colonisation – poverty, shame, anger, marginalisation. All outcomes of systemic racism, of which incarceration plays a massive role in its perpetuation.
Please do not let this continue. It is barbaric and totally unhelpful in the scheme of addressing the real underlying issues of drug addiction. This should not be difficult to see.