The Students from the Psychology Club within the International Slavic University conducted an interview with the psychologist Ivana Stoimenovska

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The Students from the Psychology Club within the International Slavic University conducted an interview with the psychologist Ivana Stoimenovska

 We are delighted to present the interview with Ivana Stoimenovska, a psychologist employed in a prison. By reading the interview you will have the idea about her job responsibilities.

What is your typical day at work like?

It’s an interesting question. My working day begins as soon as I leave my cell phone outside the Closed area of the prison where I work, a place where the use of cell phones is not allowed.  Then I have to pass through anX-ray baggage scanner where the sentenced persons and employees are being checked due to the fact that prohibited objects are not allowed to be carried. Then I go to my office where I work within the team of the Admission department where assessments of the person and the classification of the sentenced persons is done. The working day usually goes by having conversation and doing psychological tests on the sentenced that are needed for their observation. Some days are harder, some are easier and it all depends on the number of newly arrived sentenced persons that should receive treatment during a time period when the legal deadline of stay of the sentenced in the observation period should not be passed.

What are the duties of a psychologist employed in a prison?

As I have already said, I work within the team for observation that works at the Admission department, or the admission period and the team is comprised of a pedagogue, a social worker and a psychologist. The job responsibilities of a psychologist involve through a conversation to collect information about the personal life of the sentenced, (his/her background), beginning from the early childhood until his/her arrival at the prison, including his/her previous crime history if the person has it. The psychologist should gain information about the possible use of psychoactive substances or alcohol, and also the psychologist should detect the symptoms of an early development of a mental disease. If the sentenced has the symptoms of a mental disease, the psychologist is obliged to send him/her to а psychiatrist. The psychologist should determine certain personal characteristics by using various psychological tests and he/she should give forecast regarding the behavior of the sentenced while serving a prison sentence. Also, the psychologist should suggest how ought to be worked with the sentenced during the treatment and to express an opinion about the possible recidivism of the sentenced, i.e. whether he/she will be able to repeat criminal behavior or not.

How the re-socialization process of one prisoner is conducted regarding the psychological side? When do you know that this process has been successfully completed?

Concerning the re-socialization, I have a lot of things to say and unfortunately it is a very painful issue in our country. I will try to answer about it, as much as I can briefly. The sector for re-socialization is responsible for the process of re-socialization where educators who are involved in the treatment of the sentenced that were given to them by the expert team from the Admission department including their recommendations.Regarding the success of the re-socialization, I would like to say that the process of re-socialization does not mean only work with the sentenced during the period of serving the sentence. The process of re-socialization is a complex process and it means a successful treatment of the sentenced in the prison, and out of it after serving the sentence or during the post penal period. There have to be find methods of support of the families of the sentenced in order the sentenced to be able to renew and strengthen the family relationships especially after the person is released from prison. The family is one of the most important tools what can serve as a powerful link in the post penal acceptance.

Here is an example: We cannot talk about a successful re-socialization when there are persons who come from socially vulnerable categories of groups, people who stole because they did not have the basic needs of living and a roof over their heads. What do you think will happen to a person like this, when he/she comes out of prison, when he/she is on the streets again, jobless and homeless and without food? In what way will he/she be prevented from being returned to prison again?  As a person involved in practical work, I have said many times that the state has to be involved in the process of re-socialization. Additionally, the re-socialization hinders the stigmatization of these people in our society. For example, tell me who would employ a person, if he knew that this person had been sentenced previously. We have to work on breaking the stereotypes in the society, related to this population.

At the end, let’s answer the question that I will know that the process of re-socialization is successful. It is very simple. When all the things I mentioned above will function appropriately and the person will not be returned to prison again.

What methods or types of psychotherapy are applied for the change of behavior of the prisoners in our prisons?

So far, the old model has been implemented, i.e. regular programs (moral ethical education, work engagement, educational process, leisure, recreation and cultural activities) that have existed for the sentenced persons and include individual and group work by the educators.Recently new programs have been developed according to the criteria of the European Union. Programs with cognitive behavioral approach have been piloted. Additionally, it has been worked on programs for disabled and these programs should be revived in the near future. This how the newest special program that is being worked on at the moment and the program that has appeared as a need in recent years and according to the actual events has become the program for radically sentenced persons.

Can you tell us a successful story of re-socialized person who has had served sentence?

There are successful stories, but unfortunately, I cannot single out one.

What are the things that particular attention has been paid to in order to prevent a person’s repeated offense?

In cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy intended to sentenced persons there is a part that is called “mapping of the offense”. When the sentenced person will analyze his/her own behavior and thoughts and emotions that have caused him/her to commit the offense in order to revive and change them in a positive direction, so that the person will not face a repeated offense. However, I will say that all of these would not have made any sense if the process of re-socialization within post penal period has not been completed.

According to you, what can the society and the citizens do in order to prevent the persons to commit law punishable offenses?

It has been said that according to the situations in the prisons the situation in the state can be perceived. If the state system started to function in a different way, the number of the criminals would decrease. However, this is another topic that should be discussed by other persons appropriate for these problems.

Is there is personal characteristic trait of the prisoners or an event that you have noticed that occurred repeatedly in the past within a large number of prisoners?

Each person is a story of himself/herself and therefore I would not like to generalize.

What are the challenges that you face at your working post?

When you realize that you will work with a specific population, you will have to forget the ego and leave at the doorstep. All these people cannot tolerate when a person is demonstrating power and force. Due to the fact of their resistance to certain laws and forces they were put into prison and if you start looking down on them, it is a matter of time when the prisoners will behave in an opposite way. It is a great skill to be able to decrease the power at their level and be a guide towards change. It is an artistry in such an environment not to judge anyone (the court have judged them), but to be able to understand why someone have committed a certain crime and to work on the problem. It is an ability to put yourself in their shoes and to see the world through their prism. This cannot be achieved by anyone and it is a challenge for me and for anyone who would like to work with a sentenced population.

Do you think there would be a difference in the behavior of prisoners, especially those from the opposite sex, if your gender is not female?

I cannot say that there is a significant difference in the behavior of the sentenced against the employees in relation to gender. I have mentioned previously; the gender does not have any important role. The attitude between the employed and the sentenced is important and the story of serving a prison sentence begins from here.

It seems that your job is quite emotionally exhausting from our point of view. Is that true?

Yes, sometimes it can be quite exhausting.

What do you do in order to revive your energy and spirit after your working responsibilities? How do you protect yourself from the possible “burnout” after the working day and during the working hours?

During the working day with my colleagues we often use humor and that can relax us a lot. In such an environment there are often stressful and strenuous events and after a certain period, we retell them in a specific way, I would say we use “our prison humor”. You should know that we should find ways for venting the negative emotions because otherwise they could reflect on our mental and psychological health. When I got employed often at the end of the working day, I caught myself in situations when I thought about someone’s life story depending on the difficulty of the life circumstances the sentenced person had went through and that was the thing that was really exhausting for me. In the course of time I have learnt not to take the work at home, so today when I finish my working day I know automatically as using a switch to turn off from the working day that I had.  Even when somebody asks me about my working day, I need a certain period to go back to my thoughts and to think about what happened that day. I surprise myself sometimes how I managed to achieve that! I think that over the years the experience you gain will teach you how to overcome the difficulties that you have had. That is my method to revive the energy and the spirit.

What is your motivation to work in this area?

Regarding all the things in life I have wanted to know why certain phenomenon or state occurs, especially the way the human psyche has functioned. I have always been interested in criminogenic persons and their psychology. I have wanted to know about the things that happen in their mind since I was a child, especially when I watched films with criminalistic content. I have enrolled at psychology and I did master degree in the field of Social and Forensic Psychology trying to come closer to the answers. You cannot get the answers 100 % because the psychology is very abstract. I am sometimes motivated by the possibility to gain knowledge in something new, and this can lead me in another direction where I can find a field of study that I would like to research. I have always been motivated by things that offer a possibility to do research, to learn new things and to work on our own personal progress and development. Psychology offers that and this could be a motivation for your students who have enrolled or who plan to enroll at the studies of psychology. Also, they should know that if they graduate from the Faculty of Psychology that will not make them good psychologists, and that they should always strive to do advanced training in a certain problem area of the psychology that is interesting for them and they should never stop having a desire to learn.

In what way has this job position changed your attitude to the world and life?

Nobody is perfect and not all people are the same. All of us have our own life story that is specific only for himself / herself and that has led him/her to the current situation regardless of it. It is your duty to be human and if you can at least make someone feel better, try to do that. The satisfaction is always higher when you will see that you have contributed to make someone feel better. The hatred and high ego will not bring us something good. The only thing we can gain as a gift from the hatred is being destructive and auto destructive. Unfortunately, in our country the hatred and disrespect of the different persons among us has increased constantly and this fact is unfortunately devastating for the society.

Is there a psychological book that has significantly changed you? What are you reading at the moment?

At first sight I like the book “Steppenwolf“ by Herman Hesse, and I think I read it at the beginning of the studies in Psychology and this book has touched me because it has aroused a lot of thinking questions and those were the issues I had not come across in other book. The issues are presented in a very intelligent and metaphoric way and it is about multifaceted and undefined nature of every person’s soul. It is about the eternal battle between the more conventional life filled with norms and limitations and the urges that are present in each person and that fight a war against the artificially created conformist life. It is a book about the revolt against the mediocracy and narrow-mindedness of the living without deeper ambitions and aims that should particularly be issues concerning younger people, as a moving force of the society. The books “When Nietzsche Wept” and “The Schopenhauer Cure” by Irvin D.  Yalom have left a great impression to me. I am reading professional literature at the moment and I am preparing for the exam in Family and Systemic Psychotherapy.

Do you think that there is something that has been implemented in the prisons abroad that you think it could be implemented in our prisons and could bring to a positive change?

I went to a business trip to the Republic of Ireland and I have visited some of the prisons there and according to many statistics their prison system is one of the best in Europe. They serve as an example according to which many prison systems in the world should work. The conditions of the convicted persons and the way the organization of their daily activities, trainings that exist for enabling the convicts to work, the certificates with which they can work in any country of Europe, contribution of the prisoners from humanitarian character etc.  We could learn a lot from them.

At the end, as a psychologist, what would be your advice to the readers?

They should never stop learning.

Thank you!
The interview was conducted by Dance Miteva,
a student at the Faculty of Psychology,
within the International Slavic University.