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Two former inmates say better traumatic brain injury treatment behind bars could prevent recidivism

inmates brain injury
Posted at 5:22 PM, Jul 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-27 14:07:03-04

DENVER, Co. — While serving a 21-year sentence for robbery, Marchell Taylor Bey wanted to put those mistakes in the past.

“I was always agitated. I was always snappy, agitated, impulsive, but I didn't know what was wrong,” he said.

While in prison, he educated himself about business, found a business partner, and when he got out, they got to work. But he soon found himself back inside.

“Thirty-six days later, after doing 21 years of incarceration, I went and robbed a Papa John's pizza. My brain just shut down,” he said.

While he takes ownership of his actions, Taylor Bey learned about ongoing research from the University of Denver that suggests he was also a prisoner of his own mind.

“I didn't know I had a traumatic brain injury. I didn't even know I had mental health issues,” Taylor Bey admitted.

The CDC defines a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, as an injury that can affect how the brain works, caused by a blow to the head. The CDC recognizes it as a major cause of disability.

New findings by researchers estimate 50-80% of America’s prison population has had a TBI. Outside of prison, less than 9% of the general population has this injury.

The statistics are worse for incarcerated women, with the study finding 97% have had a TBI and half have had multiple.

The results of this groundbreaking research was shocking to the study’s author, Dr. Kim Gorgens of the University of Denver, who has been speaking out about this issue for the last few years.

Dr. Gorgens’ research has shown that TBIs can impact someone’s ability for self-regulation, judgment, reasoning, and problem-solving, and that, she says, can lead inmates to re-offend once they are out of jail.

Corey Shively met Taylor Bey in prison and is now his business partner at their company, AYBOS Marketing. Thanks to the study, they both discovered TBIs they suffered when they were younger have impacted their judgment and impulse control, and are now getting help for it.

“Trauma is the only thing that we let get to a stage four, you know before we start to treat it, and the treatment is prison,” said Shively.

Along with growing their marketing business, they’ve made it their mission to educate their communities about traumatic brain injuries. The two business partners have created a campaign called Rebuild Your Mind, with the intention of getting the word out about TBIs and mental illness to communities where they are not normally talked about.

“We should have better resources in our community to be able to deal with this trauma upfront. We shouldn't have to wait till Marchell is 47 and I'm 40 years old for us to get some therapy, for us to get back to a baseline state of safety,” he said.

They’ve taken their mission to the Colorado State Capitol, with the hopes of changing policy across the nation.

They helped create a new law that mandates neuropsychological exams for inmates once they get sentenced. If a mental illness or brain injury is detected, psychologists make two plans: one for prison staff to manage the inmate and the other for the inmate on how they can better themselves, all with the hope of reducing recidivism.

Taylor Bey hopes this is just the first step in helping people like himself recognize their own disability to make themselves, and everyone around them, safer.

“They return back to a baseline state of safety so people can operate effectively, and they don't have to suffer in silence,” he said.