Columns, Op-Eds, & Interviews

Opinion: I have a form of PTSD that’s rarely talked about

Funeral at Dolores Mission Church, Boyle Heights, CA, by Celeste Fremon, Photoshop alterations also via CF
WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

My time spent in unsafe neighborhoods and unsafe prisons has taught me a secret: Most people in urban America and locked up suffer from what I consider to be a serious mental health affliction. 

That problem is what I call “Hood PTSD,” a type of post-traumatic stress disorder. People raised in poorer areas with more violence across the U.S. are facing historical harms, anxieties and mental disorders similar to people who fight in war or live in war-torn areas.

The statistics are eye-opening. According to a report from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, between 3.3 million and 10 million children witness domestic violence annually. More than 80% of inner-city youth report experiencing one or more traumatic events. And 1 out of 10 children under the age of 6 living in a major U.S. city report witnessing a shooting or stabbing.   

For myself, long-term exposure to abusive parents, domestic and neighborhood violence, and gangs and shootings has had long-term negative consequences. 

As a young kid, I survived a house fire in Texas and had my head busted open with a baseball bat. I saw many shootings while growing up, and watched law enforcement raid drug spots in my neighborhood. 

Where others have parents to guide them, I hated how my father treated my mother. And my brother, whom I looked up to as a kid, slapped his girlfriend around. Before prison, I also abused women. 

My father was a full-blown alcoholic who abused our whole family. I took the brunt of it. He had already run my older brother and sister out of the house at different times. I think his dad raised him the same way — he must have had his own Hood PTSD. I do know he hardened me toward everyone in the world, in a way that made me not care about others.

Living with Hood PTSD made me self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. I loved alcohol because I could black out and not remember anything. And I could stop the nightmares. 

When I think back to school, I think about all the ways I looked down on myself. I did not know how to read or think for myself. Even once I found a voice, it was the voice of a little boy who said, “Nobody will make fun of me and no one will ever abuse me again.” It was the voice of pain. 

I needed to feed off of hate and hurt from others to operate. I got my guidance from the streets. Gangs gave me a false sense of love and truth. It was a fake brotherhood. It was a meeting of pained people. I still believe that had I gotten help from a doctor, it would have saved my life.

Instead, Hood PTSD led me to prison. When you don’t trust yourself and others, you think, “It’s me against the world.” Had lawyers looked into my past, or had the judge been told about my PTSD, then I think they might have had mercy on me. There has recently been a rise in the use of mitigation specialists to look into people’s childhood trauma, which can lead to lighter sentences. 

When soldiers come back from war, we take their PTSD seriously and help them get treatment. Even though there are roadblocks and problems to treatment for them, too, we at least acknowledge the prevalence of PTSD for veterans, and have intentions to help them. 

I wish we would give the same consideration and generosity to kids from the hood. Kids in cities across the U.S. have seen violence and been left with scars in the same way as soldiers serving in the military. As victims of poverty and violence, of Hood PTSD, we too should be offered affordable and accessible medical care and mercy from the judicial system.


Author Samuel Karim published a children’s book, “Sam and Lady’s Big Adventure,” in 2015. He has participated in several educational and philanthropic programs to better himself and his community while incarcerated in Illinois.

This article first appeared on Prison Journalism Project and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Policy makers and voters who shape the lives of incarcerated people, in most cases, do so without input from those most directly affected.

The Prison Journalism Project (PJP), works to change that information imbalance by “bringing transparency to the world of mass incarceration from the inside” by training incarcerated writers to be journalists, so they can “participate in the dialogue about criminal legal reform.”  

PJP then publishes the stories of their newly trained reporter/writers, while also encouraging publication partners like WitnessLA to republish these stories that empower “a marginalized community to be a vital voice in criminal legal reform.”  


  • “When soldiers come back from war, we take their PTSD seriously and help them get treatment.”
    Not so.
    The soldiers who did My Lai have that one.

  • Having spent over 35 years in law enforcement, I’ve seen and met hundreds if not thousands of individuals from the “hood” both on the street and while working in the jails. Based on my experiences, I think Mr. Karim is very much on point. The life he describes is way too often the norm for so many of the kids growing up in the “hood.” Unfortunately, very few of the so-called leaders who claim to represent the interests of those who dwell in the “hood” want to talk about the environment that Mr. Karim describes. Instead they want to point to other factors as prime contributors leading to negative issues plaguing crime-ridden neighborhoods. When in fact, the environment in the HOME is the major element in developing healthy thinking kids who look upon the world in a positive way. That includes having a positive father influence in the household. I am sure there have been surveys – which the main-steam media would just as soon not herald – that shows the number of prisoners in our state prisons who grew up without a positive paternal influence in the home is nearly nil (and that would apply across all races). Nope, no one wants to talk about that as a (if not the) MAJOR contributing factor when it comes to crime and delinquency.

    No, not going to happen. Does not play with folk’s (“leaders” and media’s) agendas. Unfortunately, it just happens to be reality. Until people start talking about it and it becomes a center-stage topic and real changes start to be made, our society will continue to produce and waste the Samuel Karims born in to this world.

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