OCD in Prison

3 min readMay 12, 2023
Photo by Tom Chrostek on Unsplash

Mass incarceration is mass murder of souls; it warps personalities and crushes human potential. The United States has an insane and pointless justice system designed to lock up as many (primarily poor) people as possible for as long as possible. It typically does not benefit anyone, with the exception of satisfying the bloodlust of a punitive public obsessed with addressing the symptoms of harmful behavior while ignoring their causes.

You may be one of the millions of Americans who find themselves locked away in a room to read, play cards and watch TV day after day until society pretends you’ve paid your debt. If so, and you also suffer from OCD, this unfortunate situation ironically presents an opportunity to make great progress.

On the one hand, the stress of incarceration will eat away at your resistance to your OCD. And OCD makes being locked up even more difficult; OCD is itself a mental prison and OCD rituals can make life more difficult and even more dangerous in jail or prison.

But think about this: Your struggle against OCD is a struggle to let go of false control — to let go of trying to control your life through irrational behavior. In prison or jail, you are being presented by the Universe with a stark reality: You are not in control. You are really not in control of anything but (potentially) your own mind. Your challenge is to look at the metal of your cage and think, “I release all control.”

By releasing false control over things beyond your control you can reach liberation: freedom from OCD and a true feeling of peace, even in lock up.

This chart shows the zones of Control, Interaction and No Control.

Control: Your thoughts and actions.

Interaction: Your interactions with the world, partially within your control.

No Control: Things outside your direct control.

The larger universe, including the physical reality of incarceration is entirely outside of your immediate control, though some things in this zone may be affected by your thoughts and actions seeping outward. How you treat yourself and others is entirely within your control. In-between are the people and things your interact with that your thoughts and behavior may have some influence over.

A more concrete metaphor is to think of the Universe as a river you are floating down, first make sure that your own craft (your self) is sturdy and river-worthy. You don’t control the river, but in the interaction zone you have paddles to help you steer your craft.

Suggested practice:

Whatever kind of prison you find yourself in — literal or figurative — sit and focus on your breathing, eyes open.

  1. Take in and release two, slow breaths.
  2. Be aware of where you are, here and now.
  3. Think, “I release all control.”
  4. You are here, breathing this breath, but if you were somewhere else, it would be the same breath in the same moment.
  5. Smile at the air sustaining you.




Essays, stories & poetry about OCD, culture and society, by Eric. OCD-Free the book: https://shorturl.at/nGR59