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Joshua White, Places for People's J-Well Coordinator is pictured.

Building trust, breaking down stigma are vital parts of White’s work in jail diversion

“You’re dealing with a lifetime of distrust. It’s our job to build that trust.”

In a short time span, Joshua White must overcome two barriers – trust issues and stigma – to connect recently incarcerated individuals with a jail diversion program.

For the past 11 months, White has visited the St. Louis Justice Center daily, meeting with 8-10 inmates to see if they would qualify and have interest in enrolling in a jail diversion program.

White must quickly build a rapport in initial meetings to receive consent for a more in-depth evaluation.

“You’re dealing with a lifetime of distrust. It’s our job to build that trust.”

White began as the J-Well Coordinator at Places for People in August 2018. The J-Well Docket – J-Well is short for Jail Wellness – is part of the St. Louis City’s 22nd Judicial Circuit Treatment Court. It is a federally-funded program seeking to identify incarcerated individuals who live with serious mental illness and can connect, or in some cases reconnect, with behavioral healthcare services

The people White meets have often learned their own ways to cope with mental health, substance use, and trauma. “They’re very resilient,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t think about that.”

Building trust is one barrier, stigma is another.

“A lot of people who come into jail will refuse to admit mental health issues,” White said

To deal with this stigma, when White first introduces himself to inmates, he often explains that he works with people with health and wellness issues. He waits until later meetings to explicitly call it mental health.

“We’re catching the people who might have went through the cracks and experienced trauma,” White said.

Throughout his professional career, White has witnessed the effects of trauma.

“Trauma and the perception of trauma varies with everybody because of their life,” he said.

Because of the unique nature of trauma, White asks each individual, “what does trauma mean to you?”

He often finds that individuals haven’t had an opportunity to process the trauma they’ve experienced.

White, who is a licensed professional counselor, is currently pursuing his doctorate. He has never let go of a dream to become a clinician that started at an early age. “When I was 7 I knew I wanted to be a therapist.”

As an undergraduate college student, he started volunteering and working with people living with serious mental health issues. “I loved it,” he said.

He began his professional career in St. Louis and eventually started working in a jail. He said the inmates were great, “but the environment wasn’t conducive to what I felt was really clinical work. I really wanted to be in the community setting.”

That ultimately led him to his current position at Places for People.

He sees the role of clinicians as helping to make people independent. “My philosophy is I’m here to empower you. I’m here to empower you to the fact that you have access to facilities and community resources, to the fact that you don’t need my help, but if you do need my help or advocacy, then I’m here and I’m willing.”

The most rewarding part of White’s job is “giving people hope.”

“When I see people at their weakest moment, in their first 24 hours of being incarcerated and going in and saying ‘hey, I might be able to help you out. I’m a licensed clinician so you can talk to me, share whatever you want and not be judged.’”

My philosophy is I’m here to empower you.