"Prison As A Home"

 

 

by

Kerry Youmans

Spring Semester 2001

 

 

 

The purpose of this research paper is to try and understand what happens to one’s sense of lived-space when enduring conditions of extreme confinement. I wanted to determine if prison, to an incarcerated individual, could really become a home. To build a home, to feel a sense of being-at-home, is essential to being human, therefore should long-term, male prisoners in the 21st century be granted the privilege of feeling comfortable and content with security, protection, privacy-more of a home-in prison with the ability to do things such as paint and decorate their cell, creating a place for growth and development, therefore procuring a sense of rehabilitation or because they have been judged a violator, should they now have the experience of being violated, where punishment involves taking away everything that goes with having a home: peace, privacy, protection, being subjected to constant shakedowns, lock-ups, and harassment from guards and other inmates therefore inducing the transference of more anger towards society resulting in minimal rehabilitation.

Along with Bibliography, research data was abstracted from the following:

This research paper will be focusing on the prisoner and the broad psychological impact that a prison tends to manifest. My interviews and tours generated an objective, inside look at what takes place in the penal environment. The prisons were judged by the amount of freedom and rehabilitation given to each prisoner. How many people incarcerated into a single cell

A narrative from an ex-convict

Mark Radus is a white, 42 year old male. He is a thin, attractive man, about 6’2" with blond hair and blue eyes. He does not look like an ex-convict. If you didn’t know him you may think he was homosexual by his speech and looks. Mark came from an upper-middle class, Irish Catholic family with both parents still married, and two brothers and a sister all residing in Minnesota. As a teenager he was a casual drug user, more or less into marijuana. After high school he attended the University of Minnesota and received a bachelor of arts degree. Drug trafficking was not something he had ever considered as a career path, but was something that accidentally fell into his lap. After college he began experimenting with cocaine and became friends with a dealer in another state. Propositioned to sell in his community, he tried a few times and realized how easy and seductive the money was becoming. Eight years later he was worth millions of dollars and knee deep into a Minneapolis drug ring that he created and nurtured. Unfortunately, the federal government began to monitor him and in 1992 he was sentenced to eight years in prison. Because of his federal status, his prison sentence began at Oak Park Heights, a maximum-security prison located in Stillwater, Minnesota where he was placed into solitary confinement for the first six months. When asked why solitary confinement, he states "Because I was unwilling to snitch on any other people involved in the drug ring during the trial, the authorities thought that this might be another way to try and get me to talk." He was placed in an 8x7 foot cell with a steel sink and toilet. A steel bed was situated in the corner spanning the length of his body plus a few inches. No padding was allowed, only a synthetic fiber blanket along with a pillow. The heavy steel door was accented with a tiny window and steel shaft that could only be manipulated by the staff. Temperatures ranged from uncomfortably cold to hot. Certain times he was only given an undergarment to wear. Most times he was given thin blue, cotton pants with a button waist. The days were excruciatingly long, and he looked forward to the times that he was let out for one hour to shower and clean up. This was something that was supposed to occur everyday, but generally happened every other day. Otherwise he slept most of the time, and became chronically depressed. At that point he decided that the only way to get through this trying period with the least amount of pain was to not become a complainer, and to do exactly as the staff ordered of him. What he noticed was a tendency for guards and staff to react negatively to anyone who complained, whether it be about the facilities, treatment by staff, or any incarcerated individuals who required a lot of attention, both psychologically and physically. Good examples he said were inmates who complained about their health and wanted to see doctors/psychiatrists on a continual basis. These people, as he put it, were generally treated like "crap", with solitary confinement extensions, little things like no toothbrush or toilet paper, no blanket or pillow, heavily medicated, and minimal exercise and cleaning time.

What then gave Mark a sense of home during these first six months? When asked this question, he was at first stumped and replied that he never once felt prison was going to become home, nor could it ever satisfy his requirements of a home. I then asked him what kinds of things he did that made him feel more comfortable and give him peace of mind. Because he was with extremely limited social interaction, he found himself talking to God a lot. He requested a copy of the Bible and read it from front to back. It was during this time that he decided to become a born-again Christian. Before he began reading the Bible, there were many times when he felt like a caged animal and wanted to scream, but systematically resorted to biting his nails and picking at his cuticles. He was aware of why he was placed in confinement, but felt nowhere near deserving of this kind of treatment. After finishing the Bible Mark felt he recognized what he had done in the past as abhorrent and now was a period of suffering that must be endured and would eventually only make him a stronger person. His faith began to bring him a sense of comfort and knowledge that someone was looking out for him. Physically he never felt at home. Spirituality became his refuge. After one year he was transferred to a minimum-security prison in Rochester, where ironically he shared a cell for three years with Televangelist James Bakker.

(personal communication, March 14th, 2001)

 

Angel’s Story

Angel is a 23 year old, Hispanic male. Home for Angel Caballero has always been somewhat broken. By the age of 12, both parents had passed away, with his aging grandmother and older sister taking responsibility for raising he and his three other siblings. As Spanish immigrants from Mexico, life has never been easy for them. He had grown accustomed to barely making ends meet when he was first sentenced to prison for robbery. His initial sentence was for only 24 months and he served 18 and was released on good behavior. The second time he has not been so lucky. Once again he has been charged with robbery and aggravated assault. He maintains his innocence, but is now currently serving a six-year sentence with only two years under his belt at this time.

Three, half-hour telephone interviews were completed, specifically due to the graciousness of his older sister, whom I had the opportunity of working with. Due to the fact that he is currently incarcerated, and our conversations were being monitored, he felt uncomfortable speaking about certain things, such as treatment from staff and cell conditions. At this time he was serving his sentence at a medium-security prison in Upstate New York. He shared a 12x15 cell with three other inmates. Angel is attending school at the institution on a full-time basis with the goal of attaining his GED. He is given two hours a day of recreational activities, from hanging out in the yard and talking to other inmates, to playing board games or basketball. He generally feels that if you behave and keep to yourself the guards will treat you ok. Overall though, he feels that prisoners get treated like "shit." The institution is overcrowded, many fights and animosities exist between inmates, who he sees as generally hard to control and potentially dangerous. Rehabilitation is virtually non-existent, and he feels that staff generally does not care about rehabilitation. He meets with a case-worker every other week to monitor his progress, but feels that half of the time the case worker barely remembers who he is. The overall neglect is very apparent in Angels descriptions. When asked how he has made prison a home, his response was "this ain’t never gonna be home for me. I’m serving my time and then I am outta here!" He stated that he is a suspected Latin King gang member, therefore he feels that the staff monitors him closely for any kind of associations with the gang. Angel has periodic outbursts of aggression with other inmates, which he sees as a form of protection in an environment where no one else will protect him. He acknowledges that this has affected his sentence in a negative way, and may be denied early release due to his aggression. Although he said that he cannot trust anyone, he considers six other inmates to be his friends, that he meets with for meals and activity time. Angel seems to have adapted well to prison life and sees this as very temporary. When asked about homosexuality within the system, he maintained that he stays away from that, but revealed that relationships do exist between men who may not necessarily be homosexual by nature. He maintained a dedicated stance on the code of silence that exists between one another as inmates and despised anyone who was a snitch or buddied up to the guards. Throughout the conversation, Angel maintained his innocence, but at the same time did not allow himself to be considered a victim of the system. (Personal communication March 7th, 21st, 28th).

 

 

The Steel Tomb

From the outside, Oak Park Heights was reminiscent of my old high-school, dressed in a modern,

contemporary, brick façade. It is located in a desolate, yet sprawling suburban area. From the street it is concealed behind large oak trees as you turn the bend, barely noticeable, just as my high school was. Upon entering you are greeted with a large sign that says "Minnesota State Correctional Facility" and then a parking lot: one for staff and one for visitors. Because I am so used to the city noise, when I got out of my car, I realized how quiet, peaceful and eerily serene it was. Once inside I was confronted with a state of the art security system behind plexiglass, housing two guards. I felt as though I was looking at a NASA Space Station. I was signed in, asked to remove all metal objects, walk through a metal detector, then frisked when the underwire in my bra kept setting off the machine. I was then seated in the Wardens office where I patiently waited for my tour to begin. My tour guide was the Assistant to the Warden (who will now be referred to as AW). He was a very clean cut, loud, chatty fellow, sporting a nice tan. He is married, has two children, and said he came from a very liberal background. Both of his parents were writers, so he appreciated the fact that I was writing a research paper. He appeared to be very muscular and somewhat bull-legged. His walk was very masculine, drawing the inference that this is primarily due to the generally masculine prison culture. He began at the prison as a case-worker 12 years ago and has since moved up. He enjoys giving people, especially students the chance to see Oak Park Heights, and expressed proud, admiration of the facility.

As the state’s only maximum-security (level 6) adult make institution, The Oak Park Heights facility is designed to receive inmates transferred primarily from the St. Cloud and Stillwater facilities who are classified as maximum-custody or who are extreme risks to the public. These inmates include those convicted of serious offenses against persons, high escape risks, and those who have participated in dangerous or predatory activity. The Oak Park Heights facility enables the other department adult male institutions to operate with increased safety and security, and with less restrictive, more creative programming.

Over 80 percent of Oak Park Heights’ inmates are convicted of serious crimes against persons, and over 35 percent are serving life sentences. The institution is designed to allow difficult-to-mange inmates to qualify for constructive assignments, rather than endure idleness and a sense of desperation. Inmates who are in the general population are allowed out of their cells 15 hours a day, seven days a week, for a variety of activities.

The facility incorporates advanced architectural concepts and technology into its security, living environment, and energy efficiency. The facility’s 160-acre site includes 60 acres within a fenced, secured perimeter. The 355,000 square foot building and the area it encompasses total approximately eight acres. The earth-sheltered facility consists of eight attached complexes. Housing is on the lower two levels, with industry/program space above. Arranged in a U-shape built into a hillside, the complexes are connected by two traffic corridors on separate levels. One corridor is solely for staff movement and the other for inmate and staff traffic. Other spaces include a core administration building, chapel, gymnasium, security control center, and multiuse areas for inmate activities. Also included are staff training, lounge and exercise facilities, warehouses, and an indoor firearms range. Six of the eight complexes are designed to house 52 inmates each. These complexes have two levels of rooms which open onto common areas and facilities for food service, recreation and other activities. Cells are designed for single occupancy and contain a sink, toilet, steel reinforced concrete desk, bed, and shelves. The remaining two complexes contain the mental health and transitional health care units designed to serve adult male inmates departmentwide. These self-contained complexes allow for separation of inmates into small, manageable, and more compatible groups. Each complex can be isolated and operated independently from other units when necessary.

The facility’s earth-sheltered design and other architectural innovations permit maximum-security operation without an overly oppressive environment. The institution’s double perimeter is monitored electronically and by armed officers. All incoming materials and supplies are x-ray examined. All inmates are checked for contraband ingestion by random and suspicion urinalysis. Security also includes the use of surveillance cameras and metal detectors. No escapes have occurred. The earth sheltering on three sides of the facility provides more energy conservation that traditional structures and blends the institution into the landscape, essentially out of view of the neighboring community. The institution also has an energy-conserving heating and ventilation system that recovers heat generated by lighting, machinery, and sunlight.

Inmates not housed in segregation or special housing units are involved in a structured, full day of activity, including education, industry, institutional housekeeping, and food service. Evening programs include constructive activities such as recreation and hobbycraft activity, and supervised visiting with family or friends. The facilities education program is provided through contracted services with colleges and universities in the Twin Cities area. The program offers a diversity of full-time and part-time educational programs. Instruction is offered in literacy, basic education, GED preparation, critical thinking skills, parenting, music, English, humanities, mathematics, science, communication, art, computer science, cultural diversity, social skills, and college-level classes. Some examples of the classes are Critical Thinking Skills; All full-time students and workers are required to take a twelve-week, seventy-hour course. This course includes problem solving, effective communication, managing emotions, values development, creative thinking, anger management, social skills and negotiation techniques. Art Studio classes in painting and drawing are offered as well as lecture classes in art history and art appreciation. Anger Management and Change in Lifestyle classes are also offered examining causes leading up to incarceration.

Oak Park Heights provides an industry work program for the inmates called MINNCOR Industries. This program reduces idleness by maintaining constructive inmate assignments. Working in a realistic industrial setting, inmates learn work habits and become acquainted with a variety of production and quality control processes. The products and services produced are vinyl ring binders and an array of office supplies including business portfolios, executive table holders, and custom binders. The products often feature silk screening, foil stamping, and imprinting for personalized products.

At the time of my tour, all of the inmates were in lockdown. The AW explained to me that the inmates were confined to their cells for seven days while a search and confiscate were taking place. He explained that this was normal procedure and generally happened once a month. As a result I was not able to view the main prison houses. What I did see were the visiting areas, one of the work areas, the education rooms, complex 5 (the segregation unit) and complex 7 (the service unit).

Complex 5 is a solitary confinement unit generally for inmates that cannot be controlled and are of extreme risk to have within the general population. This unit was manned by 7 guards, two behind a mirrored station and 5 just basically hanging out. Many inmates were staring out a tiny window that could only be maneuvered by a guard, some were waving at me, others’ had blank looks on their faces. From what I could see, most of them were white males who did not have their upper body clothed. When I asked the AW about the psychological impact of the confinement, he made it clear that he viewed solitary confinement as a deterrence against acting out while in prison. Of the entire tour, this was definitely the most disturbing.

Complex 7 is a unit where additional privileges have been awarded the inmates. Inmates must have earned eligibility to reside in this complex as well as maintain a standard of behavior that fulfills the requirements to remain in the complex. As we entered into the area, it became clear that inmates were free to roam within the complex. There were 5 guards and about 10 inmates standing around and talking. They all responded to the AW with a smile and "hello." When asked if this was usual behavior, he stated that "I expect all inmates to smile and say hello to me, they are required to show me respect at all times." I noticed that none of the inmates looked or glanced at me in this complex. I later found out from Mark that there is a rule called "reckless eyeballing" which is defined as looking at a female employee or visitor for longer than two seconds. This is considered a violation and the inmate will be subjected to solitary confinement.

Overall, I believe that Oak Park Heights receives high markings for cleanliness, living arrangements and conditions, educational units, and inmate standards of behavior. Although I do feel my tour was a bit sugar-coated and incomplete without viewing the other complexes.

Cleaned Up for Public Consumption

The Manhattan House of Detention was once known as a "desperate place of rats, beatings and

Murders" (Scacco, 1975). It was cleaned up and renovated in the eighties after numerous human rights violations and is now considered a model prison center in New York and the surrounding boroughs. It is a temporary holding cell for those awaiting trial, or for those who cannot post bail. On the average, the maximum stay is 3 days before they are taken to Rikers Island. It houses approximately 950 inmates.

My tour with the Corrections Officer began at the central posting area where new detainees are checked in. They are then ushered into a holding cell for 24 hours. There were approximately ten holding cells that should only be housing up to three detainees, but were housing about 8-10. Each cell had three wooden benches for sleeping. Due to the overcrowding, inmates were sleeping on the cement floor.

Once the 24-hour holding time was complete and each inmate was checked in, they were required to shower. The shower room was filthy, with mold and mildew, stains and overall very unsanitary. After the shower they are taken to the doctor for a full examination. The examination room was overcrowded and noisy.

The Detention Center occupies 15 floors of holding cells where the inmates are then escorted to, determined largely by inmate’s crime and behavior since entering the center. It also houses a maximum-security unit and a segregation unit where some inmates are serving life sentences. I suspect that due to overcrowding in general within the New York system, stays at the center are generally longer than three days. The corrections officer pointed out many return felons who consistently make it back to the center. In his view, these inmates would rather be at the center than on the streets.

The center houses a large law library that inmates can use for pre-trial preparation. Educational seminars on trial preparation are conducted for the inmates by social workers. At the time of my tour, 15-18 inmates were free to roam and being watched by one female guard. The inmates are generally on good behavior because they have not been convicted of their crimes yet. Within the doctors office a large room is used for dialysis, housing at least 15 machines. When dialysis is a necessary part of an inmate’s life, they will generally serve their sentence at the Manhattan Detention Center. There is no outdoor courtyard availability. Each unit houses its own indoor courtyard with a television, radio and game boards. During the day, inmates are released from their cells and congregate within this room.

This institution receives low marks for cleanliness and overcrowded holding units. Because of the original intentions for its use, it does not provide additional education and activities for the inmates as Oak Park Heights does.

 

Prison as a Panopticon

Modern day French philosopher Michel Foucault has especially focused on the operation of power and knowledge in a number of modern institutions such as prisons and mental health facilities.

He argues that the power to "discipline and punish" takes genuinely new forms in the modern world.

It shapes both the day to-day procedures and the architecture characteristic of the contemporary prison.

"Methods which made impossible the meticulous control of the operations

of the body, which assured the constant subjection of its forces and imposed

upon them a relation of docility-utility, might be called "disciplines."

Many disciplinary methods had long been in existence-in monasteries,

armies, workshops. But in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth

centuries the disciplines became general formulas of domination….

What was then being formed was policy of coercions that act upon the body,

a calculated manipulation of its elements, its gestures, its behaviour…

Thus discipline produces subjected and practiced bodies, "docile" bodies.

(Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 137-38)

Discipline, according to Foucault, is how power mainly operates in our current society and institutions, be it a prison, the military, a hospital, a school. The goal is to control in a detailed way the behavior and the body of the individual. (Leder 2000) The objective is to increase docility by keeping the inmate submissive and obedient which in turn will maximize their "utility" making them more productive and useful within the prison and then eventually society.

So how can this be achieved? Foucault states that the architecture of a prison is pertinent in establishing power and controlling individuals. He discusses how a British philosopher by the name of Jeremy Bentham, came up with the idea of a "panopticon," meaning to "see all".

"Bentham’s Panopticon is the architectural figure of this composition…

Each individual, in his place, is securely confined to a cell from which

he is seen from the front by a supervisor; but the side walls prevent him

from coming into contact with his companions. He is seen, but he does

not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication.

The panopticon is polyvalent in its applications, but it mainly serves to

reform prisoners. It makes it possible to perfect the exercise of power.

It makes it possible to intervene at any moment and the constant pressure

acts even before the offenses, have been committed. Without any physical

instrument other than architecture and geometry, it gives "power of mind over mind."

(Foucalt, Discipline and Punish, 205-6)

Most of the older prisons remind me of medieval castles with their Gothic towers and spires, guards with rifles at each of the four corners of the courtyard. A modern day prison panopticon encompasses an invisibility. The security chief watches all, but himself is hidden. Just as in the Oak Park Heights facility, each room housed a mirrored office where guards were stationed, but to the prisoner, only his reflection could be seen. The prisoners do not know who the guard is or what he’s watching; hence the threat of their gaze is everywhere. However, to be visible within this system is to be powerless. Having been judged a violator, you are now having the experience of being violated.

Does this powerlessness in an institutional setting affect rehabilitation? Rollo May in his book "Power and Innocence (1972), argues that lack of power in people’s lives is the breeding ground for violence. When people are powerless to effect change in what is perceived as a hopeless situation, the by-products are the destructive forces of bitterness, apathy, frustration, rage, and violence. The book "Living in Prison", Hans Toch discusses the issues of respect and the inmates discovery that one is not dealt with as a person of worth, while one is expected to treat others as worthy. Where a controlling environment impinges on previously uncontrolled individuals, it invites resentment and helpless rage. A key factor is rage at not being able to express rage, plus the knowledge that one is actually afraid to act. Persons who usually translate their frustrations into violence experience the accumulation of hostile feelings and fantasize retaliation or destructiveness.

Joseph E. McCormick in Powerlessness: A Source of Evil states that many good people come to work in corrections, well motivated to be effective, fair, and progressive, only to become disillusioned, frustrated, and apathetic. Likewise, offenders who had a genuine desire and the potential for effective rehabilitation leave embittered, resentful, and angry. Correctional workers complain of the lack of discipline, administrative inconsistencies, the absent of respect for authority, and constant tension. They are forced to endure the childish behavior from adults and live with the continual risk of danger. Inmates complain of harassment by vindictive guards, lack of communication, staff incompetency, overcrowding, and lack of privacy for the most basic of human needs. Both sides become bitter.

"When despair replaces hope — the potential for cruelty exists — Rollo May

While touring the Manhattan Detention Center, Michael Smith, my Corrections Officer tour-guide remarked that today, especially in New York, because there are so many activist watchdogs and rights for prisoners, he as a prison guard felt neglected and less safe than he did 15 years ago when he first started. He also stated that "In some regards, prison promotes the very behavior it is trying to discourage." He feels that prisoners are constantly challenging his authority, even though he does not consider himself to possess a militant personality. Michael can’t wait to retire and start collecting his pension.

Joseph E. McCormick also states that the growing problem of recidivism can be viewed as a polarization of those unable or unwilling to cope with life in the real world. "Doing time" is easier than struggling to survive in a world with which ex-offenders are ill-equipped to deal, and from which they are outcast. Prison shelters offenders from life’s realities. It teaches them to cope by manipulation and coercion. Incarceration in its present form is the antithesis of rehabilitation.

 

They Keep Coming Back

In the book "Living in Prison" Hans Toch states that "None of us is sure why prisons fail." But is it really true that prisons are failing to provide the necessary tools for rehabilitation? Or are they failing because they provide something that the inmate is not receiving from the outside world, things such as parental love and personal relationships that are not equivalent to those inside prison walls. Has prison become a refuge for some offenders? A place that is calm in the midst of motion where a person can be cradled, surrounded and embosomed. In this case the law is the parent and the criminal the child. As we have seen, the law which enjoys authority over the citizen, represents the parent, who enjoys authority over the child. Thus, the law inherits powerful feelings of love and hatred that were directed toward the parent in early life. More particularly, the law stands for both father and mother. The law resonates with the archetypal father. Whereas prison evokes the archetypal mother, a great container that nurtures and holds. Because it is imagined as an inward movement, and entrance into a great container, being incarcerated may unconsciously signify an entry into the mother’s womb, which in turn, implies the possibility of being reborn.

Three ideas serve to explain the image of prison as a refuge from an outside world that is foreign:

  1. actual negative characteristics of life in freedom;
  2. personality growth that sometimes occurs under conditions of penal confinement;
  3. impulse neurosis, which causes some people to experience as gratifying, a situation where they are controlled. (Duncan, 1996)

 

After the studying of many prisoner memoirs, I was startled by the consistent characterization of prison as a peaceful and safe place. Many prisoners equated imprisonment with a pleasant sense that one is no longer responsible for one’s life. Feelings of home and safety, along with the relationships that we develop are an integral part of our emotional development while growing up. It was as if they were seeking refuge from a world that may have treated them unkindly, to fill a void that was missing.

Malcolm Braly’s autobiography, False Starts: A Memoir of San Quentin and other Prisons, gives a detailed variation on the theme of prison as the quintessential safe place. Braly had been raised on the West Coast in a family that moved frequently. "The only continuity of our lives," he wrote "was that we had none." Abandoned by his mother at age seven, Braly remembers her as a cold person who had expeditiously disabused him of his early beliefs in Santa, the Easter Bunny, and God. He could not ever recall feeling love for her. He does remember his loving father, a used car salesman who always tried to laugh and joke his way through misfortunes. However, his father, too, abandoned him seven years after his mother did. He was turned over to a county probation officer, where he was well treated by the community, but partly out of identification with his father, he began to engage in regular stealing. He later realized that he must have wanted to be caught, because he stole clothes from a dry-cleaning establishment in a small town, and proceeded to wear the garments publicly. In and out of prison for most of his early adulthood, Braly served eighteen years for burglary and other theft crimes.

Towards the end of Braly’s autobiography, he recounts an epiphany he had about the years he spent behind bars. He realized that prison seemed safe, not because he encountered no physical dangers, but rather because it entailed no risk that he would fail to meet his own standards of how his life should be. He described his feelings immediately after his release, "I was discharged. Finally free. Free to be lonely. Free to go broke. Free to fail. Free to deal with the still ominous mysteries of my own most intimate nature." He further goes on the express his insight that leaving prison "forces the relinquishment of a childlike status." He wrote that prison fed us, kept us warm, treated our ailments and now away from home, I could hardly remember to pay the rent and the gas bill, let alone take proper care of my teeth." He expressed his appreciation for twenty years of free food, clean socks every night, and clean clothes three times a week. (Braly, 1976).

The point of all of this is not the material benefits that prison was providing for Braly, but the subconscious meaning of having all of these things provided, and provided unconditionally. In this case, prison is associated with the mother, the one who provides and protects. Because Braly did not receive love as a child, prison represents for him a place where love, or the material things that are symbolic of love, are provided unconditionally.

"He went on to talk about his fear as his release date drew near, and said he felt like hitting a prison officer on his wing, just to prolonging his sentence. As a known recidivist, he was suffering from what in the culture is called "gate fever", and tended to act out in this way." (Liebmann, 1994)

 

Jimmy Dunn is a person who has been raised by the state and for whom institutional confinement has become a way of life. Between his age of 13 and 32, Dunn had spent nearly 14 years in confinement. He was not a dangerous convict, but more or less a petty thief with a drug addiction. He describes prison as a place where he builds himself up physically by lifting weights, regains his health and then when released goes on a terrific binge of drugs, prostitution, fraud, theft and other things that result in his return to prison.

He is now considered a career offender and he views incarceration as an occupational hazard. But even as he harbors contempt for prisoners and a negative view of prison life, he still lives by this loyalty to the ideals of the inmate code (Mannachio & Dunn, 1970). It is a code of loyalty that is based more upon principle than upon particular friendships. You might say that it was his need to adhere to a particular group of people, because he was not a conformist in a conventional sense. This group being current or former prison inmates. Dunn is the type of person who always felt a compelling sense of obligation. He nearly risked his freedom on the very day of his release by agreeing to smuggle in dope for other prison inmates. He knew that it could be a foolish mistake, but was unable to say no, only validating his inability to adapt to the expected norms of a rehabilitated prisoner. Why would he reject common law and feel such obligation after professing such malice toward incarceration and the incarcerated?

The author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes about the importance of prison friendships and where one can engage in life at its most profound level. He portrays prison friendships as unusually passionate with the chance to flourish under penal confinement more that in freedom. He states that "friendship is a basic need, but in our swift turnover of jobs, homes, and even marriages we are constantly starting off to look for a new community of friends." In contrast to civilians, prisoners are immobilized and are better situated to form lasting relationships characterized by affection and trust, and because incarceration imposes an isolation from the world, those who share this isolation see themselves as forming relationships of an emotional power unequaled to the world outside. (Solzhenitsyn, 1969)

As we can see many prisoners exhibit powerful and sometimes positive associations to incarceration. Integration within a community is a necessary component in everyone’s life. Prison serves as a place where there is protection from choices to be made. The famous psychoanalyst Eric Fromm maintains that over the course of history people have been liberated from prejudices and limitations. Such liberations, however, have exacted a high price: loneliness and anxiety owing to the loss of a sense of belonging. These feelings, in turn, may give rise to the longing for a Fuehrer and sadomasochistic submission. (Brown, 1959) In most cases, (not to Fromms extreme) that would be the parent or guardian figure.

If the parent or guardian is not an important element in a person’s life a replacement is necessary.

"I laugh at my thoughts, as I know I wouldn’t know what to do with my freedom.

After a decade of guards delivering meals to my cell, I’d starve to death in an

Apartment waiting for food to arrive. I’d be incapable of opening the door and

Walking out. I’d just sit there waiting for a guard to search me, place chains on my

Body, and escort me into the daylight. — Michael Wayne Hunter, San Quentin Death

Row Inmate

 

 

Can a Prison Be a Home?

"Thus as a rule the space lived by man arranges itself around a determining

center, which is conditioned by his place of residence….To dwell is not an

activity like any other but a determination of man in which he realizes his true

essence. He needs a firm dwelling place if he is not to be dragged along help-

lessly by the stream of time.

The second characteristic of the house is that by means of its walls, man carves

out of universal space a special and to some extent private space, and thus separates

an inner space from an outer space….He needs the space of the house as an area

protected and hidden, an area in which he can be relieved of continual anxious

alertness, into which he can withdraw in order to return to himself. To give man

this space is the highest function of the house." (O.F. Bollnow, "Lived —Space," 33).

O.F. Bollnow suggests that to have a house, or we might say a home, is essential to being human. (Leder, 2000) So if contemporary prisons of today are built as a panopticon, how does it function as home, and how does one relieve itself of the continual anxiousness of being watched and return to himself, which Bollnow states as the highest function of a house?

Human behavior dictates that each person reacts differently to each environment they are placed in.

But we know little about the uniqueness and variability of responses to the same setting and about differential impacts of settings on the same person. One fact is clear: While some prisoners adapt eagerly to challenges of the prison environment, there are others who suffer tangibly or struggle visibly while confined. (Toch, 1992)

In doing my research, I discovered two types of overwhelming behavior: that of mental escapism, and the denial that prison could ever be considered a home. In most cases, a mixture of both components were present. Here are some excerpts from different prisoners and their reaction to suggesting prison as a home:

"I don’t want it to be a home because I don’t want to be here. I consider home what

I left on the street. But since I have to be here for a long time, the cell is somewhere

I can go and keep unto myself. So I might fix it up a bit, paint the wall just to get a

Different color. With a cell, you have a little space in the wall, you can put things

In an orderly fashion and bolt the door so you feel safe. It can seem like a home.

But you can never really have a home in here, because the officers could come with

the key anytime they want and uproot you. Like right now, everything I own I brought

with me (toothbrush and all) because I am the cell, my own body. My cell was just

shook down two nights ago at 3 o’clock in the morning. Bam! That’s how it goes!"

" I call my cell my palace. As a matter of fact I just got it painted last week and paid the

dude four packs to do it. He painted the floors, my ceiling, the whole thing. I got my rugs

laid down. I don’t care where I am at, I’m going to make it heaven while I’m here. Even

in this hellhole, I’m going to find some heaven." - Charles Baxter (Leder, 2000)

Mark Radus spent a large amount of time reading the Bible and different prison/social philosophers such as Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky. As he was in solitary confinement, he knew that he needed to keep his mind active by constantly reading or exercising in his cell. He stated that "If you began to daydream, the sounds of the place would creep into your mind and you would begin to lose it…a lot of them become crazy." After moving out of solitary confinement, Mark was able to decorate his cell with the paintings he had produced during an art class that he was taking.

Angel, who has not spent time in solitary confinement make a point of spending as much time with friends as possible. Within his cell he was able to hang magazine pictures of girls that he found attractive on his side of the wall. A rug was laid on the floor to warm the cold cement.

When touring Oak Park Heights I asked the Assistant to the Warden what kinds of things the prisoners were allowed to keep in their cell or decorate their cell with to give them a sense of home. I was surprised to hear that they cooperated with most of the prisoner’s requests after a thorough investigation of the objects were done and they were deemed safe. He stated that "This isn’t like some other jails where people come and go. Most of our guys are in for a long, long time. So you have to let them have a life. Like providing exercise, TV, yard time, and keeping things reasonably loose." This went against my original notion of a maximum-security prison. But made perfect sense from both the prisoners and staff point of view.

Back to mental escapism, in the book, "The Soul Knows No Bars", German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s insights into the forms of connection and freedom that exist when confined within prison walls are discussed as de-severing, defined as making the remoteness of something disappear. For example, something very near physically, such as my watch, may be experientially very far off if I’m not thinking about it. Even though it may be on my wrist all day, I have no awareness of it. It is not yet de-severed. Whereas there could be someone physically far off, like a friend in California, whom I do de-sever (bring close experientially). I am thinking about them, concerned about them. Heidegger says it’s the character of human beings to continually be taking things that are remote and bringing them closer by virtue of thought. Because the prison environment was so unnatural for Mark Radus, the only way for him to regain his humanity was to pull in pieces from the outside world, like his family and fiancée, and try and make a home from those memories.

 

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, concerns for long-term versus short-term inmates differs somewhat. Long-term inmates seem to be more concerned with structure than are those with short-term sentences. Reducing idleness was very important for both groups. The methods preferred to reduce idleness are differing among the two groups.

For Mark, the most important thing to him was a certain amount of structure. He felt that going to work and attending classes kept his mind active and enhanced his learning abilities. Attending school was very important to him, and he expressed concern about the programs continuing as they do now.

For Angel, the most important characteristic of prison to him was freedom to spend time talking and remaining in contact with others. He realized that it was important for him to finish school so that he could obtain a good job when released, but he also felt that he would be heavily discriminated against because of his prison record. Ultimately, he did not feel that school was the most important thing to do while in prison.

I initially maintained the stance that all prisoners should somehow atone and take responsibility for their actions. Part of this logic was focusing on the past, and embodying the theory of retributive justice: "They made their victims suffer. Now they should suffer." When doing my research, I realized that most prisoners acknowledge the seriousness of their crimes and desperately want to be helped and rehabilitated. More importantly was the desire of inmates to feel human and to be treated as humanly as possible. The general consensus is that they will never be forgiven or tolerated and this heightens their anxiety threshold, which in turn creates a vicious cycle of anger and resentment. For most of them violence had become a last resort to feelings of powerlessness and lack of control over destiny.

With regards to the taking of another human life, this is a very hideous and disturbing offense. But even those that commit the most horrid of offenses agree that they need the structure and rehabilitation programs and a sense of home the most. More often than not they are the most useful to these types of criminals as opposed to petty felons.

At Oak Park Heights, I was struck by the high level of concern among the staff towards the rehabilitation of inmates. Their mission is to provide a certified comprehensive program based on respect for human dignity and the realization of full potential through a supportive learning environment. The Minnesota Department of Corrections has decided to follow the example of the Federal Bureau of Prisons by requiring all offenders to have either a GED or High School Diploma before exiting. From what I can see on the surface, I think that Oak Park Heights represents an exemplary institution that is not overcrowded, gives inmates privacy and a room of their own, offers work programs and a healthy structured environment based on furthering education.

The Manhattan Detention Center does not facilitate to the needs of the inmates as Oak Park Heights does, and overall fails as a rehabilitive institution.

After each of these interviews and research were complete, one fact became clear to me: Some prisoners adapt to the challenges of the prison environment, while others suffer and struggle visibly while confined. Overall importance lies in education of inmates, and a caring rehabilitation process that ensures moderately comfortable living arrangements, and communicative, respectful interaction between guards and inmates.

 

Bibliography

 

Bates, Sanford. (1936) . Prisons and Beyond. New York: The Macmillan Company

Bollnow, O.F. (1961) . "Lived-Space" Philosophy Today V, 31-39.

Braly, Malcolm. (1976) . False Starts: A Memoir of San Quentin and Other Prisons.

Boston: Little, Brown.

Brown, Norman O. (1959) . Life against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press.

Cohen, Stan. (1972) . Psychological Survival: The Experience of Long-Term Imprisonment. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Conover, Ted. (2000) . Guarding Sing Sing. New York: Mosaic Press

Cressey, Donald R. (1999) . Prison: The Studies in Institutional Organization and Change.

New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

Duncan, Martha Grace. (1996) . Romantic Outlaws, Beloved Prisons: The Unconscious Meanings of Crime and Punishment. New York: New York University Press.

Foucault, Michel. (1979) . Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York; Vintage Books.

Goldsmith, Seth B. (1975) . Prison Health: Travesty of Justice. New York: Prodist

Heidegger, Martin. (1962) . Being and Time. New York: Harper and Row.

Hunter, Michael Wayne. A Day in the Life. Retrieved 3/20/2001. The Other Side of the Wall. http://www.prisonwall.org/day.html.

Hunter, Michael Wayne. California’s Death Row. Retrieved 3/20/2001. The Other Side of the Wall. http://www.prisonwall.org/day.html.

Jones, Richard & Thomas Schmid. (2000) . Doing Time: Prison Experience and Identity Among First-Time Inmates. Conn: Jai Press Inc.

Leahy, June P. (1998) . Coping Strategies of Prisoners in a Maximum Security Prison. Social Thought and Research. 279-290.

Leder, Drew. (2000) . The Soul Knows No Bars. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Liebling, Alison (2000) . Appreciative Inquiry and Relationships in Prison. Violence and Abuse Abstracts 6, no. 2, 71-98.

Liebling, Alison. (2000) . Prison Officers, Policing and the Use of Discretion. Theoretical Criminology, 333-357.

Liebmann, Marian, (1994) . Art Therapy With Offenders. Pennsylvania: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Masters, Jarvis. (1997) . Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row. Junction City, California:

Padma Publishing.

McCormick, Joseph E. Powerlessness: A Source of Evil. Retrieved 3/20/2001.

http://www.jpp.org/fulltext-v2/jppv2n1-e.html

Monacchio, Anthony J. and Jimmy Dunn. (1970) . The Time Game: Two Views of Prison. California: Sage Publications.

Morris, Ruth. (1989) . Crumbling Walls: Why Prisons Fail. New York: Mosaic Press.

Sarnoff, Susan Kiss. (1996) . Paying For Crime The Policies and Possibilities of Crime Victim Reimbursement. Connecticut: Praeger:

Scacco, Anthony. (1975) . Rape in Prison. Illinois: Charles C Thomas Publisher.

Sparks, Richard; Hay, Will; Bottoms, Anthony. (1996) . Prisons and the Problem of Order. London: Oxford University Press.

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. (1969) . The First Circle. New York: Bantam Books.

Toch, Hans. (1999) . Hypermasculinity and Prison Violence. Violence and Abuse Abstracts 5, no. 2, 168-178.

Toch, Hans. (1992) . Living In Prison: The Ecology of Survival. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Toch, Hans. (1975) . Men In Crisis: Human Breakdowns in Prison. (Republished as Mosaic of Despair, 1992) Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Tyler, Tom R. (1990) . Why People Obey the Law. London: Yale University Press.

Vedder, Clyde B., King, Patricia G. (1967) . Problems of Homosexuality in Corrections. Illinois: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.

Walker, Thomas. (1997). Death Row’s My Home. Retrieved 3/20/2001. The Other Side of the Wall. http://www.prisonwall.org/day.html.

Weiss, Karel. (1976) . The Prison Experience. New York: Delacorte Press.

Wooden, Wayne S. and Jay Parker. (1982) . Men Behind Bars: Sexual Exploitation in Prison. New York: Plenum Press.

Zamble, E., Porporino, Frank. (1988) . Coping, Behavior and Adaptation in Prison Inmates. New York: Springer-Verlag.

 

 

 

 

When I first finished reading Virginia Woolf’s "A Room Of One’s Own" I was so

vehemently sorry to see that Miss Woolf has nothing better to produce than criticism of

other passionate women writers during her time. It was unfortunate to see such a

competitive, elitist edge in such an eloquently written book. But as time passed, I began

to realize that Miss Woolf was only a product of her environment.

 

 

During that time in British history, it was an environment that consisted of very strict

hierarchical structures based on class and social status. It was a time in history when an

uneducated, poor, lower to middle class person was never able to move above this form

of captivity. She confirms this by writing "a poor child in England has little more hope

than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of

which great writings are born" (pg 108).

 

 

Therefore it is become logical to assume that she may only be "concerned with the fate of

women of genius, not with that of ordinary women." (forward,viii) Why? Because

genius was in direct association with wealth and the main thesis of the book is wealth as a

precursor to intellectual freedom.

 

 

In "A Room of One’s Own" Woolf talks about two very important components that are

necessary to overcome in order to be a successful writer. One is that of the relationship

between man and woman, and secondly is the issue of wealth.

Firstly, she refers to an "obscure masculine complex"; (pg 55) the desire of man to be

superior to woman. I believe this is something that women have had to overcome for

thousands of years. In most traditional societies, women have generally been taught to be

submissive to men. But what is the reasoning behind this frame of thought?

Comparatively speaking women could never physically compete against man. Is it

because in some respects women possess more emotional intelligence and expressiveness

than they, and this is fearful? Miss Woolf concludes that a woman will never be

intellectually free until she has been able to surpass the complexities of the male/female

relationship, but I think in today’s world, women have the same educational opportunities

as men and beyond that, many women have proven to be intellectually superior to men

and have been able to produce extraordinary work both creatively and in business. We

have become sexually unencumbered by the sexual revolution of the sixties, both man to

women and women to women, giving us more freedom to express our true identities with

no limitations. As Woolf stated "But, nevertheless, she had certain advantages which

women of far greater gift lacked even half a century ago. Men were no longer to her the

opposing faction". (pg 92). Woolf suggests that this barrier is slowly breaking down.

 

 

 

Wealth has always made things easier. When I am feeling wealthy, I possess a sense of

freedom that I do not have when I am financially strapped. When I have money anything

goes. By this I mean that I am free to do whatever I want, when I want too. I don’t have

the restrictions of a 9-5 job to pay off the bills. I feel as though all the burdens of

everyday life are lifted off of my back. This is the second point that Virginia Woolf

commands as necessary to be an extraordinary writer. I think that it is a valid point in

today’s world also. The restrictions of gender relationships and monetary limits are

going to play a part in one’s ability to creatively express oneself.

 

 

While laying in bed the other night, I began to think about Virginia Woolf and what her

life may have really been like. I did not have any other information except the text that I

had read called "A Room of One’s Own". I began to wonder if she had always been

alone in her adult life. Did she have ruined relationships with men? Did she want a

family? Was her personal life so empty that she had no choice but to write extraordinary

work? Is it only because she was granted the freedom and space to write creatively at

anytime that produced such exclusive work or was she truly a genius? Did she have so

much freedom and liberty with "no strings attached" relationships, which may never have

really been thwarted or opposed? These are all questions to think about when coming to

a conclusion about the accuracy of Woolfs’ very profound thoughts on creative writing.

Overall I find her principles of wealth and private time to be very accurate with the

production of genius works by women as well as her ability to foretell the response to her

writing.

 

 

"Man-Made Beauty"

 

 

 

She was spending many hours at the gym lately. Her children, aged 20 & 22, were attending college now, and free time was now sanctioned to taking care of herself. She always felt better after setting aside this special time. Her age was slowly beginning to show, but he always reassured her by saying that part of the reason he had married her was because of her beauty. As she stood at an angle you could see her soft belly protruding, evidence of two children she had given birth too. Gentle creases in her neck provided testimony of the many years spent gazing down at her footsteps. Her thick hair, once black as coal, was now gray at the temples, highlighting her light blue eyes that twinkled as she smiled. Her crow’s feet showed years of wisdom accompanied by a fanciful matter of fact attitude about life and all that it has brought to her.

Her insecurities began to waver though. Since they had moved to a warmer climate, she slowly began to notice that more of her body parts were being exposed. Black merino wool turtlenecks and cashmere sweaters, designed to maximize slimness, were no longer appropriate in the warm Arizona desert. Silk, sleeveless dresses, strapless sandals, plunging necklines, and tight revealing clothing seemed to be the only things that people wore. It was a casual atmosphere, unlike the more conservative New York that she had known all her life. But she confirmed in her mind, that it was more cheap and trashy than she ever cared to be.

She had heard many stories before they had moved, about something to do with the sun. How it could change a relationship, there were many beautiful people, everyone wanted to be single, it was easy to have fun, nightclubs were frequented by people of all ages, there was always a party to go to. She wasn’t that old, but over time became subtly convinced she was. After a few years she felt surrounded by a sea of timeless youth. Beautiful, younger women, usually on the arms of older wealthy men, began to overwhelm her.

She had been told by her mother that aging gracefully was beautiful. Each crease and fold was proof of a life well lived, full of experience to be cherished and passed on to the next generations. Well worn hands and feet harbored many stories to be told. Facial expressions survived and conveyed love, hate, tragedy, fortune, exuberance, anxiety.

They had loved each other madly, attended the same college, shared similar values and political line of thought. They grew up listening to the Rolling Stones, frequented Grateful Dead concerts together before they even knew each other. But more importantly, raised their two children. The move was devastating at first, but she gradually grew accustomed to the sun shining everyday. The heaviness was discarded for a lighter, more carefree way of existing. The daily grind of her previous existence was nothing more than a remote memory of a distant place she no longer called home.

 

So how could the events that would shape her future take place? "That card should have never been played," she said over and over to herself. All though she made out well, she felt discarded, by the one she loved, for a more youthful existence. He uttered "a midlife crisis". It was said that she looked and possessed the same vibrancy as Jane did 15 years earlier.

 

It was something she had always said she would never do, but as time wore on her beauty began to fade. The events that took place left her feeling alone and shattered. She didn’t want to look like the others that had work done. Their faces didn’t look real, seemed tight and shiny, skin as though it was being suctioned in the wind. While their faces appeared forcefully corrected, their hands and necks showed the withering age of many hours, days, years, a lifetime in the sun. Many appointments with the surgeon left her convinced that she would be different. He declared she wouldn’t look like a mass produced, reconstructed person, but a beautiful, wilted flower, revived by science.

 

In the above story, just as in Dorian Gray, beauty (or thoughts of it) began to slowly steal her soul, all the things she had known before didn’t make sense anymore. Dorian Gray’s beauty brought him a sense of pleasure and security, exhibited by his ability to get away with most anything. Did he suffer? Only mild repercussions, such as a "bad boy" image, and social ostracization. More importantly, he was seduced by the beauty of others and that of himself. Just as he lost his soul, she may soon lose hers to what is conceived as important in other people’s eyes.

 

Poem

Please don’t harm me

All I ask is that you charm me

The look in your eye

It emanates something you can’t deny

As your pupil begins to dilate

What is happening could only be inspired by hate

That hangs from the tips of your finger

Like a needle from a thread

As it sucks the life out of me

I see my existence

Life as it had been

Flash before me

For now it will never be the same

Once innocence

I can never be

And because of you

People now look at me differently

For beauty is innocence

Until it is shattered

Face takes knew shape

Rendering experience knowledge cynicism

Sallow empty

Is this where evil hides?

Or in beauty

Where inexperience equals temptation

For Oscar Wilde said

The only beauty in life

Are those who know nothing

And those who know everything