The Psychology of the Prison Community
Whenever we refer to psychology, we oftentimes, well as a matter also of understanding, infer the usual behavioral mode or something about the personality of a subject or matter we wish to look into. However, for this purpose, when we speak of psychology of the prison community, it is not so much as to discuss the psychological principles and tenets of the science with respect to a specific concern like incarceration but a momentary awareness of a community surviving in a total environment subject to totalitarian dictates referred to as prison rules.
Except for instances covered in media whenever there are riots or mass escapes, prisons is an alien albeit remote community segregated from the free society and hated even by proponents of virtues and the so-called decent class. The prison community is indeed a separate entity with its own culture and norm. Looking into the depths of its social links within the walls, It has even evolved its respective sub culture of its own. It has its own language, set of manners and disposition. As a matter of fact, it is the inverse of the free community. What is acceptable in the prison community does not always jibe with what is acceptable in the free community. What makes a person anxious in the free community does not necessarily make a prisoner anxious inside.
I made a simple experiment in the facility where I was assigned and the result was telling. I used my students as controlled group and prisoners as experimental group. I asked the students what they feel if I remind them of their loved ones. Each of them, well, all of them for that matter swore that they were happy. All exhibited a wide grin at the stimulating expression. On the other hand, given the same exercise among prisoners, most if not all, expressed grief and anxiety. Several prisoners from the maximum wing even broke down when reminded of their families. A simple stimulation indeed could determine where a person is. If free or under restraint.
Even in the matter of choice and response, even in such concern as hope and aspiration, the prison community is inverse that of the free community. Hence, when an outsider feels that a prisoner is sad because in his estimation a consideration outside merits sadness, then that person is totally incorrect. The standards of the free community is useless when used in the prison community. The same can also be said when a prisoner would appreciate an instance using his situation as against that obtaining in the free community.
The prison community is not actually a community as defined in sociological terms. It is a even misnomer. No matter how audacious the prison system (and its core of officers) is in recreating an ambiance of freedom in prison facilities, like establishing churches, classrooms, campuses, hospitals, reading centers or even parks, normalcy is still wanting. Even the call for human rights is outside the concerns of the prison community. Not as a matter of course but as a matter of fact. The fountain head of human rights is freedom. Without it, there is nothing to anchor the precepts and principles of human rights. It is merely exploring what pertains sub-human rights if indeed there is such a thing. It is in the process of releasing and when a person is discharge from the process of incarceration that human rights should be applied.
Under the regime of incarceration, a person is a statistic, identified as a number and refered to as a category. He lives under total submission to rules and regulations. He is not expected to be different. To be otherwise is a violation and if shown among his peers, could even prove fatal. He must belong yet he must be apart. He must display a certain degree of adjustment but only in so far as being maladjusted. He should be dependent on the routine, a situation which is almost inhuman. Initiative and creativity are outright dereliction. He must cripple his sense of dynamism and blunt his cravings for resourcefulness. Under this depressive and anxious situation, a prisoner is expected to overcome anxiety and depression. And this situation is not even manufactured by prison staff. It is built around the concrete perimeter fence and the regularity of headcount.
Yet the prisoner is observed to exist in a situation deprived of privacy. On his own, he must learn deception as an art, and must have to embrace it even as a religion. He knows and is quite aware that incarceration is painful. Imprisonment makes a person imbalanced. Segregation for years would have a telling scar on his psyche. The period of his penal servitude is an episode unworthy of his memories. He must be abnormal to be normal. He must be insane to be sane. He must be unrealistic to be realistic. He must be a vegetable to feel his humanity.
(To be continued)