THINGS I LEARNED IN THE PRISON SERVICE
As a prison psychologist, I was more exposed in the prison community more than my better counterparts in the civilian sector of the prison service.
Psychologists are even better armed in terms of approaches than their counterparts in the custodial and security department. It is in this light that those in this profession were able to gather a lot of case studies, personal tidbits, anecdotal testimonies, numerous data on behavior and amass incident reports on the social and interactive lifestyle of persons under the regime of incarceration.
Prison is a test bed where one can learn the dynamics of crime, of eluding it and even of preventing its occurrence.
Working in prison is indeed like having a grand time in a real laboratory where one could observe how a person consumes and make something out of his time.
Well, it never came easy for me as a matter of fact; I realized it only when I was virtually thrown into the pit.
I was a fledging neophyte in government service when I could not identify anyone who made possible my entrance in the agency. At that time, it was necessary to be known as a relative of someone from the organization or else, one never gets employed. Such was the situation in the Bureau of Prisons then. But I was an exception, to a certain extent. I merely dropped the name of a prison official as my reference and I got the nod already. But that did not assure a smooth sailing. When my supervisor learned that I had no connection, I was literally given meaningless tasks. One day, I will be fixing all defective staplers, and in another, will compile all case reports, separate it through paper clips and in the afternoon, remove the paper clips and pack the papers into brown envelops. It was a daily grind. It was some kind of a routine without directions. And for that I was paid monthly as a scientist. For me I felt that I was playing into a dishonest charade. And so, I pleaded to be given a duty that bespeak of being a psychologist.
Hospital Ward for Mentally Challenged
That very day, after just a few weeks as a regular employee, I was directed to report to the Chief of the Prison Hospital and assume the post as clinical psychologist in the ward for deranged prisoners! My office mates were all aghast and conveyed their heartfelt sympathy. For them, my assignment was suicidal and virtually the end of my profession. But for me, it was an exciting job.
I lost no time and went immediately to see the hospital chief for work.
The prison hospital is situated on the western area of the 9 hectare maximum security camp of the National Penitentiary—home of long termers. It was a 200 bed capacity hospital with 5 wards. It boasted of a number of physicians, very professional and committed; and several beautiful nurses at that on varied shifting schedule. I felt that this was my preferred working area.
One of the zones was referred to as Ward 4, the area where inmates whose mental condition has gone wayward. According to the hospital chief, a kindly old man, a good physician, senior among the officials, that I was recommended to take charge of Ward 4 to give me exposure in the field of clinical psychology. I could not hide my enthusiasm since the immersion would mean that I would be able to see up close those cases which I could only appreciate from the books and laboratory manual during those times I was studying psychology in my undergraduate and graduate studies. This time, it would be for real. Staying and working in the ward for those with mental illnesses, alright, the so called mentally challenged, would be my ultimate universe for some time.
Interacting in the Cookooe’s Nest
It was surreal and at the same time boring. Right after checking on the charts of individual cookooes , and what has been referred to by their fellow inmates as the crazy bunch, nothing follows. For a while, it gave me an idea how a person with catatonia behaves, how a manic depressive frown, how the schizoid and schizophrenic adapt, the ADHDs, Bipolar disorders, serial crime disorders, paranoia, etc. They were all represented in that 6 meter by 6 meter ward and everyone seemed not to mind each other. They were all subdued and the only time life would engage in the area was when food ration was being served.
I could only repair to a small corner in the hospital, a vacant stockroom which was emptied and made into a space enough to be referred to as my office. It was in that dingy room where I would write down my notes, impressions and references. It was also in that area where I would receive inmate visitors who would indulge me with anecdotes on what imprisonment has done not only to their minds but senses as well. These inmates were not patients but exceptional personalities who found the hospital as a better area for them to stay than the regular cells for ordinary prisoners.
Masters of Crime
They became my mentors on how to deal with life in the most sordid manner. Their stories made my day and gave me enough thoughts that would constitute what maturity is all about. They gave me narratives and tales on how to stay alert at all times. They provided me with practical samples on patience. And the most important lesson I gained was how I can becloud a person’s mind and be a winner at all times. To think that the place has been reckoned as the sanctuary of losers was an ironical consideration. But there I was a student of the criminal mind receiving a tutorial on how to be on top of the food chain without really trying.
In a span of a semester, I could predict crime, foretell one and knew how to solve it. I knew also when to spot a criminal and analyze the very persuasion why his actions turned that way. But the most significant part of my learning was to determine when and where crime would lurk its ugly side.
My notes were almost encyclopedic. It was for me the best reference material I have done. I thought of writing a book on the matter once I am done in the prison service.
That time has come and I am working on it.