Michael Hogan
Box B – 28259 Non-Fiction Entry
Arizona State Prison
Florence, Arizona 85232

It is a common misconception that crime today goes unpunished even if an individual is convicted. The general public is of the belief that modern penology has eliminated punishment per se and substituted for it the humane alternatives of “rehabilitation” and “behavior modification”. A walk through the average maximum security prison, however, will convince even the most credulous supporters of the new penology that only the names have changed. The basic concepts that have traditionally underlied prisons: repression, punishment, control, retribution, deterrence and restraint are still the controlling concepts.

Whipping, branding and mutilation are gone, it is true. But they are gone only because society has become more advanced technologically, more subtle in its methods of mandating specific modes of behavior, and more adept at controlling men. Physical suffering in prisons still exists on a large scale but its causes are the more “delicate” tortures of enforced isolation, verbal abuse, pharmacological personality disorientation, and psychological pressure.
Studies of G.I.’s imporisoned in Korea indicated that the tortures described above contributed considerably to the control of the prisoners by their captors.

The prisoners so treated were docile (except for the occasional abberations), cooperative, and exhibited quite a bit of behavior modification oriented toward the goals of their captors.  Such modification, however, was generally short-lived and the mind control in most cases did not survive re-entry to the normal stateside environment. Nevertheless, it appeared to work and that—for all torturers from the Middle Ages up to and including those in U.S. prisons today—is all that has ever been required.

Prisons today, maximum security torture chambers stranded in the most desolate wastes of almost every state like stark Medieval castles, are apt symbols of the 16th Century minds that run them and the boorish peasants who guard the inhabitants. The prisoners are deprived of any free choice, stripped of self—respect, and robbed of self-initiative. They eat when they are told, shower when they are told, and sleep only when directed. Their lights, like access to their cells, are controlled by an electronic master switch. Thus, illumination and privacy exist, if at all, only at the whim of their captors. Eating when they are not hungry, in bed when they are not sleepy, screamed at over public address systems located adjacent to their cramped quarters, they experience an intense anxiety. They try at first to minimize this anxiety by obeying the rules and following orders. But they find to their dismay that the maze of signs and lines, the illogical rules and the conflicting orders within the maximum security prison system allows them no such luxury.

A prisoner begins to hoard his privacy, retreating to his bed to “trip” when he is not sleepy only to he rousted in the middle of the night for a strip search. Scrutinized in his private parts, subject to disciplinary isolation for masturbation, verbally abused by salacious insults from insensitive guards, he begins to fear the temptations of privacy and suffers anxiety even in the darkness of his cell.

He learns to trust nobody since the fear and anxiety which is in him must scream all the more fiercely in the brains of the weak, the demented and the psychotic. He knows that he can be informed on, killed or set up by a less stable individual who might hope thereby to ingratiate himself with his keepers. He learns truly what it means to live a life of “quiet desperation”.

Because the Orwellian concept of double-think is the rule of order in all behavior modification programs in maximum security prisons, it is necessary for an intelligent person to forego the Elysian fields of logic in dealing with the prison guards.  Logic is worse than a luxury; it is positively inimical to mental health if it is applied to solutions of day to day problems in prison. It is a positive bar to freedom if one applies it to his dealings with the parole board. Vibrations, feelings, gut reactions, the empirical knowledge that one gains through a myriad of human relationships are what contribute to mental health. Being a thinking person in prison is like being the only Communist at a “God Bless America’ rally held by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

All this could perhaps be excused if the prison system reasonably accomplished its objectives of altering asocial human behavior and deterring crime. Yet, it does neither, The recidivism rate in this country is phenomonally high; the crime rate soars daily. Prisoners coming out from behind the walls of a maximum security prison are to a man far more dangerous than when they went in.

We cannot tell the feckless wrongdoer to “go end sin no more” as long as we maintains a prison system that is far more perverse than the worst of his crimes. We must decide first if we want merely to “get even” at the risk of creating a monster, or to really “rehabilitate”. We cannot have it both ways. If it is the latter, then we must stop building maximum security prisons. We must get as many of the people now in them out before it does them permanent and irreversible damage. We must do this in our own self-interest, not out of any maudlin sense of pity. We must do it before the pathos of prison life becomes the tragedy of our own.