Prison Nation

by beccaborrelli


Grand Maitre of the Outsider. Jean Dubuffet. 1947.

Grand Maitre of the Outsider. Jean Dubuffet. 1947.

(Click the artwork above to for it’s history, and connection to this post.)

Last night I turned on National Geographic Channel. I rarely watch television, so it was a show I had never see before: Prison Nation. As I watched in a semi-spellbound state, it struck me how similarly prisons are run to schools. For real.

-The most striking is the encompassing philosophy of control.

-There is no choice in schedule, time frame, curriculum, which authority figures lead you.

-You are not given a choice about being there, however acceptance leads to a better experience.

-Within the institution are different levels of control.

-Those who abide by the laws of the institution gain more personal choice… but it never becomes personal freedom.

-Those who cannot conform are dealt with as an example for others.

-Choice is taken away to larger degrees with each infraction of behavior.

While prisons are harsher, and more severe to the degrees they institute policy, models are almost identical. The biggest difference between schools and prisons are the populations. However, the more urban a school gets, the more a population reflects gang-life and violence like prison.

An inmate named “Goin” was interviewed. He had a blank yet intelligent stare that he used to claim authority as a leader of The Bloods- his gang. Goin spent most of his time in Solitary. His most recent crime was beating an inmate to the point of paralysis. For the documentary, prison officials lead Goin out of his cell with ankle and wrist cuffs attached at the belly. I noticed he hardly blinked his eyes while he spoke in a slow, calculated voice:

“What the prisons have failed to understand, is that this doesn’t help me. It doesn’t rehabilitate me. Being locked up and controlled makes me angrier, and when I become angry I become violent.”

Goin shows clear evidence of being a sociopath, and I catch myself wondering if anything can rehabilitate him. However he brings up a point. While his point is valid, yet not shall we say- heartwarming, here’s another:

Michael Platini is a former well-known French Soccer Player. He is seeking to decrease rising violence at European Soccer Games. His unorthodox method has garnered a lot of attention… more freedom. His first agenda was to remove the cage-like barriers meant to keep fans under control in European stadiums. His stance:

“If you put people in a cage, they will act like animals. The instinct is to want out.”

Put simply: People who are treated like adults will act like them.

When Platini took his ideas to the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) he pointed out that society is full of “barriers” that encourage anti-social and rebellious behaviors. Too many rules stand in the way of sensible and responsible actions. When governments deprive citizens of responsibility- it breeds immaturity and recalcitrance. The response to this? More rules. Our response? To break more rules. These same trends are happening in our nation’s prisons… and schools.

If you watch the videos below you might think my comparison is dramatic. I think that methodology in schools is far more appropriate. Schools focus on the well-being of the child in most instances. Yet the similar mindset that promotes uniformity in action, behavior, and thought, with an emphasis on structure and control is very present.

The first video shows methods of control in prisons. What is remarkable to me is the importance placed on power, authority and control rather than rehab and responsibility. The second video is a clip of a first time offender- a young man naively navigating his way through his first days in prison. Do you think he will leave more adjusted to society after this experience?

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