Throughout the course of my incarceration, I have encountered my fair share of troubles. Truth be told, more than my share. Some were minor, and easily solved, through diplomacy. Others have been more serious, sometimes escalating to matters of life and death, solved only through violence and bloodshed. In the discussion of these events with individuals outside of prison, their reactions have run the gamut, from comprehension to disbelief, from praise to censure.
But what has struck me the most about these conversations were not the reactions themselves, but rather what they were based upon. Be they positive or negative, in nearly every instance, they tried to judge what occurred, and how it should have been handled, based on the standards which they applied to their own everyday lives. Even among the most intelligent and best educated, there seemed to be no cognizance of the fact that such standards have little or no applicability to the situation at hand. They were incapable of seeing beyond their own perspective.
In the fields of psychology and sociology, it has long been recognized that to evaluate the actions of an individual outside the context of their own society is fraught with peril. It can lead to all manner of false judgments and faulty conclusions. This should be fairly obvious, as many societies have different standards of conduct, dress, and ways of viewing any number of actions. Everyone who travels is aware of this and tries to alter their actions to avoid any problems or giving offense in foreign lands. Yet no one thinks to apply this same knowledge to prison. This puzzles me, since the truth of the matter is prison differs more from the outside world than any outside society does from another. If I am unable to convey nothing else to the readers of this blog, this is the one thing I would hope the most for all of you to learn.
Prison is not your reality. It is not "normal", by any stretch of the imagination. It is a microcosm in and of itself, with its own rules and unwritten codes, which are enforced far more abruptly and with far less leniency than the laws of the outside world. A prisoner is not your neighbor, and prisoners do not react to situations in the same manner in which your neighbor might. Things that seem sensible and logical by your lights are not necessarily so in prison.
Some of you are no doubt skeptical at this point, and wishing to say something along the lines of how prisoners are just people, like any others, and we are all the same. You could not be more wrong. Please consider the following facts.
It is well known that the norms of any given society are established by the general comparative average of the beliefs of its citizens. This holds true of prison society, the same as any other. So who are the citizens of this society? What do they believe? There is no doubting that there are innocent men in prison. There are also those who, while guilty of various crimes, nevertheless remain good men. However, these are the exceptions, rather than the rule. The average prisoner is indeed a criminal, in both thought and deed.
A simple survey of statistics backs this up and defines what exactly that means. Studies have widely established that as many as 90% of all prisoners suffer from some sort of psychiatric disorder. Most estimates show 75% of those incarcerated are having a antisocial personality disorder, the hallmarks of which are deceitfulness, aggression, lack of empathy, and disregard for the safety, rights, and feelings of others. Additional studies place between 80% and 95% of prisoners being involved in some type of substance abuse. Widespread I.Q. testing in prisons has shown that 70% of prisoners are rated as having "below average" intelligence, with fully half of those falling into the "functionally disabled" category.
With all of those things taken together, anyone can see that the consensus formed by such a group as to what is acceptable will differ in a huge way from that of the outside world. This does not mean that prisoners are unworthy of legal help, fair treatment, or a decent standard of life. It does not mean that some are not innocent, and that some have not been discriminated against. It does not even mean that a prisoner cannot be a worthy person, or a good friend. It simply means that, in dealing with a prisoner, you cannot necessarily expect them to see things as you do, nor to necessarily act according to your own standards. Before judging them, put at least a little effort into realizing there are other perspectives.
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