Supermax prisons: Existing or Living?

When reading Rhodes’ article, centering around her anthropological background, I found her perspective unique in discussing prisoners as beings, and no longer really human.  She ingeniously described prisoners as merely existing, rather than actually living, regardless of what amenities they are provided.  One consequence of supermax prisons is the inability to relate the self to anything other than one’s own thoughts and actions.  While those of us on the outside may think “So what?” upon hearing this, from an abstract and philosophical perspective, this is a huge deal!

Without any ability to compare the self to external factors, prisoners become just beings, clinging on to whatever they can grasp from a theoretical world and existence.  Regardless of their mental state upon entering, these prisoners have no choice but to deteriorate due to a lack of reality.  What do you think?  Can this transition to an abstract life be avoided?  How?


One Response

  1. That’s interesting that you pointed out the deliberate word choices Rhodes used when refering to the prisoners as “beings” and “existing.” While it is just a word, I think it has very serious implications. Those in the supermax facilities seem to lose their identities as human beings. Are they living or are they existing? Since they are isolated in a cell and under complete restrictions, I can understand why this is labeled “existing” rather than “living.” They are going through the motions day to day, but is that living? Also, what separates us as human beings is that we have a free will. But, do prisoners in supermax have a free will? They may have it, but certainly can’t act on it. This, too, is why their identity as a human being has been stripped from them.

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