The discussion that the class had with Darrell Cannon last week was amazing. Darrell was able to tell us so much information that we would not be able to get anywhere else. I’m sure bits and pieces of his story are around, but the best information always comes from the main source. The thing that made me think the most was when Darrell talked about being in Tamms. He said that Tamms was made to mentally and even physically break the prisoners. I found this to be very disappointing. The prison system should break people; it should help them. It was reassuring to know that some of the guards were nice though. It was nice to hear that some people were understanding and that they knew that the prisoners were people too. I’m sure not all prisoners go to prison wanting to change and become different people, but they should have the chance if they want to. If DOC officials and guards treat the prisoners badly and don’t give them a chance for rehabilitation then what is the point of the prison?….to keep them locked up for the rest of their lives without a chance to become a better person?
Darrell Cannon brought up some heart wrenching topics, yet the one that really interested me was his story of Tamms. A supermax prison located in the southern most part of Illinois has gone from temporary punishment to long term dehumanization. Many times when Darrell was talking he mentioned the fact that, “Tamms was made to break you mentally, physically and spiritually. This really made me upset with the criminal justice system because conditions in prison should foster growth and change, not take the spirit and life out of a person. Darrell told the class that the staff would sometimes provoke or at least try to get a rise from the prisoners. One can barely begin to comprehend the mental stress one must endure every day in solitary confinement and recieving abuse from staff members. Darrell mentioned that Tamms is all about the commodity a.k.a. the prisoner, and getting money. The supermax is no longer concerned with crime and punishment but helping their economy.
Regarding the letters from the prisoners, I was extremely surprised as to how well some of them could write. Specifically, the way they formatted, structured, and used intelligent vocabulary to express their feelings and concerns. Like many people, initially stereotyping criminals as uneducated and simpleminded, I enjoyed reading the letters because it was truly the complete opposite of what I had originally thought Continue reading
We read three articles about Supermax prisons. One of the main threads of these articles was that prisoners are often placed in Supermax prisons unnecessarily. Although prison officials and guards say the the SHU (Special Housing Unit) is reserved for only, “the worst of the worst,” often it is the more politically conscious, jailhouse lawyers, or mentally unstable that are sent to the SHU. Many people believe that the SHU exacerbates mental illness and creates symtoms- this definitely makes sense, solitary confinement for extended periods of time could drive any person to insanity. Inmates in solitary confinement become, “perpetual prisoners” and they forget how to be contributors to society, they forget how to interact with people for lack of doing so.
Another reason why Supermax prisons are not based upon rehabilitation is that during the 1980s, there was a surge of prison building in which many people made lots of money by creating more prisons. This surge of prisons created a demand for prisoners, a demand to retain prisoners. This is a very sick concept, people profit from prisoners failing to succeed on the outside, people profit when prisoners are sent back to prison.
So should Supermax prisons be eliminated? Kupers, a psychologist suggests that progress evaluations be conducted by an outside agency (to avoid corruption). These evaluations would avoid severe abuses of the Continue reading
Supermax prisons impact the confined mentally, physically, and emotionally. Supermax prisons are more interested in punishing, rather than rehabilitating. When prisoners are kept in a cell, alone, and without sunlight and human interaction, psychological effects occur. People evolve and change in these surroundings over time. They begin lose all societal values and norms because they are behind bars. Kupers discussed the experiment that was performed at Stanford by Professor Haney. A group of students acted out a prison sequence for a psychology experiment. Those assigned as guards started acting sadistic because of their power and domination over the prisoners. This experiment showed that the psychiatric side of prisons is very scary, because even rational and intelligent students can change in these certain settings. Anthropologically, Rhodes actually placed herself in the prison setting. In the form of an ethnography report, Rhodes wanted to truly report what was happening in the prison system by becoming apart of the Supermax. This is different than the other two articles because Rhodes actually became apart of it. She wasn’t merely observing. Rhodes spoke to both prisoners and guards, and shows the entire picture of the Supermax. Rhodes also uses a lot of sociological concepts like Erving Goffman’s “backstage” philosophy when observing the prisoners. In real life, we all have a “backstage” self. This is the self that we don’t let the real world see. However prisoners don’t have a backstage/frontstage self due to their surroundings and limited access to things like make-up, clothing, etc. O’Keefe, a social scientist, used statistics and research to show whether or not solitary confinement (segregation) was harmful to the individual.. This approach was very different from Rhodes and Kupers approach, because it is solely based on statistics and scientific research methods and not personal involvement. I never realized that confinement in these prisons is seriously harmful because it strips human beings of their natural human abilities. It is less of a rehabilitation tactic and appears to be more of a punishment than anything else.
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?
Since I arrived at Tamms things have changed dramatically for me. Before I came to Tamms I had never cut myself but after coming to Tamms I started cutting on myself was placed in restraints numerous times was placed on psychotropic medication both voluntary and involuntary which I had never taken before coming to Tamms, as for relations with my family they were okay until my mother passed away in January of 2002 and my communication with others in my family went non-existent after that. I have stopped looking forward to positive things because it’s like nothing positive ever happens to me. I no longer look forward to leaving Tamms until my release even though I no longer get into trouble.
—name withheld for fear of retaliation, in Tamms supermax prison since 2000
Filed under: Mental Health, Tamms supermax prison, Writing by Prisoners | Tagged: cutting, isolation, Mental Health, prison conditions, psychotropic medication, solitary confinement, Tamms supermax prison | Leave a comment »