Written April 21, 2021
Prison is meant to break you. I remember vividly entering Western Penitentiary, it was like being awake for my own death. With each gate I passed, each door that banged shut, there was a sense of finality that crept up my spine and into my psyche. The steel gate slammed behind me with an ominous clang. I stepped into the windowless six by eight and immediately told myself, "I can't do this." I felt lie a caged animal.
I sat on the bunk and from there I could reach the sink, the toilet, and the desk. I marveled at the cruelty of humanity. A knife was dropped into my cell—no warning and no instruction. Survival was to guide my hand, I had arrived in the true concrete jungle where the only escape was through confrontation. Prison is the Belly of the Beast. At some point there comes a bleak realization that it can swallow you whole, chew you up and spit you out, or birth you—an entirely different animal. But while physical safety becomes paramount the mind goes unattended and is vulnerable to conditioning.
Prisoners are fed their food on trays, fed trays through slots, let out into the yard, herded into buildings and chained down. The prisoner is classically conditioned to behave like an animal. Perhaps the most telling sign of conditioning are the bells and signals used to control sleep, feeding, and movement.
In 1927 Ivan Pavlov conducted a conditioning experiment on his dogs. He would ring a bell before he fed the dogs. After repeating this routine the dogs began to associate food with the ringing bell or the white lab coat that Pavlov wore while feeding them. Pavlov then discovered that the presentation of food was not necessary, the dogs only needed to see the uniform or hear the signal.
The dogs had been trained away from their nature. Food, which was natural stimuli was replaced with their master's signal. That is the intent of prisons conditioning is to break us by replacing our natural stimuli with the master's signals.
By doing so, we lose our will and become dependent upon the very structure that oppresses us. That is what we call being institutionalized. A "model" inmate is not simply one who stays out of trouble but fits the prototype of what the white power structure defines as a re-formed mind.
In Pennsylvania's juvenile institutions a child is "FTA'd" when they cannot assimilate properly. FTA means "Failure To Adjust" which results in placement in a tougher institution or "program" meant to break (adjust/re-form) them. Re-forming a prisoner is a process of self-denial and assimilation, at every turn prisoners' rational thoughts are turned against them. Refusals to adopt the oppressor's logic are diminished to a lack of respect for authority and any ability to recognize the structures that created the prisoner's condition is equated with a failure to accept responsibility. Such are the things that we are punished for and also the reasons for denial of parole. A prisoner will be punished until they capitulate. If insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, most prisoners are sane—they ain't crazy.
But what is crazy? Mental health problems are often viewed as an irrational reaction to a normal situation. What happens when one is subjected to the irrational situation that is prison? There are no rational reactions. This is what Kanye West could not comprehend. His statement that "slavery was a choice" is reflective of the cultural incompetency created by the white power structure. It dehumanizes by focusing its critique and "corrections" on the captive instead of criticizing and correcting the condition. There is a reason it is called being oppressed and not impressed.
With no rational reaction to confinement and the inability to change the situation, the mind will often lower the bar for what it considers rational. This is how prisons conditions create animals.
The moment that bar is lowered in order to cope, the white powers structure that is the prison's administration uses it as evidence to confirm its bias.
There are prisoners in solitary confinement who have endured endless physical and psychological abuses at the hands of staff. In the minds of some of the abused it is purely rational to fight the prison staff's psychological warfare with chemical warfare (throwing feces and other excrement upon staff). Some prisoners go so far as to cover themselves and/or their cells with feces.
I used to think that resulting to chemical warfare meant that that person had broken. I considered it a loss meaning that one has allowed prison to break them and turn them into an animal which only invited more torture. But while one person prefers the torture of the constant drip another will choose waterboarding.
Doing time is enduring the conditioning, confinement, and torture behind these walls. The goal is to take whatever they throw at you without breaking. And everyone gets to determine for themselves, what breaking means because it is their sanity on the line. Like my brother Krawl said, "You gotta go insane to come out sane."
"The dog that learns his to bark and scare away its enemies (predators), to defend itself by biting its attackers and to hunt and to feed itself is an educated dog. The dog that learns how to stand on its hind legs and wear a dress and dance to the music of its trainer is actually a trained dog. Despite how impressive the dancing dog may appear to the human observer, this dog has been trained away from its nature...Though the dog's behavior results in obtaining food and care from a master, it does not afford the dog the ability to care for itself...After many generations dogs are unable to survive as their undomesticated cousins, the wolves who are so called "wild"...they will only be able to serve their masters and not take care of themselves."
-Dr. Na'im Akbar, "Know Thyself"