Tag Archives: institutions

Breaking Icons

My second human sculpture, Dr John Jumoke, holds a prescription pad that reads,

Rx: Art, Poetry, and Music.20121223-000808.jpg

I think that is a pretty good first line defense for much of what ails the human condition. That and a good dose of empathic understanding from people who eschew employing violence, sarcasm and undermining skepticism in their efforts to help others. Too often people who are diagnosed, as I was, and still am, with “schizophrenia” are rushed into treatment that degrades and humiliates, even as it inflicts terrible effects, not to mention side effects…all without curing the so-called illness. I am not convinced that a person with “schizophrenia,” given the simple luxury of TIME, and a safe place with really good, caring, kind and intelligent people who know how to help without hurting her or him, would not heal better and more effectively than with any of all the so-called miracle anti-psychotic drugs our billion dollar medico-pharma industry has foisted on us. And I say this even though I still feel that Zyprexa was a “miracle drug” for me, once upon a time, (though also the miracle drug from hell…) and that it gave me a life I had never known before. I say this even though I take Abilify and Geodon and do more art and writing than I ever have…I say this even though I am better now than I have been in decades. I think the drugs are only fixing problems that the system largely caused. And had I had the chance, way back when, I wish I had had the chance to fight back without them…

If I could do anything to fix the mental health system, in Connecticut or this country or the world, one small thing, it would be to end ALL use of seclusion and restraints, period. Violence begets violence, in all cases. In ALL cases. In fact, get this, I would change the prison system as well, so that punishment qua punishment would be a thing of the past. Punishment is only a form of revenge and it does nothing to change a person or make them better. It only makes society feel better the way a bully feels better when he or she smacks a victim upside the head for smiling lopsidedly. I mean this. Sure, people can do very bad things. Yes. And certain people may be so damaged that they are too dangerous  to safely release into “normal” society. (I maintain that this is largely because of how we, as a society, treated them, either at large or in prison.) But prisons and penitentiaries, especially in America, should be seen as an abomination on God’s green earth.

They say a society is judged by how it treats its dead? Well, I think we are judged by how we treat our prisoners, and if so, we will be judged poorly indeed for we treat our prisoners like hated animals…Not like cats and dogs that is for certain, nor even like horses…No, because we generally treat cats, dogs and horses well. Rather, we treat prisoners like vermin, like roaches…and then we blame them when they behave like the vermin they have become!

Have I gotten off the subject? Well, some mental institutions are largely prisons to their populations of involuntary or coerced patients, and most patients, involuntary or not, are cowed into doing as they are told for fear of the consequences. So to a degree the prison metaphor is valid. But if you have been restrained and secluded, brutally, and for hours upon hours, for many days, as I have been, the notion that you are a prisoner becomes more reasonable. That said, I will advance yet another idea: that bad behavior should be treated, not punished. Yes, I mean that. We should treat the person guilty of repeated criminal offenses as if he or she has a treatable behavioral disorder, and not punish them.

I know this will earn me some outrage. But think about it. What good does it do to punish a person repeatedly? Does it do anyone any good to torture that person with “the hole” or with repeated cell extractions and mace in the face? Clearly it doesn’t rehabilitate them or teach them the ways of kindness. It only makes them worse, and in our system an in-prison offense can add years to what started as a short sentence. So we create hardened criminals inside our prisons. I ask again, what good did it do?

But if instead we took that person, guilty of an offense and treated them as if they needed help — help learning how to behave better — and all that might entail, perhaps we might end up not only with someone ready to leave the institution at the end of the shorter stay, but someone ready to stay out afterwards! It only makes sense to treat everyone, including prisoners, with kindness and understanding and education, and if you don’t believe this, you should for one reason only: it would cost less money. (Of course, the owners of the private prisons don’t want you to know this, because they MAKE money on all the prisoners who keep coming back or who never get out, in fact there is a whole industry based on keeping as many people in prison, their private prisons, as possible…)

But I don’t believe in prisons either. I think the institution is a nightmare. You put bad people together with one another and what do you get but people learning how to behave worse together! It is a truly ridiculous idea. Analogous to the hospital, which is currently the worst and most dangerous place to go when you get ill (because that is where the most dangerous infections are and are often out of control). In the “old days” prisons were merely waiting stations. Penalties were sure and swift, and brutal. But no one waited for decades in a crowded prison with society pretending that it was humane. Now, we pretend it is..I dunno. Do we pretend anything, or just not care?

Do we care at all that we warehouse so many millions in dead-end lives that only get worse by the day, and then deprive them the more if they manage to leave prison eventually and not return? Oh, we have three strikes laws to put a person in prison for life, but no one gives a damn that there are three strikes against any person who actually earns his or her way OUT of prison. Nowhere to live, no job, no money, and no safety net whatsoever. (Unless you happen to be a former governor of Connecticut, and then you have it made in the shade.)

Enough for now.