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Matthew Van Emburgh, guest writer

Cruelties abound in prisons all across the world. Many wonder how people can commit such atrocities against their fellow humans. Are they evil? Are they sadistic? Are they bullies? Maybe, but not necessarily. What confuses so many is that most of the correctional staff members that perpetuate these barbaric acts are average people who lead normal lives outside the prison walls. What is it about prisons that brings out the worst in people?

There are probably many reasons that contribute to all the various atrocities committed by prison staff the world over. I have come to believe that the primary reason behind it all is the indoctrination that prison staff receive that we inmates are no longer human. We are not even animals. We are all lying, cheating, stealing, and sub-human pieces of shit. This allows them to not feel any guilt over their actions and to even feel noble in doing so. They are bringing justice to and punishing those that deserve it. So when five correctional officers beat a handcuffed and shackled inmate near to death, they can laugh and joke and brag about it. It’s not another human being after all. This dehumanization helps bring out the worst in these individuals. They are able to embrace the worst of themselves and are told it is ok, good even.

But can all the blame be put on the correctional staff? We inmates are far from being the complete victims in these circumstances. In our world, people tend to return to their most primitive states of prey and predator. The weak are taken advantage of and abused while the strong do nothing but watch and shake their heads in disapproval. Inmates are not noble and innocent victims. In this primal world, where only strength and aggression are respected, maybe harshness is necessary. Kindness and compassion are a weakness to be exploited. Is it really all the correctional officers’ fault that they succumb to the environment and speak and act in the only language that is understood and respected by the majority? Or should they be blamed for helping to foster and nurture such an environment?

Or could it quite possibly be the nature of the environment itself that brings out this darker side? Prisons, especially in these new age, advanced and efficient prisons, are places that are built to destroy life, not harbor it. There is nothing alive – just steel, concrete, plastic, and asphalt. There is no life energy, nothing vibrant or positive, just a maw of negative energy that separates human beings from their connection with life. So did the environment bring out the worst in people because the oppressive and depressive nature of it affects them in such a way? Or were they already that way and their negative energy was just absorbed by the environment to in turn affect others? Or worse yet, do the people and the environment feed off each other and amplify the negative energy at every turn?

Prisons are a blight upon the natural order of the world. It is anathema to all that lives and breathes. It cuts off a person from the mycelial network of our world. Without that life support, that connection, that all living things contribute to it, the area becomes a pit in which the energy of life cannot survive. And in that void, that is where we live.

There are no easy and all-encompassing answers to any of these questions, or at least not one that I have found. The prison environment is a miasma of anger, fear, bitterness, and hatred that poisons those who interact with it. There are very few people I have met in prison, staff or inmates, that have been unscathed by this negative influence. This environment is one in which it is very easy to succumb and lose one's humanity, for staff and inmates alike. And all that does is perpetuate the vicious cycle. We humans created this for ourselves. Living here, in the midst of it all, it is very easy to become a misanthrope. For if this is what humanity is, then does it not deserve to be hated?


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