Tuesday, June 7, 2011
The Strain of Schizophrenia
While the wider world indulges in its obsession about our access to televisions and pool tables, the real pressures of long sentences are overlooked and unappreciated.
Long sentences, and life sentences, are increasingly common. While the popular perception is of short sentences being the order of the day, the reality is that sentence lengths are at an all time high and the tariff portions of life sentences are ever increasing.
The psychological pressures involved in surviving such sentences are rarely considered. Lifers themselves tend to live in a state of semi-denial, reducing their time perspective in order to avoid facing a terrible question - how to survive decades in prison. Even with the introduction of whole-life tariffs, you will search the literature produced by our keepers in vain for any thought as to how the individual must cope to serve such a sentence.
We must live in a state of schizophrenia, for decades. We must persuade ourselves that we have some control over our daily environment, when the reality is that all we do is controlled, or takes place within, parameters set by others. How else can one cope? If we appreciated, accepted, the full scale of our powerlessness, surely our minds would collapse?
We must perpetually nurture hope for the best, whilst simultaneously planning to deal with the worst. We must believe that we will, one day, be released into the world when the immediate reality is one of a concrete box. To dream, imagine, sitting on the beach, being at home, resting in the arms of love - when on opening one’s eyes the reality is bricks and bars.
Very long sentences comprise more than the passage of time. Life sentences must be worked at, progression measured and analysed. Each interview, each report written, each transfer, each parole hearing, provides another crucible for hope, and hope lost.
To balance the pain of hope, to have a vision that sees further than the length of the cell, is to suffer. To imagine and hope for more than what the day brings only throws the reality into sharper, greyer, relief. And yet it must be done. The alternative is to allow one's world, one's imagination and hopes, to become reduced to the dimensions of a cell for the rest of one’s life.
The powerlessness, the lack of control and the uncertainty leads to some prisoners adopting a deep intransigence. If they vanish down the Block for years on end and refuse to play the game, then there is little that "the system" can inflict upon them. Some refuse to engage with the parole process. These people willingly surrender all they may have, any hope, because the pains of those hopes being held hostage by another is greater than the painful choice to surrender them. If a person has given away all he has, there is nothing more that can be taken from him. That is the only path to tread that doesn't force us into living a mental life that is schizophrenic and has only the pain of certainty rather than the pain of perpetually unmet hopes.
Labels: life sentences