Unpacking the insights of a prisoned life: A psychological interpretation

Unpacking the insights of a prisoned life: A psychological interpretation

I walked a mile with Pleasure; she chatted all the way; but left me none the wiser, for all she had to say,

I walked a mile with Sorrow, And ne’er a word said she; but oh! The things I learned from her, when Sorrow walked with me.

-Robert Browning Hamilton

Prison a place where wings are clipped, freedom is restricted, choices are repaired and a chance is provided to correct deviant behavior. One of the tasks for an Active Listener can be to provide Psychological First Aid (PFA).

Psychological First Aid-Psychological first aid (PFA) is a structured intervention that was developed initially to decrease the occurrence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and it replaced psychological debriefing. Reference for the same can be found in the Field Operations Guide for Psychological First Aid published by National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (NC-PTSD) in 2006.

Though prison as a place can be overwhelming but one gets a chance to explore behind the scenes of what goes into making of an individual living in an Indian society to commit a crime like theft, murder etc. No one has the authority to judge who did actually commit a crime, which is emboldened by the fact that according to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), no one is guilty unless proven and we have the courts for it. Indian prisons have around sixty-six percent of the inmates as under trials and the other category is that of convicts. You can meet both either as someone providing PFA or god forbid you yourself are inside the jail. One can obtain a multitude of insights and the pertinent psychological interpretation, which exists invariably across all dimensions of the thoughts, feelings and behavior of the inmates.

Presenting the understanding in the form of an episode, one can imagine the scenario of a prison, what goes into the construction of a criminal, analyze the effects it has on the emotional state and the coping mechanisms which can prove effective in any negative environment.

A person named Z, in his mid-20s, enatered the room. His mood was anxious, he was looking here and there, overwhelmed by the inmates and the negativity in the room. His thought process was disorganized, insight was poor and had a piercing gaze with a glimmer of hope in his eyes. He came from a middle class background and had self-harm marks on his face. Upon being asked about the section he is in, he replied "IPC 302", which is that of punishment for committing murder. He had deep rooted anxieties and stress hidden beneath the conscious mind. On being heard patiently and keeping up with consistent efforts, he revealed that he is a good planner, loves cleanliness and practices the spiritual path for his religion daily and regularly. The main concerns were his over aggressive behavior towards fellow inmates in the past and on himself. As time passed, it became clearer that his relationships were satisfactory and was innocent according to him. He was unable to sleep properly as the thoughts from the past and the future would not only perturb him but intruded every second of his life. Sharing was a positive trait he had and would open his heart and express. Expression feels like freedom and in a prison, it is like the ultimate freedom one can have and it worked not instantly but gradually systematically. What actually was needed was direction and he found it in expressing. He expressed with a smile that he was still overwhelmed not by the negativity but by the feel good factor. The combination of expression and active listening reduced his aggression and regularized the sleep pattern. 

Expressing and listening are the two wheels of the two-wheeler called life, and these two simple acts of kindness can unlock the love present in this universe. Life is a two wheeler as reality is duality.

Diving deeper into some of the CAUSES behind a phenomenon called crime there exists at least one of the following circumstances;

Aggression- History of aggression in childhood or adolescence contributed immensely to the possibility of manifestation of anger and an incessant desire to exert control over an external situation. It can be a personal vendetta against an individual or taking an eye for an eye (revenge exacting tendencies). The anger could be because of Nature (genes) which created the predisposition or Nurture (environment) which made the individual learn and get affected by anger or because it was not channelized properly. The regret of not able to manage one’s anger effectively is a distinguishing feature found in prison population.

Fractured associations- This is a prominent feature pervading in the inmates. There was either a lack of meaningful relationship with friends, family or extended family. Fractured associations, dents the morality of the decisions one takes during their life. As it is said, choosing and not choosing is a choice, therefore not choosing to associate with right people (sat-sanga) or not being able to form meaningful associations was found to be one of the reasons behind the existence of the feeling of guilt in inmates.

Low emotional Intelligence- Daniel Goleman, an eminent author famous for his book titled, ‘Emotional Intelligence’ defines EI as the ability to: recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others. This has been one of the missing links among the prisoners. Lack of knowledge of emotions causes poor judgment hence unable to comprehend their own emotional states.

Substance Abuse- Substance abuse is when one takes drugs that are not legal. It is also when one uses alcohol, prescribed medication and other legal or illegal substances in more than the required capacity or in the wrong manner. In case of thefts, the money is used to fulfill the instant sense gratification desires induced due to ‘drug tolerance’. According to Institute of drug abuse, when drugs such as heroin are used repeatedly over time, tolerance may develop. Tolerance occurs when the person no longer responds to the quantity of the drug in the way the person initially responded. Stated another way, it takes a higher dose of the drug to achieve the same level of response (high) achieved initially. 

Socio-educational background- Prison inmates were found to be mostly those who were uneducated and belonged to economically backward families. They were driven more by desires to make a quick buck that may be greed or mere subsistence of their family. Another reason for that the poor cannot be free is that they cannot practice corruption, which disables them from bribing the system and bending the rules. Henry Thomas Buckle said 'Society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it.'

Criminal mindset is not a satisfied mindset. There is gloom prevailing in the air and dissatisfaction all around; the negative emotions and the precipitating factor that causes stress reactions can lead to anxiety, depression and para-suicidal (self-harm) and suicidal tendencies. Everyone has a constant burning desire, of getting out and being free again. During their stay in the prison not only their behavior changes but their personality, attitudes, skill set, temperament, abilities, etc. Almost everything changes as they are put in different and difficult conditions under stringent laws, strict routines and careful observation. The confinement and the isolation from their friends, family and relatives are kept away from them and most importantly, the cost that they pay for their crime is their freedom. Their rights are limited, the rules are fixed which puts their mental well-being to test and in case of Indian prisons, the problems are accentuated due to issues like overcrowding and understaffing mainly due to resource crunch.

Following COPING MECHANISMS have proven to be helpful in uplifting the dejected inmates;

Worship- The devotees of any religion, who had strong faith in God and carried on the spiritual practices or religious duties which includes chanting, praying, reading, observing spiritual practices, cleanliness, as cleanliness is Godliness, yoga or even following a routine were able to lead a satisfied if not fulfilling life.

Work- Work is the best coping mechanism as an empty mind is devil’s workshop. Work engages the mind into something constructive, which helps the inmate overall, adds meaning and some useful earnings to their life. However, sadly, not every inmate has work allotted to him.

Counselling- Counselling which translates into providing a helping hand to each individual becomes essential and active listening has the potential to even change hearts and transform lives. As "Inside every hardened criminal beats the heart of a ten-year-old boy" -Bart Simpson

Meaningful relationships with barrack-mates- A prison is divided into wards and wards are housing places for barracks, which are large cells having a capacity of around 40 individuals. Those who had at least one friend were more peaceful than ones having no friend.

Prison is not much different from the life outside jail if one looks at it from a reality oriented and psychological perspective. Life experiences constitute of choices and everyone is either choosing or not choosing are also making a choice and behind every single act or behavior is a choice or decision. A choice comes in the form of a conscious thought or a desire. Desire is an impression, which germinates from vibrations and affects us every second in the form of stimuli, which can be thoughts, actions and feelings. This stimuli response system must inspire you to identify the stimuli as to which one could be harmful. One must learn to be observant and aware. Engage in meaningful recreations, which gives rise to positive vibrations.

It is said ‘If you ever want to tame your inner demons, you must consciously choose never to become too attached to any particular life plan - and always remain open to the idea that there might be an even better life plan for you’- Karen Salmansohn                                                                                                                                                        

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Psychologs Magazine

India's First Psychology Magazine 

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