Sunday, July 24, 2011
Becoming State Property
If you spend any time around someone who has been in prison for a good stretch of time, you'll certainly hear about the term "institutionalized". But, when I try to verbalize to others what this means, I seem to come up short of a perfect explanation. Granted, I am not speaking from my own experience, since I've never been to prison, but after exchanging numerous phone calls, about 1,500 letters, and a good number of visits with KC, I do believe I am at least qualified to speak on an outsiders perspective of the institutionalization of KC. So, what most of us "law abiding citizens" think happens when an inmate goes into prison is that they arrive on a bus, they get strip searched, they get handed their new "uniform" and they go play basketball and poker for however long they are to reside in the cozy environment that is the DOC. At least that's what I thought. And perhaps a lucky few would describe that as their prison experience. But many I'm sure would disagree, and certainly KC would. KC got out of prison in one state, at the age of 25. He was originally in prison for 4 years for stealing cars. He decided after being out of prison for two days to steal a car, with his new "girlfriend" and go on a cross country armed robbery spree. Of course, he got caught. But he did get half way across the country. Hence, picking up armed robbery charges in several states. So, other than that 3 weeks he was out, since the age of 20 he has spent 19 years in prison...so far. Once he went into the new state DOC he was caught in, the process of becoming institutionalized began. He did everything wrong when he got there. He didn't know how to play the high stakes game of prison politics, and you could say he went all in on the wrong hand. He did horrible things, and pissed off the wrong people. It took him about two years to totally undo any chance he had at a "normal" prison experience. So begins his lengthy stay in solitary. KC started thinking less and less about what was going on outside his concrete walls topped with razor wire. Life outside his prison walls became less interesting, and less real. Things that once mattered in "the free world" lost meaning and value. Holidays began to have no meaning. Just another day slipping away. His only focus was on the tiny four walls that surrounded him. Desire to obtain the best physique became an obsession. He began closing himself off to everyone outside of his cell, except his Mom and Dad. KC finally became institutionalized when he began to accept the fact that the rules and laws of prison are nothing like that of the "free world". The laws you follow in prison are either the laws of the inmates or the laws of the DOC, and they are polar opposites. There is no C) All of the Above. There's no riding the fence. KC made his choice knowing that this would be how he is defined in prison and seen by the other inmates. Knowing that his choice, regardless of which side he takes, he will have automatic enemies. It is irrelevant which side an inmate "picks" in the context of describing the "institutionalization of a man". But it does, to some extent seal his fate. There's no "changing teams". Then came the point that KC learned to accept that no one was looking out for him. Not the prison Administration and not other inmates (he chose not to affiliate with a gang). This meant for KC that everyone was a potential threat to him, as he perceived the situation. Let me give you an example. Because KC decided not to affiliate with a gang that was "courting him", he made enemies. Soon after his food started coming in not with the regular inmate food trays (that is slipped into their cell through a trap door), but rather with the "special diet" trays. He was not on a special diet. He began getting sick. Very sick. Over the course of about a month, he became shockingly thin because he realized whatever the gang was making sure was put on his food tray, it was clearly something designed to poison him. So, after a couple of weeks of bad stomach pain that was getting worse, rectal bleeding and returning fever, he finally quit eating his meals. Of course he attempted to be seen by the doctor, but they maintained it was likely a cold or the flu. He asked the Chaplain to intervene (since many diets that differ from the standard diet are due to religious reasons, he would be able to assist in this matter) and make sure he is served the standard inmate diet, not a special diet. The people responsible can't dictate which regular food trays go to what inmate, so the only way to poison an inmate through his food tray is do it with a special diet tray that will be given specifically to that inmate. Well, the Chaplain did attempt to intervene, and was successful for a few days. But then, KC started receiving the special diet trays again. As luck would have it, right about then, the kitchen jobs were outsourced to the sex offenders who were housed in a different location. Therefore, no food tampering was possible. But, the point of that story is that when you learn to accept this is your fate, this is how your going to go out, despite there being numerous people around you who SHOULD be able to help, you've become institutionalized. When you come to terms, and accept the fact that you are a second rate citizen who is not worthy of adequate health care, a proper diet, and prompt attention in an emergency, you've become institutionalized. Once KC finally realized that every decision about him would be made for him, by an agency that did not have his best interest in mind, he was completely institutionalized. He became, and to this day, remains a piece of state property.