What prisoners learn

Smith, Andrew Jackson



What Prisoners Learn By Andrew Jackson Smith Elmore Correctional Center 228252 -A I -54A 3520 Marion Spillway Rd. Elmore, AL 36025-1532 The author has a B.S. in General Studies with a major in Psychology; B.S. in Nursing; certifies as a Christian Counselor; disabled veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces; maintains his absolute innocence since incarceration in 200 I. Comments/Questions Welcome. HELPLESSNESS Helplessness is defined as a feeling of dependence, powerlessness, defenselessness, or depression. Learned helplessness is defined as a passive fatalistic behavior that one cannot influence one's environment, or alter one's existence. The condition may arise as a result of depression, fears, or loss of functional independence. The ideal breeding ground for instilling learned helplessness in people is the prison environment in America. This penal institutional system is also ensuring generational racism; creating horrendous psycho sociopaths, and developing career paths to failure. America's prisons harbor depression, fear, and loss of functional independence. Helplessness is a behavior in both thought and action. Behavior is a definable function produced by the brain. Learning acts upon the brain to formulate this function of behavior described as helplessness. Learning is the acquisition of new information that is subject to memory and recall. Memory may be unconscious (implicit) or conscious (explicit). CHANGES IN THE BRAIN Plasticity of the brain involves changes anatomical in structure and/or physiological in function. Learning can produce synaptic changes and contribute to stored memory. Memory is consolidated by repeated experience (enhanced by emotional components) over time Which transform short term memory into long. Emotional components are formed by many internal and external environmental factors, such as attention, fear, social cultural setting, neurotransmitters, stress, sleep, etc. Learning involves encoding, storage and recall of information, much by way of long term potentiation. When synaptic pathways increase excitatory postsynaptic receptors in "the hippocampus, long term potentiation occurs. Excitation can occur by quantitative means (cooperativity) and/or qualitative (associativity). This is a very abbreviated and generalized comment; long term potentiation involves many factors beyond the scope of this paper. However, the learning process involves long term potentiation resulting from anatomical and physiological changes at the neuronal level. Argument continues today over biological and environmental mechanisms affecting learning and ultimately behavior, both normal and abnormal. Both social and biological mechanisms act upon the neuronal aspect of the mind. In the future, the field of psychiatry, as we know it, will not exist. Psychiatry will be transformed to neuropsychiatry and then only to distinguish signs (neurotic manifestations) from symptoms (psychotic manifestations), both attributable to structural and physiological characteristics at the neuronal (or lesser) level. Furthermore, emphasis upon the creation of abnormal (disease) will need to take center stage as we acknowledge the ever increasing effects of society upon society. And prisons in America are the experimental playgrounds to alter mentation in human subjects under strict governmental and regulatory guidelines. RISK TO AMERICA Political implications to our very national security have arisen from the threat of racism as a real sectarianism likely to involve militarization of law enforcement to keep in check; the origins and guaranteed generational consequences has been founded in America's prison system. As well, this field of penology is sure to fail, resulting in the destruction of lives via careers chosen by well-intending citizens. Perhaps, worse, is the yet to be seen full impact of a new segment of society being created by prisons: the indomitable psycho sociopath with brain alterations to be passed on both biologically and socially to the world we live in. It is no surprise that sociopathic developmental theory is shifting emphasis from nature to nurture. What has not yet been prominently realized is that those mechanisms of grooming children to believe they are exceptional and superior to others is readily occurring in adults. This mechanism of plasticity resulting in abnormal anatomical and/or physiological occurrences is no respecter of brain age. Another prime example is the influence of religiosity. Obviously, to nurture a being from birth to believe it normal to realize God has ordained he or she is a superior being by religious affiliation over all others not of that affiliation, not only defines sectarianism, but allows one to execute others (even in an animalistic sacrificial manner) without any sense of guilt or shame, can be seen throughout the world. However, the same lack of guilt or remorse can b induced in adult a:Gqwiring �sueh ~Hefs--by similar alterations in the brain. And this same abnormal behavior can be produced in any pretense resulting in a sense of warranted superiority over other (often all) human beings, thus enters America's p~ison system. DISTORTING REASONING It is obvious and over simplistic to note that may regions of the brain are involved in cognition. The reward system involving dopaminergic neurons and the basal ganglia and insula with pathways to the anterior cingulate involving will power. The ventral striatum receiving inputs from the hippocampus, amygdala, and entorhinal cortex communicate with the ventral and rostral medial pallidum, and rostrodorsal substantia nigra pars reticula. Pathways of neurons continue to paramedian of the dorsal nucleus of the thalamus and back upon the anterior cingulated cortex. All this to ultimately impact executive function involving the prefrontal cortex (and limbic structures). Reinforcing stimuli account for the cascade of events culminating in long term potentiation of learning associated with motivated behavior. There is nothing new or remarkable in this explanation, and it is surely better demonstrated through graphics, if not computerized three-dimensional models of the brain. Less emphasis is placed upon the detrimental effects of our environments than should be, unless a definitive diagnosis has been established as a result. And so when noble soldiers venture into war and return with a diminished or absent ability to conform to the norms of society, we label the post traumatic experiences as a stress disorder. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis certainly plays a role with the release ultimately of stress hormones capable of neuronal death and malfunction. Changes in the amygdala specifically can be seen often. And future studies will prove many other regions affected and altered by these experiences. MENTAL ILLNESS In a previous paper entitled Mass Producing Mental Illness in America's Prisons, I alluded to the structural and functional changes occurring in the brain and attempted to suggest how devastating this phenomenon will be upon America's civil communities exponentially over time. I believe we are living in outcomes of the prediction now. The most frequent responses to the paper I received were of the following nature: ( 1) Criminals are already exhibiting the behavior consistent with the anomalies of pathology described, (2) If these changes for ill are caused by a nefarious environment like prisons, then when the subject returns to well society, the effects will reverse, (3) The ill mental effects upon prisoners is warranted as punishment for their crimes and of little concern to society, and (4) not all persons subjected to adverse stigmatizing environments are adversely affected, in fact, some transform for the better, thus showing improvement. And these comments have led me to further evaluate the issue at hand, although I remain convinced in the initial paper's (mentioned) findings as fundamentally and methodically correct. PSYCHOSOCIOPATHS I will comment on number one first. There is a percentile of the general population diagnosable with psychosocial pathology. This term here utilized in a general and broad sense to include several specific disorders or sub-types. If we view the number of persons with such, a lesser number of those commit crimes, and of that number then in prisons, essentially all remain psycho sociopaths until release or death. But a psychologically assessed normal segment of the general population is also apt to commit crimes, and of this total number a significant percentage develop psychosociopathies while in prison directly correlating to length and severity of conditions. This was the target group that my previous paper addressed. UNLEARNING In regards to reaction number two, that brain changes consistent with psychosociopathy induced by prison are reversed (hypothetically) upon return to normal society. This is proven categorically not so. Unlearning is a myth. This particular type of alleged "unlearning" is especially problematic. In order for learned behavior (such as helplessness) or coping strategi,es for survivability) to take place, permanent cbanges-beth..anatomica-lly-and phys-ie-logi<:;ally oecttr consistent with long term potentiation or long term depression due to plasticity of the brain. In the case of learning while exposed to a threatening environment, the H-P-A axis and amygdala are much encroached upon. After just one exposure of a person being bitten by a rattlesnake, a significant impression is etched upon the brain. After one I. E D. having exploded in a soldier's vicinity, and indelible mark is upon the brain. After exposure to one prisoner being beaten to death by another, an impenetrable memory is upon the brain. What makes these so engrained is the emotional content of the learned matter. Fear is readily comprehended and dealt with by the most primitive structures in the brain to the most modern; this in response to instinctual and logical means to survive. Unlearning behavior associated with survivability is not possible, although with sensitization, deep brain stimuli, phannocotherapeutics, and behavioral modification, it can be reduced. Reducing the effects of one traumatic event will require multiple exposures, too numerous to count and highly variable, depending on the individual circumstances. Complete eradication of learning acquired due to highly emotional combined with repetitive stimuli is not possible. However, new learning can counter the negative effects of previous learning. It also goes to say that when logically possible, learning can be superseded or accumulative . POLITICAL HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS As to the third comment, it is an unacceptable response, although understandable from an emotional and societal aspect, perhaps even political. However, America's prison system constitutes crimes against humanity, of the greatest extent, mental torture. This poses much discussion; of primary concern is the question, "What is the alternative?" This also was addressed by this author in a previous paper. Then comes the age old question, "What is the definition of torture?" The answer lies somewhere between abuse and physiological shock. That is to say that, requiring someone to do something you would never condone for yourself is abusive. And failure of the cardiovascular system to adequately perfuse tissue due to end organ failure is shock. Somewhere between lies torture. Conditions in America's prisons are assuredly in this scope. Society should be concerned and take responsibility for the methodical systematic interjection of diseased beings introduced into the population and the consequences of such. This is a major tenet of America's emerging toward a schism likely to result in geopolitical violence throughout, if not outright war. RESILIENCE TO ADVERSITY Comment number four possibly holds the greatest interventionist reality to be pursued that might change the course of history, if the maximum action could be identified and instituted as a universal principle within America's therapeutic communities. The understanding that differentiates someone susceptible to the expected brain/behavior Changes secondary to harmful exposures in the environment and those resilient to such changes, is a much needed application to military personnel, prisoners, and those experiencing other traumatic events. Some see an initial conundrum in the presentation of this issue. It has been approached as identifiable factors present or absent in persons that determine their degree of (if any) resilience to the detrimental effects resulting from exposure to trauma. Others approach the subject as what identifiable factors are present or absent in persons as a result of their exposure to trauma, that determine their degree of resilience (if any). The answer is both are true, but so can neither be. That is to say, many enter harmful environments without the exceptional characteristic traits to ward off the detrimental effects (and digress), and likewise will not develop such traits as a result either. These are the majority of prisoners in America, who will re-enter society to influence it. CHARACTER TRAITS Speaking of traits an individual harbors is a subject difficult to outline and/or compartmentalize because of the diction required and encountered. Terms used may be tangible or intangible, philosophical or psychological, narrowly or broadly defined, etc. First, let's discuss traits of individuals a priori (before the experience in question) which contribute to resilience to adverse psychological consequences. Having a specific and well defined purpose for living, or meaning of life, comes immediately to mind. This would be demonstratable by making available a pen and paper to the person and instructing them to write their purpose for living or meaning of life, within three minutes. This should be relatively effortless for those who possess such. Intelligence is another factor critically attributing to resilience. There is no agreed upon way to assess such, however acquisition of traditional education and to what degree would be one means for consideration. Assertiveness (as opposed to passivity) is another positive trait. This is worthy of looking genetically in a sense of defining one's demeanor from birth.. Many traits might be acquired through one's rearing from early developmental stages and up to/including to the time of the experience. Such traits are optimism, flexibility, and tenacity instilled in youth by mentors insisting upon completion of task once committed to and begun. Although ego centrism is at an early age expected, a group consciousness should be developed normally and usually attribute to resilience. At the very core of one's values may be a sense of right and wrong (morality), and those with a well-founded morality are proven more resilient. Often morality 1s based upon a sense of spirituality, and this consequentially includes a belief system. Although even a philosophical hedonistic compass may attribute to resilience, a sense of the Golden Rule does so more, just as a universalism is stronger than individualism. The attributes of persons, that attribute to resilience post preori are likewise many. It cannot be assumed that these were utilized during the experience, but nor can that be excluded. However, it is possible some of these traits are possessed as a result of and entirely in the aftermath of the event/experience in question. First coming to mind is a new and increased appreciation for life often manifested by a change in priorities. There is a sense of altruism exhibited by benevolence toward others that results in nearer relationships with others that may be attributed to a desired conformity with humanity about us, in a sense of "walking in another's shoes." Attributes coming about during the course of experience and attributing to resilience might be one's sense of survivability enacted through initiative, courage and one's inner toughness. In the course of enduring long lasting trauma/adversity one does well to embrace likeminded alliances, do more than what is required of themselves, and develop 'an. indomitable spirit to succeed. Coping mechanisms may require distancing, creative dreams, and some sense of stimulation emotionally. Outlook or a favorable prognostic view contributes to discipline to set new/better possibilities in motion. A sense of security mayor may not be possible. As one engages more and more experiences to live another day, often an enlightened mindfulness takes place allowing one to be at peace at any given time and place, with ever more challenging circumstances. The point of characteristic traits is to say various traits contribute to one's resilience before, during, or after the stressor. It is not so simple as that however, and begs to ask if persons with such traits might simple endure the same mental consequences as those without the traits, but in a silent manner. For example, a special operations soldier with an extraordinary tough character, demonstrated by his qualification as such, might harbor all the symptoms of PTSD after a traumatic event, function seemingly well, up until the day he puts a pistol to his head and blows his brains out. A petty drug dealer sentenced to life in prison under mandatory sentencing may not exhibit any anger of violent tendencies until provoked and stabs to death another prisoner. There is another category of especially resilient person that may stand as a person void of these traits, prior to experiences, although they to develop some traits to some extent during or after. That is innocent persons in prison, wrongly convicted, ie., abolutely innocent. Their development is not of the same origin in some cases, .but mtbe is..moti:vated by tqe ~, aJ:Re oPigiR . aii PXSD per~ORii, ie Hyper vigilance. This is not to say persons with pre-existing honorable characteristic traits, then experiencing PTSD or wrongful convictions, don't also develop hyper-vigilance. SUMMARY In summary, this paper has many points scattered about, and is not to elaborate on anyone. America's prison system is unsustainable as is, and will attract greater global criticism as a conglomerate of human rights violations. It is a poor choice of career professions and those associated with it currently will likely be viewed as part of the problem. These prisons encourage racism by both prisoners and employees as a way of managing perceived problems, no matter how ill-fated the outcome. Many prisoners are treated with such exceptional favor in spite of their flagrant abuse of others, that the result will be the making of a horrendous psychosociopath over years that cannot be controlled except by continuous confinement. This prison system in its entirety teaches helplessness that once learned will not be displaced and contribute to an ever burdensome social program dependency that will spread exponentially throughout the country, even greater than current predictions account for. The time and place one is incarcerated in prison could be utilized being taught extraordinary traits of character development (and other matters) and then permitted an opportunity to practice them by those wishing for an improved life. However, America's prisons do not currently afford such, despite the numerous "programs" that function under that pretense. Our prison system has changed America's society. Society chose this course through politicalization and often religiosity to ensure "bad person's" lives were destroyed for the bad things they had done. In turn the government has ensured society become bad with them. As America underwent its devout effon to eradicate the monster, it has become the monster.

Author: Smith, Andrew Jackson

Author Location: Alabama

Date: 2013

Genre: Essay

Extent: 5 pages

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