Wickes-Passmore, Amy, and Kristine Stevens. From Privilege to Prison: Finding Purpose in a Dark Place. Ed. Martin Yant. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 11 Dec. 2014. Web.
Zimbardo, Phillip G. “Stanford Prison Experiment.” The : A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment. Stanford Prison Experiment, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2015.
Morgan, David. “U.N.: Tasers Are A Form Of Torture.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
In her book, Amy Wickes-Passmore recounts her transition from the envied to the envier; from rich and advantaged, to her life in prison and the hardships and adversity she faced. Roman poet Horace once noted that,”Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents in which prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” This quote applies to Amy and her life. Without going to prison she would not have the purpose to become the advocate she is today, fighting for justice and providing a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves, similar in that regard to MLK. The adversity she faced in prison brought out a strong sense of self worth and purpose and talent for helping people. Overall I found myself struggling to read her book, not because I didn’t understand or comprehend it, but because the topics she covered were heavy and emotional and hard to read through.
One situation in her book that really impacted me was one of the many stories about abuse. This happened in the county jail, not the prison. The county jail is not meant for long term housing; which is why they can get away with such poor living conditions, even by jail standards. One time early on there was a pregnant woman who began to have labor pains and was pounding on the door, begging the guards to take her to medical. The response she got was to get away from the door and shut the hell up. Being ignored and told to shut up by guards was a common response. More banging on the door and begging, and seven guards eventually came in. Instead of helping her, they hurt her, as she was yelling they tased the woman until she fell to the ground.
An article from CBS discusses the claim of the UN that tasers are a form of torture, and discusses some of the deaths that have taken place due to what 50,000 volts from a taser can cause. The article states,”A United Nations committee said…that use of Taser weapons can be a form of torture, in violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture.” And while its still debated today and argued on today about wether or not tasers should be considered torture devices or how lethal they can be, this situation had a profound impact on me. It made me question, just focusing on guard to prisoner interaction, how humane is treatment in the prison systems? This question was one I asked myself a lot throughout my reading and research, and abuse was an underlying pattern throughout the book. Prison guards were also later described by Amy later on as being”taser-happy”, and laughing when inmates are in pain due to tasers, and saying that they deserved it. That doesn’t seem humane to me.
I also made a connection with this story about the pregnant women and the abuse in general to the Stanford Prison Experiment(SPE) in 1971, which I had watched documentaries about in the past and done my own research about previously. All male volunteers were chosen at random; by the flip of a coin, to be either guards or prisoners in a mock prison experiment created in the school to study the psychological effects of prison life. While I believe that the SPE is unethical and goes against the code of conduct set by the American Psychological Association, there is a lot that can be learned from this experiment that relates to life in actual prisons. The guards in the experiment were given no training on how to be guards, they were given completely free will to do whatever they saw appropriate. The prisoners were dehumanized from the start, stripped down and humiliated, chains on their feet, and being given a number, not a name. Guards also acted sadistically, demanding push ups from prisoners, which were often a form of punishment in Nazi concentration camps. The guards seemed to enjoy this. The prisoners ripped their caps off, as well as their numbers, and rebelled early on by barricading the doors with their beds. The guards fought fire with fire. They shot fire extinguishers are the door to move the prisoners back and broke into the cells, stripped the prisoners naked, harassed, intimidated, and humiliated the prisoners. Guards began to see the prisoners as true threats to their safety. Only 36 hours into the experiment, a prisoner had to leave because he began to suffer from mental disturbance; what they believed to be the onset of depression, and three prisoners shortly after had to leave due to mental problems. They were all pronounced stable and healthy not even 2 days before. The lead researcher himself got so caught up in the experiment he was thinking more like a prison superintendent than a psychologist.
While when I originally learned about the SPE I was shocked and appalled, but now after reading Amy’s book, I see the connection between those short 6 days, and some inmates entire lives. Which shocks me and appalls me even more. Being stripped down and dehumanized, yelled at and mentally and verbally abused; all these things happened in Amy’s book as well as in the SPE. Its not unique to Amy’s situation either, this kind of treatment in prison is global, and varies in degree; some are worse and some are better than others. I think it’s interesting I made this connection and that it helped me to better understand the book and life in prison in general. Also, I hadn’t really thought much about the psychological aspect of prison until now. This changed my mind overall a lot about prison, I always had the idea that it was such a horrible place; and in reality it is. I thought before,”oh its just a sort of scare tactic that we hear these horror stories about prison because our parents want to keep us out of them or whatever.” But while that most likely plays a role, its not the bigger picture, which is that prison can truly be a bad place.
After making these connections, I wonder what can be done about this treatment of inmates. If tasers are considered a form of torture, and the SPE showed how power can corrupt; what options are there to improve the conditions? All of this motivates me to get up from my bed right now and protest and fight for rights in prison. I think that next, reform and policies in prison will be where I will take my research.