Piercing the Shroud of Secrecy
April 1, 2010
I have been accused from within the bowels of the Maine Department of Corrections of being a “conspiracist” – one who looks for secret agendas behind blood oaths taken in a back room somewhere in the dark of night. That got me to thinking about institutional parallels to the shroud of secrecy that envelops every prison in the United States and stands as a defense against significant reform.
Psychologist and best-selling author, Anne Wilson Schaef, wrote a blockbuster book some years ago entitled “When Society Becomes an Addict” (Harper Collins, 1988). Her thesis was that defense of the institutional soul (in this case the prison culture) is not an overt, calculated strategy but is born out of the dysfunction of individuals who serve the institution. Individual co-dependency, defined by some as a “progressive, degenerative, fatal disease,” is rendered noble through the strength of the institution. The institution becomes the protector of the dysfunctional individual by giving power and voice and thereby legitimacy to its members.
There are very few blood oaths taken in support of dysfunctional systems. They just evolve.
Lest I be accused of over-simplification, the parallels between the prison guard culture (from which virtually all prison administration derives) and the military culture are striking.
As a former member of the military, I cannot recall any with whom I served or have since known who enlisted for the noble purpose to “defend our nation.” Yet, that is the agenda that is publicly marketed in reference to anyone in the military: “He/she unselfishly served his country.” Why do we join? A number of reasons occur – getting away from home; boredom; ADHD; need for a job; vocational training; promises of college tuition; the draft (today referred to as calling up your National Guard unit). Rarely in our national history has anyone enlisted for the noble purpose of defense of country. Exceptions might be brief periods immediately following Fort Sumter, sinking of the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor and 9/1l, nobility quickly deflating when fired upon.
“Defense of nation” becomes the noble rationale for military service, despite the evidence that most wars are political or economically motivated and are neither just nor actions against genuine threats to national security.
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