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Prison - Our Shadow Writ Large - and Bringing Light into the Darkness

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The term "shadow" was first used by Carl G. Jung to describe the repressed or denied parts of the Self:

"The shadow is the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide. [The shadow] also displays a number of good qualities such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc."

Robert Bly offers an image of: "throwing unacceptable qualities over our shoulder into a bag, which we've been dragging around behind us ever since."

Our shadows are all those parts we have split off or denied - the facets of ourselves we are afraid to show - even to ourselves. As long as they remain in this "twilight condition" we are unable accept and own them; consequently, they have no way to offer to us the gifts they secretly possess.

Generally speaking, the shadow has two major functions. First, it is a storehouse for traits that we do not wish to own. Secondly, the shadow acts as a film projector, allowing us to perceive our fears and imperfections outside of ourselves by "transferring" them onto people in the external world.

Thus, criminals tend to be seen as "them" not "us." The well-hidden penal system is where we house these outcasts. But what about the system itself? "Security" functions as a catch-all term for keeping nosy reporters, politicians, and interested persons from discovering what is going on behind the razor-wire fences. Yet, some of us have worked in this system and seen the realities for ourselves. It is not merely that prison serves to "neutralize" the downward spiral of the offender (meeting it with, so to speak, "an equal and opposite reaction," involving remorse); that in itself could be seen as a reasonable initial goal.

The reality is that the policies that perpetuate this system allow prison to be an occasion for the destruction of the human spirit. This can be clearly recognized in the "degradation ceremony." No longer involving physical punishment, these means involve evocation of shame, more accurately termed "toxic shame."

To bring this process to light we turn to Dr. James Gilligan's work, which reintroduced a key concept into the public discourse - "the institutional status-degradation ceremony." This term was originally coined by sociologists Harold Garfinkel and Erving Goffman more than forty years ago in the course of their research, which was devoted to analyzing the dynamics of psychiatric hospitals and other "total institutions." They note the similarity - from a symbolic perspective - of tribal "ceremonial rituals of degradation."

Gilligan takes us inside a typical prison to witness a scene quite reminiscent of those portrayed by Goffman:

"As Garfinkle points out, 'In our society the court and its officers have something like a fair-monopoly over such ceremonies and there they have become an occupational routine.' This occupational routine occurs regularly among prison officers in the admission process for new inmates.

"The central feature of this 'total degradation ceremony' consists of stripping the inmate so that he is naked in front of a group of officers, who then force him [or her] to bend over in the attitude of submission (described as 'presentation' when animals do it), and in addition to spread the cheeks of [their] buttocks so that [their] anal orifice is completely exposed to the group. At that point one of the officers sticks a gloved finger into the man's anus - ostensibly to determine if the man is smuggling drugs into the prison by secreting them there.

"I say 'ostensibly' after having talked with the superintendents of more than one prison and prison mental hospital in the past, that the whole admission ritual, including this part of the ceremony, is consciously and deliberately intended to terrify and humiliate the new inmate or patient, by demonstrating to him the complete and total power the prison or hospital has over him, and to intimidate him into submitting absolutely to the institution and its officers... The symbolism is obvious: it is a digital anal rape. But even before the finger is introduced into the anus, it is a public humiliation. It is a massive assault on and annihilation of manhood.

As ethnologists have long noted... rites of domination and emasculation are not restricted to the human species... [However], men will often kill or assault each other in the struggle to avoid being in a submissive position... [And they tend to] experience an almost bottomless sense of degradation - when they do submit - to the point where effectively, the self has died.

"Garfinkle argues that 'the structural conditions of the status-degradation ceremony correspond to the structural conditions of shame.' But what is the purpose of exposing someone to the maximum possible amount of shame? Garfinkel suggests that such ceremonies serve to affect the ritual destruction of the person denounced. This is our culture's initiation ceremony into the civilization of the damned... the society of dead souls. [Through the] ritual destruction of personality or manhood - the inmate... becomes a non-person or a dead soul."

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I work as a psychotherapist with an emphasis on transformational learning - a blend of psychoanalytic and transpersonal approaches, and am the author of Self Actualization and Unselfish Love and co-author of Families Helping Families: (more...)
 

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2 people are discussing this page, with 13 comments  Post Comment


Blair Gelbond

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As Bo Lozoff succinctly puts it:

"We've been led to imagine a legion of heartless monsters plotting to get out and hurt us again. The truth is, most prison inmates are confused, disorganized, and often pathetic individuals who would love to turn their lives around if given a realistic chance. Unfortunately, many of those nonviolent offenders will no longer be nonviolent by the time they leave prison. Prisons are not scaring offenders away from crime; they are incapacitating them so they are hardly fit for anything else" Many wardens, judges, and other officials know this, but it has become political suicide to admit it publicly."

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 28, 2021 at 10:33:34 PM

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"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular."

Carl Jung

"When our shadow remains unconscious, it wrecks havoc in our life. Repressed contents do not merely disappear, but rather they function independently of our conscious awareness. In other words, the shadow has the capacity to override our conscious ego and take possession of our being, exerting control over our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

"When this happens we can be unconsciously driven into hard times, all the while remaining ignorant that these troubled periods were self-imposed, and not the product of bad luck or fate." academyofideas.com/ 2015 /12/ carl- jung- and- the- shadow- the- hidden- power- of- our- dark- side/

"The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves."

Carl Jung

Submitted on Thursday, Apr 29, 2021 at 8:20:02 PM

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"The first prison I ever saw had inscribed on it, 'Cease To Do Evil: Learn To Do Well;' but as the inscription was on the outside, the prisoners could not read it. It should have been addressed to the self-righteous spectator in the street and should have read, 'All have Sinned and Fallen Short of the Glory of God.'" G.B. Shaw

Submitted on Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 2:13:11 PM

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The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

" Fyodor Dostoevsky

We need massive, systemic, structural economic, political, religious and social change. The reality - much as we might like to deny it - is that without such radical and comprehensive change, human survival is very dubious.

I believe that each of us needs to take responsibility for being an example of Sacred Activism, which needs to be deepened and infused with wisdom, strength, compassion and joy aroused by a vision of the further evolution of humankind. We can each play a role in the spiritual evolution of humanity.

Submitted on Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 3:04:59 PM

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Irene Fowler

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The Good Samaritan
The Good Samaritan
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The parable of the Good Samaritan is told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.
Jesus is described as telling the parable in response to the question from a lawyer, "And who is my neighbour?"

The story is about a traveler who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. ... Although Samaritans and Jews despised each other, the Samaritan helps the injured man.
As George Floyd lay on the street, mercilessly dehumanized and brutalized, by Chauvin, who finally robbed him and his loved ones of his life, several "Good Samaritans" stopped to render aid to Floyd.
Albeit, these "neighbours," to a person, had nothing in common with Floyd.

They were namely:

1.Daniella Frazier - The teen who bravely and heroically captured the murder on video.

2. Genevieve Hansen - An off-duty firefighter who was prevented from rendering medical care to the dying man.

3. Donald Williams - A professional MMA fighter. He warned the killers of the likelihood that Floyd would not survive the chokehold he was being subjected to. His admonitions fell on deaf ears, so he went the extra mile by reporting the misconduct to the police department.


The neighbour figure in the parable is the one who shows mercy to the injured fellow human.
Without being hyperbolic, I believe that your advocacy and empathy for prisoners, places you firmly within the increasingly rare ranks of "Good Samaritans".

Submitted on Monday, May 3, 2021 at 12:33:21 PM

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I would say that the essence of the matter is "inter-being:" the visceral awareness that all of life (and all phenomena) are interdependent and interconnected. Beyond this, we are emanations of the One. I resonate with your pain, because we are each expressions of the One Consciousness - that some people call God.

To live in this compassionate oneness is the royal road to enlightenment.

When we can do something to alleviate suffering - to stand by and do nothing - is to fall far down the path, rather than rising on it.

To think of others as "them", rather than "us" is a delusion in which to many humans are caught. What will grow when we plant such seeds?

Thus, our work on ourselves stands before us.

Submitted on Monday, May 3, 2021 at 1:27:40 PM

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A prayer from the Vedas:

"Self [God, Infinite Consciousness] is everywhere, shining forth from all beings, vaster than the vast, subtler than the most subtle, unreachable, yet nearer than your breath, than heartbeat.

Eye cannot see it, ear cannot hear it, nor tongue utter it; only in deep absorption can the mind, grown pure and silent, merge with the formless truth. He who finds it is free; he has found himself; he has solved the great riddle; his heart is forever at peace."

This is the possibility of growth in consciousness that programs like the prison-ashram project offer to inmates, who choose to use their situation as a fire of purification.

Imagine a prison filled to capacity with such inmates. Who, then is left in prison?

Submitted on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 1:50:55 PM

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Fire! The Phoenix is birthed in the fire.
Fire! The Phoenix is birthed in the fire.
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Inspired comments! If prisons are populated with souls, who are freed as a result of passing through fires of purification, then the question can rightly be asked, what is the implication for those operating and roaming freely in society? The answer must be, that unless we allow ourselves to endure the process of "customized" soul-cleansing fiery trials, then we are of all men, most miserable. We ourselves are unwitting "prisoners."

Submitted on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at 10:53:49 AM

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Thank you for your insightful and generous comment, Irene. From my perspective, right on the money!

My understanding (but not yet full REALization) is that we are one with God, though hypnotized to believe we are separate beings competing to "one-up" each other. My understanding is also that those who are ready will choose to undergo the rigors of of spiritual practice in order to have the full experience of "knowing with God" (the Self of the universe).

It is not uncommon for one who has traveled this road to have what in the East are called "siddhis" - super-normal powers such as healing the lame, allowing the blind to see, and raising the "dead." There are many accounts of this, just as there are many degrees of realization. I attribute these powers to the opening of the chakras. But Union with God - as our true Self - is the goal, rather than the siddhis per say. As we grow, they just come along for the ride.

I believe we will pay heavy prices as long as we avoid the work of becoming "Divinized Humans," cells in God's body. Today and tomorrow, hell on Earth will be the result. Through suffering, the evolutionary force is pushing us to grow into loving, ego-less connections with each other and nature - our nest. This may in reality be an actual mutation, as real as when fish struggled to the sand to become amphibians.

Submitted on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at 12:59:03 PM

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Flight Of The Phoenix
Flight Of The Phoenix
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The phoenix, a mythical bird is a symbol of hope, renewal, rebirth, immortality, resurrection, solitude, and grace. Just like the phoenix emerges from its ashes, so can man, after devastation and loss.

Submitted on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at 7:02:27 PM

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Fires of purification are all -consuming, resulting in tangible and intangible personal loss. However, like the phoenix we can rise from the ashes, empowered and emboldened to soar to greater heights.

Submitted on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at 7:15:42 PM

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Fires of purification hurt. That's for sure.

It takes real courage, hope,, and willingness to endure the process. Faith in a "Higher Power" (as they say in the 12-step groups) is key to moving beyond self-will, and being reborn as a "Divinized Human," no longer burdened with ego and narcissism.

Submitted on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at 9:12:59 PM

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Thanks for the image and words, Irene.

Today, we are more like those in prison than we realize. I believe this will become clear in this and the next decades, as our ego-oriented societies begin to collapse. We will be imprisoned on a failing planet.

What is most needed is for enough of us to awaken our awareness and compassion - and act. The alternative is near extinction for humans and the Biosphere.

Each of us can contribute to this process of human awakening.

Submitted on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at 9:20:29 PM

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