I think one of the biggest lessons i have learned about prisons is that there is an incredible amount of wisdom, insight and compassion behind those walls. Yes, there is also a lot of other stuff as well. There is a reality about life buried behind those walls that needs to find expression. We all know abut get tough on crime and the one liners about warehousing human beings. However, in the process we have lost our humanity.
The other day, “Marsha M. Linehan of the University of Washington, creator of a treatment used worldwide for severely suicidal people — had a ready answer. It was the one she always used to cut the question short, whether a patient asked it hopefully, accusingly or knowingly, having glimpsed the macramé of faded burns, cuts and welts on Dr. Linehan’s arms: “You mean, have I suffered?”
“No, Marsha,” the patient replied, in an encounter last spring. “I mean one of us. Like us. Because if you were, it would give all of us so much hope.”
“That did it,” said Dr. Linehan, 68, who told her story in public for the first time last week before an audience of friends, family and doctors at the Institute of Living, the Hartford clinic where she was first treated for extreme social withdrawal at age 17. “So many people have begged me to come forward, and I just thought — well, I have to do this. I owe it to them. I cannot die a coward.””
She could go to the heart of the matter in her studies because she had been there. She knew how to filter out the psychobabble from the science because of her own experimental journey. This is not unlike Pearl Buck who wrote of China in the days gone. She could write of it because she lived it.
If there was one thing I would do, that would be to send as many men and women to college that have been drug addicts, homeless and in prison to help the nation sort out the junk and help it regain its humanity. What has happened is that we have become a House of Usher that is living off of the suffering of its children. College will give those children a voice that will become the mirror we will have to judge ourselves with.
Like Pearl Buck and Masha Linehan their work will be based on experiential knowledge that comes from having lived what they are talking about. Like Pearl S. Buck and Marsha Linehan they will not be silenced or intimidated by those lesser mortals threatened with the truth. They only need to find their voice and like Gideon their trumpets will sound through the land.
PS: There are two more names that i would like to add to this knowledge base. The first is Alice Miller who wrote The Drama of the Gifted Child. Her insights and ability to express them in a straight forward manner make abuse a most understandable. She has the ability to translate every day cultural activities into a meaningful launching pad for abuse be it intended or unintended. Her is not a mass critique of everything in society but it shows much of the groundwork that sets the stage for abuse. At the present, she is a consultant to the United Nations on child abuse.
To the list I also add Dr. Gabor Mate, MD who also writes from his on experience. I have never seen anyone that can verbalize so much of what i have seen in the jails and prisons of the nation. For 15 years of teaching as a volunteer in state and federal prisons from Death Row and federal penitentiaries to youthful offenders he has given a cohesive hole to my understanding of many of the forces at play within the minds of those I have met. The sub title of his book is Close Encounters with Addictions and he seems to have hit the nail on the head. I would make it mandatory reading for every volunteer and staff that walks thrugh prison gates. Not that they will or should fix anyone but just to understand some of the crazieness going on around them when they are there.