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Monday, November 16, 2015

Caging And Confining God's Creatures

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You know, at one time, I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries.
But I decided that was an idea way before its time.
Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing… oh my, how the world still dearly loves a cage.”
Maude <Harold & Maude>

I recently attended a meeting in which a jail administrator made the point that the reason they had to take such extraordinary measures to deal with inmates is that they are extraordinarily prone to devious behaviors. To make his point he passed around an album of photos showing deadly weapons made out of combs, utensils and other materials, of jail cells being utterly trashed by irate inmates and many other depictions of dangerous and destructive behaviors.

Obviously, the speaker had a point. Some who are incarcerated do have a history of deviancy that result in a special set of misdeeds when behind bars.

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But how might the "cruel and unusual" effect of incarceration itself help produce such behaviors? Being involuntarily confined to small quarters for long periods of time is, after all, so unusual and so unnatural that it could contribute to all kinds of pathologies.

In the animal world, some zoos are resorting to the use of psychotropic medications to manage abnormally ritualistic or aggressive behaviors resulting from the stress of confinement. In the nineties, a polar bear named Gus became well known for endlessly swimming in a figure eight patter in his pool habitat, sometime for 12 hours at a time, resulting in his being put on Prozac and dubbed the "bipolar bear". This and many other examples of strange "mental conditions" in confined animals are highlighted in a book by Laurel Braitman called "Animal Madness" and noted in a recent article in Slate magazine.

Next to experiencing the loss of a loved one, the stress of incarceration is without a doubt the most depressing and debilitating things humans experience.

In the not so distant future I believe we will look back and see our present overuse of incarceration as barbaric and unconscionable.

Along with being both cruel and crazy making.
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