Letters From Prison 2006 #13- Stuck on Stupid

Stuck on Stupid
Steve Clemens, FPC Duluth. June 9, 2006

"Trucker," the burly, tattooed white man in his 40s is inside for dealing dope--"all kinds." My first week in the joint and I'm sitting across from him in the chow hall. "Hey newbie, how much time did ya get?" When I respond that I'm here for "only three months,' he scoffs and replies that isn't even enough time to do the paperwork. When I further volunteer that I was busted "for protesting torture at a U.S. military base," he is skeptical. "Nah, they don't bust you for just protesting." To which I reply, "They do if you enter the base and get charged with trespass."

"That's not a felony, they don't send you to prison for a f*****g misdemeanor!"

"Well, the last time I was in a federal joint, I did six months for another misdemeanor for protesting," was my reply.

"You mean you did this before, got time, and now you are in here again for the same thing? You must be stuck on stupid!"

Is Trucker correct in his assessment? As someone said, "doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is the definition of insanity”. Maybe instead of pleading not guilty at our trials we should opt for the insanity defense. Does doing time for civil disobedience make any sense?

If one's goal is not merely to Close the SOA but to also address the national arrogance and insecurities behind it, going to prison allows one to further examine the psyche of our nation. It is here that the marginalized, dissident, and dysfunctional are warehoused. (More accurately it is in the county jails, state penitentiaries, and higher security level federal prisons more so than the minimum security "camps" that one finds more of the marginalized. There, and with the homeless population in our urban streets, under the bridges, and those subject to arrest for "urban camping.")

Whether one is reading the Bible or the daily newspaper, reading it on the "inside" of the Prison Industrial Complex gives one a different perspective than when one is outside the prison walls, bars, or "out of bounds" signs.

Not many guys want to listen when they are caged--but they do want to talk and be heard. They need to process their “case” verbally—to vent the anger, sometimes at oneself and/or one’s associates, and always at “the system.” Cultural competition doesn’t end at the prison entrance. In some ways, competition is more intense in prison than on the streets because of the constant close proximity. Part of the competition can express itself in “I’m badder than you” one-upmanship. Another factor is the “scarcity” mentality that we are all in competition with each other to get one of the few [whatever] is left. Whatever the reason, one does not want to appear vulnerable “inside.” Any sign of “weakness” is often exploited by fellow cons. An atmosphere of defensiveness and self-justification is not conducive for personal healing. No one mistakes prison for a therapy session.

But who is willing to throw the “stuck on stupid” slander on Mohandas Gandhi—one so revered for his principled nonviolence which sent him to prison numerous times that he was given the title Mahatma (great soul) or Bapu (father) by the Indian people? In a collection of excerpts from his writings entitled All Men Are Brothers, Gandhi explains ahimsa or nonviolence. “Nonviolence, on the other hand, has no cause for fear. The votary of nonviolence has to cultivate the capacity for sacrifice of the highest type in order to be free from fear” (p. 110). Going repeatedly to prison rather than compromise his principled commitment to nonviolence helped Gandhi overcome his fears—maybe he wasn’t so stupid.

“Our nonviolence would be a hollow thing and nothing worth, if it depended for its success on the goodwill of the authorities..... [Civil] resistance is a method of securing rights by personal suffering; it is the reverse of resistance by arms. When I refuse to do a thing that is repugnant to my conscience, I use soul-force... If I do not obey the law and accept the penalty for its breach, I use soul force. It involves sacrifice of self (p. 115).

“Suffering is infinitely more powerful than the law of the jungle for converting the opponent and opening his ears, which are otherwise shut, to the voice of reason. Nobody has probably drawn up more petitions or espoused more forlorn causes than I and I have come to this fundamental conclusion that if you want something really important to be done you must not merely satisfy the reason, you must move the heart also. The appeal of reason is more to the head but the penetration of the heart comes from suffering. It opens up the inner understanding in man. Suffering is the badge of the human race, not the sword” (p. 118).

Maybe those of us working to close the SOA and change the foreign policy of our nation are “stuck on stupid.” Or maybe, just maybe, like Gandhi, we have begun to realize that in choosing prison, we hope to go beyond what is rational and “speak to the heart.” Time will tell.

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