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Psychoanalysis and sociology of the prisoner: managing the emergency in the time of the Coronavirus

Psychoanalysis and sociology of the prisoner: managing the emergency in the time of the Coronavirus

Within prisons, in an existence dotted with frustrations and related impulsive and aggressive behaviors, a situation of further deprivation due to the containment of Coronavirus generates a condition of retraumatization, of deaf anger, invisibility and immutability, of rights perceived as newly denied .

 

Advertising message The detention system should allow the protection of the dignity and health of each individual citizen, but the commitment provided does not seem to satisfy the complexity of the current state of emergency, in which existing problems and experiences are extremely exasperated.

Prison is, by definition, the place where those deprived of their personal liberty are locked up, by order of the competent authority, after having committed a crime. Symbolically it could be defined as any oppressive, tormenting environment or where it is impossible to get out or escape: what historically Dante represented as Hell. In a pandemic situation like the one we are living in, where every single citizen should be guaranteed those safety, hygiene and containment rules that should protect their health, the distressing experiences of prisoners are amplified, and the prison condition seems to represent an emergency in an emergency.

In order to consider a purely civic perspective, also following the WHO guidelines with regard to the prevention and containment of Covid in prisons, the State should guarantee the citizen in prison terms those rights that he has not been able to guarantee to the community, recognizing it as a person and an individual, with their own needs, emotions and affections, avoiding further forms of victimization and protecting their human dignity. This is an arduous undertaking, in a reality such as the prison one characterized in itself by innumerable difficulties such as the heterogeneity of inmates, their origin from marginal and often dysfunctional socio-cultural contexts, drug addiction and the risk of suicide, and in this moment marred by the inability to stem the problem of overcrowding and to ensure an adequate safety distance in an extremely promiscuous environment. To all this it must be added that whoever is serving a sentence is deprived, because of the anti-contagion rules, of the affects that represented the only contact with the outside world and targeted by uncertain news that permeate from outside. There is a risk, therefore, of sinking into a nightmare of insecurity and justified fears for one’s physical and mental condition, fueling one’s own experience of ineligibility and lack of escape (helplessness), giving way to traumatic dissociation and causing defensive reactions of aggression and hypochondria. To all this it must be added that whoever is serving a sentence is deprived, because of the anti-contagion rules, of the affects that represented the only contact with the outside world and targeted by uncertain news that permeate from outside. There is a risk, therefore, of sinking into a nightmare of insecurity and justified fears for one’s physical and mental condition, fueling one’s own experience of ineligibility and lack of escape (helplessness), giving way to traumatic dissociation and causing defensive reactions of aggression and hypochondria. To all this it must be added that whoever is serving a sentence is deprived, because of the anti-contagion rules, of the affects that represented the only contact with the outside world and targeted by uncertain news that permeate from outside. There is a risk, therefore, of sinking into a nightmare of insecurity and justified fears for one’s physical and mental condition, fueling one’s own experience of ineligibility and lack of escape (helplessness), giving way to traumatic dissociation and causing defensive reactions of aggression and hypochondria.

In light of what is the prison situation just described, it could be useful to analyze the phenomenon in a psychoanalytic perspective on the intrapsychic dynamics that come into play and that modulate the actions and experiences in a context of overcrowding and continuous emotional dysregulation that however hides a state of deprivation and deep isolation.

Looking towards the development of the personality of every human being, aggression itself arises from an inevitable and natural form of deprivation. For Kohut this is not a primary drive: aggressive assertiveness represents the natural drive to restore balance following the frustration of a need – if the parent delays to respond the child cries angrily – thanks to which the child begins to differentiate , as it perceives another from itself which is not always available. When empathic failures fall within certain non-traumatizing limits (optimal frustration), there will be minor swings in the child’s psychic balance, manifested by an increase in aggressive assertiveness and his ability to make healthy demands. If empathic failures are traumatizing, the aggressive-destructive drive and the behavior related to it are the result of structural disintegration. For Kohut there is a desperate anger of a self that, because of early empathic failures, considers himself incapable of getting what he has the right to get. And here is how, translating this concept and applying it to the reality of prisons, in an existence dotted with frustrations and related impulsive and aggressive behaviors, a situation of further deprivation due to the containment of Coronavirus generates a condition of retraumatization, of deaf anger, invisibility and immutability, of rights perceived as denied again. because of early empathic failures, he considers himself incapable of getting what he has the right to get. And here is how, translating this concept and applying it to the reality of prisons, in an existence dotted with frustrations and related impulsive and aggressive behaviors, a situation of further deprivation due to the containment of Coronavirus generates a condition of retraumatization, of deaf anger, invisibility and immutability, of rights perceived as denied again. because of early empathic failures, he considers himself incapable of getting what he has the right to get. And here is how, translating this concept and applying it to the reality of prisons, in an existence dotted with frustrations and related impulsive and aggressive behaviors, a situation of further deprivation due to the containment of Coronavirus generates a condition of retraumatization, of deaf anger, invisibility and immutability, of rights perceived as denied again.

Subsequent aggressive actions, self or heterodirect, are further emphasized by an affective dysregulation caused by forced captivity with individuals in turn highly dysregulated: the prisoners’ personal and personality difficulties do not allow to maintain the necessary tuning to achieve the affective regulation process optimal or to repair the tuner breaks modulated interactively, leading to an escalation of emotional activation that can infect the entire prison population, leading, as we saw last month, to riots and episodes of acting-out.

Another aspect to consider, following the traumatic fragmentation / dissociation that is characterizing everyone’s psyche at different levels, as well as the state of promiscuity, uncertainty and loss of control over one’s own health, is hypochondria. For prisoners, constantly in contact and unable to maintain a safe distance between them, the fragmentation due to frustration sharpens up to become a sort of obsession regarding their symptoms and concerns for their psycho-physical state.

Advertising message In the Kohutian vision, hypochondria is already in itself one of the typical manifestations of narcissistic disorders, due to an excessive attention to one’s self, aimed at containing the anxiety of fragmentation. Even in detainees, having probably developed their personality within a socio-cultural context very often on the margins, made of deprivations, non-recognition, difficult life events, the narcissistic split is manifested through the constant attention of the alert mind towards part of one’s personality that feels more vulnerable, fragile, fragmented, and addresses itself in a worried way. As a result of further risk situations such as the one that is occurring, this concern takes on even more the character of a real brood,

If we also consider the ‘paranoid’ and objectual vision of hypochondria, shared by classical and Kleinian psychoanalysis, fragmented aggression is projected on the outside, and we perceive ourselves as vulnerable to ‘contagion’, coming from another unreliable and uncontrollable . In a pandemic context, this experience is concretized and, objectively justified, through the other that brings the virus, the disease from the outside: here the aggressiveness and phobia of the disease materialize towards the operators and police officers penitentiaries who carry out their life ‘outside’, and can carry the virus ‘inside’, from which they are unable to defend themselves.

Intersubjective psychoanalysis (Stolorow, Atwood, 1992) captures aspects of the two models by integrating them into the wider spectrum of interpersonal relationships, suggesting that the early wounds suggested by Kohut, going to harm the confidence that the individual can place in the external world and in others , would cause the person to try to escape the inevitable interdependence with the environment by conceptualizing their body as an isolated and vulnerable entity. Emotions are thus unable to express themselves genuinely through contact with the other, materializing in the symptom that gives meaning to one’s malaise and yet causes a refolding on oneself, towards which all obsessive attention and reflections are poured out. The persistence of self-doubt thus intersects with a difficulty in trusting the other.

Finally, it must be considered that in the collective imagination, prison has always been understood as a form of containment and re-education of the prisoner, and this should actually represent an opportunity to develop, through emotional support and affective regulation adequate, a new representation of oneself as an individual capable of managing one’s emotions and actions, modifying one’s own patterns and tolerating frustrations, which can emerge following unpredictable and poorly controllable events such as the epidemic. To the test of the facts, however, this is utopian, difficult, in a place where feelings such as anger, loneliness, suffering and mental pain become chronic and disregarded, exasperated and exasperating for prisoners and operators, and all too often exploited by organized crime, leading in fact to a distortion of the objective and a situation contrary to re-education. If society is understood as a community made up of people, rules to be respected and institutions, then prison is a society: with founders of the rule of law, who incessantly require just protection and prevention, including health, due to each individual free citizen and unfortunately not feasible in a context of constant emergency, which should therefore be reformulated from the ground up.

Quoting the well-known sociologist Nils Christie “it is very important to realize that prison, more often than not, is harmful to individuals; it exists to make people suffer, who actually suffer. ” It is quite natural that in prison structures people then give in to despair and restlessness, especially in a health emergency such as that which has exploded in recent months. Society should develop an empathic and relational vision of the suffering of detainees, too often rejected and abandoned to themselves to be judged only for the wrong they have committed, in order to create new ways of being citizens. Taking charge of the experiences of both guilt and suffering, through comparison and relationship, the culprit could be given the opportunity to identify himself with the victim’s pain and the victim and society to see the culprit in his often miserable condition, and that perhaps a very common human being is hidden behind the facade of a strong and terrible man , with the same uncertainties and fears, first of all that for his health. But it is one thing to think abstractly about the pain one deserves, it is another to see the guilty person in one’s suffering with one’s own eyes. In order to avoid giving in to a sadistic and punitive vision, it is appropriate to reflect on how to deal with deviance in a way that takes into account the ethical values ​​that distinguish us, in any situation, as a society of law. and how perhaps a very common human being is hiding behind the facade of a strong and terrible man, with the same uncertainties and fears, first of all that for his health. But it is one thing to think abstractly about the pain one deserves, it is another to see the guilty person in one’s suffering with one’s own eyes. In order to avoid giving in to a sadistic and punitive vision, it is appropriate to reflect on how to deal with deviance in a way that takes into account the ethical values ​​that distinguish us, in any situation, as a society of law. and how perhaps a very common human being is hiding behind the facade of a strong and terrible man, with the same uncertainties and fears, first of all that for his health. But it is one thing to think abstractly about the pain one deserves, it is another to see the guilty person in one’s suffering with one’s own eyes. In order to avoid giving in to a sadistic and punitive vision, it is appropriate to reflect on how to deal with deviance in a way that takes into account the ethical values ​​that distinguish us, in any situation, as a society of law.