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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Friday, May 21, 2004

In the Stockade

During the time that I served in the U.S. Air Force (1952-1956), and I assume still now, the Air Force was thought of as the most genteel of our military arms. One of the reasons was that we weren't expected to get down and dirty up close and personal. Instead we did our damage by discreetly dropping huge amounts of explosives from thousands of feet up in the air, where we couldn't be seen. And when you looked at our working hours and the rigor of our duties, it was true that often we were little more than glorified civilians.

It was quite a carefree time, though sometimes dark but revelatory sinkholes awaited that we couldn't avoid.

One weekend at Lincoln AFB in Nebraska, I hung around the squadron dayroom a little too long , and the CQ (Charge of Quarters) asked around if anyone knew So-and-So. I said I did, what about him? And the CQ asked me to do a good turn by taking some food or something to So-and-So. "Where is he?" "Didn't you know? So-and-So's in the stockade, for going AWOL."

Very quickly I saw the mistake I had made.

I had never stepped inside a prison or come anywhere close to doing so, and from a very early age I had badly wanted to keep things that way. The Air Force called the prisons on its bases "stockades."

After they admitted me into the stockade at Lincoln I couldn't believe it. The atmosphere in there was entirely foreign to the easygoing, friendly air of the rest of the base and the rest of the Air Force as I had always experienced it. Instead the guards to a man were angry and mean and surly, and they looked it. And the prisoners were angry and mean and surly, and they looked it. They didn't speak normally, they barked. The level of anger was so high that I wondered if everyone in there had gone crazy.

Formerly So-and-So had been a light-hearted guy with a special facility for nonstop, creative patter. But now he looked and acted like a different man. If he had not been a criminal before, by being put into the stockade he had become a criminal, or at least his appearance and his manner suggested one. Resentment lay all over his face like a film of perspiration, and the carefree gleam had been entirely extinguished from his eyes and from his words. Ice coldness had infused him. No quick wise-cracks from him now!

And this wasn't in the raggedy, iron-ass Marines or the jackbooted Army or the uptight Navy. This was in the supposedly civilized, relaxed Air Force!

We didn't talk long. I was glad to turn over to So-and-so whatever it was that I had brought, and I hurried out of there, never to go anywhere near that place again.

Prisons invariably brutalize everyone connected with them.

I think I can safely throw out that sweeping generalization and see if it has any refutations. I definitely hope that it does. I have never seen any. I don't see how there can be any.

The freedom enjoyed by our hunter-gatherer predecessors eons ago hasn't evolved out of us anymore than have our eyes or the use of our legs. The human organism is constructed so that it takes very unkindly to being imprisoned, and so it reacts -- if it can -- in a very negative way. And to control that as best they can, the guards react even more negatively, if they can manage it. So in effect they become inmates themselves, and they likewise suffer the loss of various amounts of sanity or what we like to call humanity, no matter how much they try to give the appearance of hanging on to their self-control and innate decency.

Soldiers who have to boot prisoners overseas are in an even worse position than prison guards at home. The latter at least have families and friends to whom they can return each day after their shift is over and so give the appearance of rejoining the " human race" ...temporarily. The Military Police in Iraq and elsewhere don't have that release, and from where I stand only the perverse could call the work they do "good duty." And it takes a sizable dose of the perverse to be able to perform that duty.


Blogger andante said...

What a great post.

I'm not sure what being locked up in a cell would do first to me - dehumanize me or drive me crazy. I've never considered the same effects on the guards until now.

10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked the fact that emotions were related to. Though not an adventure-filled, action-packed story, it showed a lot of meaning without the exaggerated irony of other stories. I think everyone should post real-life articles like this.

9:10 PM  

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