Smile at the Void & It Will Smile Back; Or the Little Eichmanns At HMP ISIS

“Smile and others will smile back. Smile to show how transparent, how candid you are. Smile if you have nothing to say. Most of all, do not hide the fact you have nothing to say nor your total indifference to others. Let this emptiness, this profound indifference shine out spontaneously in your smile.”

Jean Baudrillard

Beware of smiling State operatives, for this masks millions of people living now as (legally) caged captives, sitting in cells from Taipei to Chicago, from Tulsa to Copenhagen, from Cardiff to London, from Texas to California, from Cairo to Tehran, etc.; the cold, wet dead hand of the State — wherever it is, irregardless of its professed ideology — can reach out and grab its victim at any moment. Once the State has its hand planted on the victim, personal and individual agency fades away: walls, gates, locked doors, regulated toilet breaks, regimes of movement-control and time-management, sudden and arbitrary moves, loss of privacy via strip searches, loss of the right to self-defense (met with extreme and sanctioned violence by guards), limited access to telephones, criminalization of digital connections (no mobiles, laptops, etc). In other words, a whole network, always-already ready and assembled simply envelopes the victim.

Powerful State apparatuses exist, yet they are hidden to most of Western nation’s citizenry. People usually encounter State power via taxation, parking tickets and minor violations of ordinances; rarely do they fall into its cold, disinterested grip. The State acts structurally to be disinterested. It dis-identifies its operatives from those marked for punishment. Processing ‘criminals’ is simply ‘a job.’ From bailiffs to clerks, Judges and wardens, solicitors — for both the defense and the prosecution — the goal is a process and not a person. In this sense, Michel Foucault was correct to note that there are no longer subjects, but rather ‘strategies without subjects.’ Indifference includes, depending on the pathos of the operative, a certain level of enthusiasm. This is necessary in order to keep the pipes of people flowing; enthusiasm based on subtle or overt sadism forms the central ‘motivation’ for those working in detaining and caging people.

Whilst I was at HMP ISIS, a London prison, I encountered a particularly ‘cheerful’ senior officer, Kissie Goodwin. Exemplifying Eichmann’s ‘I have never been discourteous to a Jew,’ Goodwin epitomises contemporary formulations of Eichmann Syndrome. Eichmann Syndrome is, among its other features, first and foremost the inability to think beyond limited operations assigned; it is, in essence, more than ‘I was just following orders;’ rather it encompasses an unthinking enthusiasm for administrative terror, whilst (unconsciously) hiding the role it plays in causing terror, anguish and subjugation. Goodwin’s excessively positive attitude, an already troubling sign considering her job, involved giving regular prison tours to magistrates whereby ‘ideal’ prisoners were ‘displayed.’ Relishing her role as punishing-savior, reforming-through-care these poor souls, bending up naughty offenders (‘boys’), rewarding the successfully reformed (‘ready for open conditions’ as she’d note), wearing Christmas sweaters during the holiday period, attempts to creepily normalize/naturalize and Disney/Deify her role in caging people provides an excellent individual case study in Eichmann Syndrome as it operates nowBarbara_Emily_Chris_Fred_Paul_Simon_small_copyEmily Thomas (Second left) with Fred Sirieix, Celebrity Chef, at HMP ISIS (Note the food cooked by/for ‘them’ is in a separate kitchen with far superior ingredients accessible to a half-dozen or so of 600 prisoners)

Nothing is more terrifying than a smiling sadist, who consciously believes they are helping you, yet the modern ‘reformed’ prison service in England and Wales (among other Western nations) encourages such ‘progressive’ and ‘forward-thinking’ enlightened torture. Let us be clear, caging people en masse is personal, familial and social torture. It is a historically anomalous aberration, specifically engineered in the 19th Century to control a newly displaced population after common lands became enclosed and privatized. Work for near nothing, face jail or die. Considering the options, it is little wonder ‘criminality’ — a criminality of survival — became a reasonable alternative. Without a job — in a world without commonly held lands — one faces homelessness, periodically and spatially criminalized, along with jail time. Facing hyper-deprivation within a consumption obsessed society, where purchasing the talismans of capitalism’s products is a religious compulsion daily reiterated in media and ‘horizontal’ (peer-to-peer) advertising, why are we surprised that people engage in acts of ‘criminality’ to satisfy Moloch’s commandment ‘Thou Shalt Buy?’

Goodwin’s personality defects aside, her three-stripes (Commanding Officer?), her ironically hipster glasses (fashionable oppressive), her attempts at Mickey Mouse incarceration, her duplicity comes nowhere near to that of her superior, Emily Thomas, Governing Governor. Thomas met with me several times, each time reiterating via her comportment and attitude a type of existential-institutional glee. Glee is a violent emotion in a supremely asymmetrical power-relationship. Prisoners were addressed as ‘darlings’ and the mainly Black population referred to as ‘boys.’ Her ersatz liberalization of the prison included adding protein shakes to the canteen menu, placing Orwellian happy pop positive psychology ads throughout the facility, and slowly addressing the fact we never received clean bedding (still not addressed as of my last day 19/04/2017). ‘Bending up’ disobedient prisoners — including non-violent mentally troubled persons continues, as a matter of policy; under her liberal regime, I personally witnessed officers attack a mentally troubled man on C-Wing without provocation. Whilst smiling, greeting and speaking with prisoners, administering surveys about ‘satisfaction’ etc. Goodwin and Thomas are even formulating a plan to ‘welcome’ people to HMP ISIS, with a handshake! Goodwin and Thomas cannot see themselves without the existential-institutional structure of control they yield, their very identities have become punishing-saviors. Ergo, to be otherwise would be to not exist; a void full of terrifying emptiness pervades contemporary sufferers of Eichmann Syndrome. Instrumentally sutured into bad faith, they smile at suffering.

For Prison Lingo See Here


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