Psychocriticism & Apparatuses of Eternal Damnation; Or, Abolishing Prisons &…

“This [website] is an unbelievably pretentious piece of pyrotechnic, self-serving and self-pitying nonsense … Judging from the news report about your conviction for credit card theft, blackmail and fraud charges –
it appears your qualification to “teach critical thinking…” gave you the elevated self-awareness to tell a jury HUGE lies – the kind of lies which allowed you to simultaneously con and blackmail a vulnerable young woman out of several thousand pounds as an *unqualified* shrink whilst churning out this regurgitated, plagiarised pseudo-academic tripe … I will of course expect this comment not to be printed, as this will spoil your attempt at post-prison respectability – and I will not include my personal email address, as there is no doubt you are probably a very experienced troll … Let’s just say that your recent case has been a huge source of amusement amongst my undergraduate psychology students, who as it happens, have recently been covering Laing’s methods (except he actually helped people).”  ― Dr Eve Hansen

“The work of an intellectual is not to mould the political will of others; it is, through the analyses that he does in his own field, to re-examine evidence and assumptions, to shake up habitual ways of working and thinking, to dissipate conventional familiarities, to re-evaluate rules and institutions and to participate in the formation of a political will (where he has his role as citizen to play).”
― Michel Foucault

Engaging with Dr Eve Hansen (if this is in fact this individual’s name), is not easy. Laying bare the terrain I — and almost all ex-prisoners — face is not easy. The stain of prison, the mark of criminality, is worn constantly. Coming out as an ex-prisoner is akin to coming out as homosexual. Both experiences are fraught by suspicion, paranoia and stigma. State apparatuses follow ex-prisoners, barring them from the most basic right within democracy, the right to vote, for example in the US,

“As of 2008 over 5.3 million people in the United States were denied the right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement. In the national elections 2012, all the various state felony disenfranchisement laws added together blocked an estimated 5.85 million felons from voting, up from 1.2 million in 1976. This comprised 2.5% of the potential voters in general. The state with the highest number of disenfranchised voters was Florida, with 1.5 million disenfranchised.”

Interestingly, Florida is a critical state, upon which “law and order” hard-right Republicans rely on in winning Federally-sanctioned hyper-punitive measures, securing private prison contracts, and supporting the general expansion of the prison-industrial complex. Whilst the current binary of Republican and Democratic party politics is not the central thesis of this article, and whilst Democrats have been nearly as eager to expand the prison-industrial complex, it is critical to note the small, but key policy differences. Reform is not abolition; however, survivability of former and current prisoners depends on loosening the chains, allowing mental and spiritual oxygen to circulate within the cells, whilst those on the outside tear down the walls, take the keys and turn prisons into museums, reminders of a collective horror never to be committed again.

Living after prison is a constant struggle for many. Formalised measures such as criminal background checks continue to keep ex-prisoners under the State’s regime. Probation conditions, including travel restrictions, reduce mobility. Institutionalisation is a radically real process, described in Mika’il DeVeaux’s seminal article, The Trauma of the Incarceration Experience,

In 2010, I ceased being counted as a member of the United States correctional population. In that year, I was discharged from correctional supervision after serving thirty-two years of a life sentence; twenty-five of those years were spent in several of New York State’s maximum-security prisons, and seven on parole. This Article reflects my perspective as a formerly incarcerated person, as a doctoral student whose work relates to incarceration, as an adjunct professor at colleges in New York City, and as a director of a nonprofit organisation that provides basic support services to men and women returning from prison …

Sociologist Donald Clemmer noted in his classic book, The Prison Community, that the prison experience is neither normal nor natural, and constitutes one of the more degrading experiences a person might endure. People in prison are likely to report that their adaptations to the constant scrutiny of guards and the lack of privacy are psychologically debilitating. Some literature suggests that people in prison experience mental deterioration and apathy, endure personality changes, and become uncertain about their identities. Several researchers found that people in prison may be diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorders, as well as other psychiatric disorders, such as panic attacks, depression, and paranoia; subsequently, these prisoners find social adjustment and social integration difficult upon release. Other researchers found that the incarceration experience promotes a sense of helplessness, greater dependence, and introversion and may impair one’s decision-making ability. This psychological suffering is compounded by the knowledge of violence, the witnessing of violence, or the experience of violence, all too common during incarceration Some assert that the psychological effects of incarceration, developed during confinement, are likely to endure for some time following release.”

Deliberately debilitating the prisoner, marking out, enclosing, isolating, making the subject a subject of vertical observation not lateral communication (Foucault, Discipline and Punish), subjecting the subject to horror, anguish and environmental nihilism, the State perpetuates a violence, en masse, far greater than the ‘worst offenders.’ Capturing the soul, prison is about creating a new subjectivity, an unstable, insecure, de-politicised ‘delinquent’ (Foucault) likely to ‘re-offend.’ Bio-political arrangements administratively insure psycho-structural complexes imbue prisoners and ex-prisoners with paranoia, learned helplessness, anguish, nihilism, rage, etc. Isn’t it odd that Dr Hansen does not address these seminal issues of post-incarceration traumas, instead of she focuses my small yet ‘amusing’ case, with her undergraduate class? She does not even mention imprisonment or its effects on myself or others in her comments. Nor does she seem to care.

Prisoners are homo sacer, a cursed subject, set apart safely behind the walls. ‘Respectable’ society needs the Spectre of the Criminal, as most ‘good citizens’ exist (live?) within an egregious denial of reality: genocidal wars committed on the part of Western governments and their allies, supported by ‘ordinary working families,’ and ‘hardworking, law-abiding citizens,’ weapons dealing, mass starvation, socially-engineered disease and resource misallocations, etc. Applying the exact same standards to criminals as to the elite few which actuate the aforementioned atrocities is, to the good folk, the upright citizen, the respectable ‘squeezed middle’ (etc), completely farcical. Not applying the law equally is pure tragedy for those on the receiving end of hypocrisy. No one is in prison because of what they’ve done, but rather because of who they are. Situating the figure of criminality within socioeconomic groups less than herself, Dr Hansen has made me a necessary laughing-stock, a source of ‘huge amusement’ for her undergraduate class. Laughter, she’s laughing at the idea of a parametrically applied law, whereby Daddy, the Big Other, the State are subjected to themselves, thereby imploding. This implosion reverses history itself, at least the Christian idea of eternal damnation which has been coupled with Jeremy Bentham’s all-seeing protector/controller pan-optician. The Law of the Land, whatever that may mean, or wherever that may be, if applied parametrically would cease to be.

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_037
Vincent Willem van Gogh Prisoners Exercising, also known as Prisoners’ Round (After Gustave Doré) Date 1890 Medium oil on canvas The Pushkin Museum of Fine Art Deutsch: Puschkin-Museum der bildenden Künste Moscow

In the US, ex-prisoners are denied welfare benefits, including food stamps, for life. Add to that constant police monitoring; in the UK, ex-prisoners are on ‘license’ and can be returned for anywhere from 28 days to the rest of their sentence for small infractions. 28 days in a cage for being late to probation meetings, or not home on time to answer the Home Detention Curfew (‘Tag’) call, this is the reality faced by ex-prisoners. People view the prisoner/ex-prisoner as an entity to be distrusted. Denied, deprived, tortured, socially killed, a source of huge amusement, academically attacked, economically reduced to pauperisation, etc. Vindictive, insular mass phantasmagoria pervasively permeates the mass psychology of contemporary subjects. Prisoners and ex-prisoners form the figure of ‘the criminal’ necessarily needed to remove and enclose that which is alien/abject from that which is repressed in the ‘normal and law-abiding subject;’ the homeless, refugees, etc are increasingly becoming figures of criminalisation. As the criminal nexus expands itself to include more and more socioeconomically deprived-disjointed populations, the prison-industrial complex, as the cold, dead hand the State will forever be present to feed unfortunate subjects into Moloch’s mouth. Policing, prosecuting and imprisoning form a holy trinity; from masticating the subject, to swallowing the subject and then, if that subject survives, defecating it back out into a fetid world of shit. From Trump to Duterte, from Modi to Kaczyński, from Brexit to Le Pen, globally nebulous disciplinary, imprisonment, and capital-racial apartheid circuit-boards abound.

Finding Dr. Eve Hansen’s remarks waiting for my approval this morning, I felt sad, sick and disappointed. Yet, I also felt a great intimacy with her, for what is it that she needs from me? In all seriousness I am a low-no-profile ex-prisoner, philosophically engaging in an abolitionist struggle, developing psychocriticism and working on miscellaneous ephemera. In a sense, I write for a void. I have no audience. Her class garnering ‘amusement’ from me, as a subject, is fascinating not because I am particularly  fascinating, but rather because it speaks about what type of scholar finds a blog like this to show to their class, to gain a ‘huge source of amusement’ and then feels compelled to write the aforementioned? And what type of society generated this scholar?

———————

My response to Dr Hansen:

Dear Dr Hanson,

I hope this finds you well.

I have allowed your comment to be published here in full.

I would also say that I have no intention of being a ‘troll,’ as I prefer reasoned dialogue over ad hominem attacks.

Making a concerted effort to keep my work away from such interpersonal, trite conflict, I find your comments puzzling. Yes, I have actually publicly admitted culpability here “In point of fact, I was inappropriately sexually touched, I could see the jury – the white men especially – smirking as I stated this, and I knew it was over. I am not proud of how I mishandled this situation, and I admit culpability to the charge of stealing — of which I was found guilty and served my time (and more) for. Yes, I did take her cards, etc. to leave a very hostile situation; I know what happened, and what happened was a mess created by both subjects.

You mention, helpfully, that I am unqualified. I am completely and totally unqualified to operate as a psycho-metric machine under the current epistemic psycho-regime. And many in Laing’s time called him a charlatan, a fraud, etc. I am not making comparisons. I am totally without ‘qualification’ under this current epistemological regime to administer psychoanalysis. I have, for other reasons – personal – moved from praxis to theory. I am focusing on the problematics associated with mass incarceration I noted whilst I was in prison. Leaving aside my readings of Sartre, Foucault, Kristeva, Lacan, Freud, Hegel, Marx, Bakunin, etc. I would like to address your central feature of attack, an attack which is rooted in something you need me to be, something that I am not. Do you need the Spectre of the Criminal to bring ‘huge amusement’ to your undergraduate class? (I am flattered that I’ve entered academia’s halls as a subject of investigation!) Do you need me to be the unqualified bad man (“bad hombres” to quote D. Trump) to provide you with a sense of security around your own qualifications. And we must ask: what does it mean to be ‘qualified’ under decaying social apparatuses? Qualified for what? Paul Goodman wasn’t qualified, yet he administered and developed Gestalt therapy in the US. Wilhelm Reich wasn’t qualified to administer Orgone collection? And finally, there are a number of ‘qualified’ analysts who have committed egregious abuses of power.

The case you mention was incredibly complex. It involved two subjects engaged in a mess. I acknowledge theft, yet I will never deny that I was sexually inappropriately touched (what some would call sexual assault). I am not seeking post-prison respectability. I have never sought respectability (a chimera) in my life. A white-trash intellectual can never gain such an effect, especially after being in prison. But haven’t I – even by normative standards – served my time? Haven’t I done my penance? Should I be eternally reminded and punished? I am not taking patients (what a terrible term); I am working on theory. I need neither your respect or approval. I would only ask that you ask – as a psychologist (I assume) – why the need to contact me?

Yours Sincerely,

Tony Cochran

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