Friday, November 5, 2010

Getting 'it" in prison

In an article written in 1978 about the est Training given at the Lompoc Federal Penitentiary, writer Neal Rogin talks about the process inmates went through in gaining responsibility for their actions. This is an excerpt of that article:

What comes up for the trainees to experience is often more than uncomfortable. Take the case of Bobby. Bobby was in Lompoc for homicide. Throughout the training he wore very dark glasses and sat in the back row. The only time he took them off was when Ted (the trainer) confronted him in the Danger Process, and even then he did everything to avoid looking at anyone. "The Danger Process was really a high point in this training," Ted later told me. "It was the time when they got in touch with their tough guy acts and became a group."

It was after the Danger Process that things really began to come up for Bobby. Sometime during the afternoon of the third Saturday, I looked up and saw an empty chair in the back row. Turning toward the door, I saw Bobby moving unsteadily towards it. Joe walked over to him. They stood there for a long time. A very long time. I wondered what was going on. Joe later explained, "What Bobby was looking at, what had come up for him was whatever it was that made him kill people. He said he couldn't stand being in the room any more and that he not only wanted to get out of the training, he wanted to get out of the prison. He was literally ready to go over the wall, rather than experience what was coming up."

"I didn't press him on it. That doesn't work. I just gave him the space to look, and to communicate. He knew that this was his number, and he was able to see that he was standing at a crossroad. I pointed out to him that he was totally free to leave the training without being hassled, that it was perfectly OK with Ted for him to be there or not be there, and that this was an opportunity for him to do something he never did before, to move through the barrier he was up against and to be done with it. After four hours, he chose to stay...."

After all the trainees had become graduates, people refused to go away; the feeling of love and communication in the room was so intense that I have rarely experienced any thing like it. The graduates walked around getting to know one another, laughing, sharing, swapping stories, hugging. All differences disappeared. There was no outside or inside, no prisoners or visitors, there was just the commonly shared experience of knowing who's responsible for it all....

We were about to leave when Bobby came over to Ted and stood there, without his glasses for the first time. He moved close to Ted, took his hand, muttered and stammered something under his breath and hurried shyly away. "What did he say?" I asked. Without taking his eyes off Bobby as the inmate walked away, Ted said, "He told me he loved me."

From Getting 'it" in Prison, reprinted from The Graduate Review, June 1978