A Breeding Ground for Sociopaths?

One of the more interesting – and disturbing – correlations I’ve found in my seven years of incarceration is the relationship between the length of stay one endures in prison, and their tendency to display and employ sociopathic, harmfully-manipulative behavior. Naturally, one must ask: post hoc, ergo propter hoc – does one thing actually proceed from the other? Or is this merely bias-infected coincidence? To be fair to logic, I must preempt my argument with that caveat.

I tend to see prison as an incubator of anti-social behavior. This, in my experience, is one of the fundamental flaws of the “system.” One may enter this environment, after truly making a bad decision, as an otherwise upright, moral and ethical person, complete with the normal range of empathetic regard for other people. But after years and years of grinding it out in such a hostile, negative environment, rife with personalities who are and have always been truly predatory, these normal, good people can adopt antisocial, manipulative behavior pattern as means to survive. And, after years of stewing in this muck, the system chucks them back out into polite society, declaring them rehabilitated, when in reality, they are anything but. They now have a whole new set of skills, skills which are detrimental to society.

This is a systemic failure.

Prison resembles a bit of a command-type economy: resources are doled out by the administrators, and there are zero ownership rights to anything, even the property you buy; in an instant, anything you “own” can be seized by the state, under any pretext. This isn’t a conducive environment, on economic grounds, for social harmony, to say nothing of viewing it through the other human sciences.

There are many people in a housing unit, but limited phones, limited kiosks (an email-esque service), limited ways to stay connected to the outside world. Likewise, there is limited sustenance, as well as limited means to make a “living,” as if slave wages can be considered as such. From a Maslowian perspective, prisoners are kept far, far away from the pinnacle of the human experience: self-actualization. And if Maslow is even half right – which some would regard him to be – humans will do what they must to claw their way up his pyramid.

So people adapt. And after years of fighting for the most basic of necessities, they maladapt. Can anyone really blame them?

In my life, I’m exposed to two extremes of prisoner: very short timers and very long timers. By and far, it is the very long timers who exhibit the most dangerous, zero-sum, manipulative behavior. They are, as the colloquialism would have them, thoroughly institutionalized. And there are those too who straddle these extremes, men with practical life sentences, which they are now just beginning to serve. Interestingly, it is they who help bolster my argument, as, over time, their reality sets in, and they begin to display new, antisocial behaviors; they are the transition cases that supports my hypothesis.

And I have trouble finding fault with most of these men. Truly, even I, a person who consciously, obsessively attempts to jettison his innate, and overwhelmingly normal, ego- and sociocentric tendencies, with a rudimentary understanding of metacognition, has to diligently guard against falling for the allure of an easier life by manipulating those around me, because the temptation is there. How could it not be?

So I put myself in the shoes of other people, more than I did as a free man, knowing well the temptation not to. Sometimes that’s bewildering and painful. Even just yesterday, I had a difficult conversation with a man who has done a tremendous amount of time. Respecting his privacy, I’ll call him Charles.

Charles isn’t a horrible guy, despite making a horrible decision all those years ago. Yet after so many years, his ethical framework has morphed into something totally self-serving and delusional.

Like so many contentious interactions in prison, this one revolved around a phone. Apparently I had vexed this man in my attempt to use a phone earlier than I had intended, which I actually did to conform to his need to use it at a particular time. Intentionally seeking to avoid conflict, I was confronted with it anyway. And afterwords, I was gaslighted to be made to feel that, notwithstanding my attempt to avoid conflict, I’d caused it anyway. The whole episode was bewildering; but, during it all, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this man. He was truly just trying to look out for his own self-interest, not only in using the scarce resource of a phone, but also in trying maintain the even scarcer resource of his dignity. He’s simply a product of his environment. And had literally no idea he was acting in an antisocial manner. Total solipsism, totally unintentional.

Paradoxically, the society thought he needed 30-plus years to rehabilitate himself. And it hasn’t turned out so well, which I have a hard time faulting him for. This environment reinforces behavior like Charles exhibits. And the extra time he’s served hasn’t helped in that regard. It seems to have hurt.

This is the fault of the system, because the system, despite its Orwellian insistence otherwise, does very little to actually rehabilitate. Structurally, it can’t. It is designed on the assumption of low taxpayer cost, resource-starved to its core, totally isolated from the democratic process. Modern prison is nothing more than a warehouse, full of men and women waiting to be pulled off the shelf, when their number pops up, and shuffled out the door, “rehabilitated.”

In the interim, the longer they are here, the higher the chance of maladaptive behavior patterns forming, the higher the chance of institutionalization. What good, precisely, does this do them. And more importantly, what good does it do society?

Correlation isn’t causation. This is all anecdotal. Yet I see a trend, nevertheless.

Christopher Read
Haynesville Correctional Center
Haynesville, VA

Rehabilitation = Financial Literacy

You should not be fearful of Virginia offenders receiving a program that teaches financial literacy and skills in tech. This is form of education addresses the root of our criminal behavior and this is the only way to fully rehabilitate us. Justice should not only punish, and deter. Justice should also be restorative. Restoration is an important component, but it has to go beyond fines and court cost. If we never make the money that restitution will never get paid. But if part of my rehabilitation was geared toward teaching me the difference between assets and liabilities, and it showed me how my financial illiteracy made me a liability to my community but if I became an entrepreneur I could become an asset to it. This is the type of education that rehabilitates and increases public safety. You are not just sending me home with pocket money to spend. This education will teach me how to be self sufficient. Now I no longer need to rob or sell drugs when unemployment deprives my community of jobs.

Lord Serious is the author of three published books “The Powerless Pinky” (2017), “Apotheosis – Lord Serious Hakim Allah’s Habeas Corpus Appeal” (2019), and “Umoja Means Unity” (2022) all available on Amazon. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube @lordseriousspeaks. Visit my website www.Lordseriousspeaks.com.

Why I Believe “CHANGE” is Possible

I would like to thank you ll for this opportunity to share my thoughts and feeling, about the current status of the VADOC, and its policy. I have been incarcerated for almost 30 years, and by no means am I asking that anyone should feel sorry for me. I committed one of, if not the worse crime, I took another person’s life.

With that said most of the men incarcerated today (90-95%), will be released back into someone’s community. I know for many of you this is a very scary thought. Now that we know this fact, my question to you today is: who do you want that man or woman to be? One that has been given the opportunity to change, or a very angry person? The next question is: do you believe people are capable of “CHANGE?” If so don’t we want these men and woman who could be your neighbor, to at the very LEAST be given that chance.

In my almost 30 years of incarceration, I have held many jobs, some for the income to support myself. For the last 5 years, I have worked as an Elder/Peer Mentor in the Deerfield Correctional Center Re-entry Program, and I can say without a doubt this has been the most rewarding job I’ve held. This gave me the opportunity to see first hand that people can “CHANGE.” It also allowed me to help others, and myself at the same time. It is so amazing how much you learn about yourself when you are helping someone else. The other thing that I have learned is “CHANGE” is a personal choice, there is nothing anyone can do until the person wants that “CHANGE” for him, or herself. The best part of my job was to see that light come on for them. This is why it is so important to have these programs and opportunities in place for those man and women who want help. They may not always know how to ask, but I know change is possible because l have seen the change, and am lucky enough to be here to help these men when they are ready.

The very sad truth is under our new Governor, we have lost the re-entry program here at DFCC. The re-entry program provides the time and opportunity for these men to make that “CHANGE” in programs like Thinking for a Change, and Victims Impact. The focus seems to be more about punishment, not rehabilitation; which we all know does not work. If it did, why are so many men and women locked up today? I know it sounds great to say ‘lock them up and throw away the key,’ and if that was the end, that might work – but that brings me back to this fact: 90-95% will be released.

My hope in writing this is just to say we can “CHANGE.” I have changed, I have grown, but it was not easy. The most important thing is I wanted help. I have taken responsibility for all my action. I know I caused a lot of pain to so many good people, some that I can never repair. It also doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. The last thing that I would like to leave you with is: one of the answers to the violence that we are seein today is not the police – its men like myself, who will be willing to go out into those community and speak to these young men, and women to tell them there are other choices – you too, can “CHANGE.”

Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you. If you would like to contact me with your feedback, questions or a longer conversation, go to the app store and download the JPay app using my name and number to create an account and email me.

I have not lost hope and I won’t, nor will I give up on “CHANGE.”

Kenneth Bibbs #1114910
Deerfield Correctional Center