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From Inside a Michigan Prison: "Being Sane In An Insane Place"

Lacino Hamilton has been locked up inside Michigan state prisons for over 23 years. He has “lived” in more than half of the state’s 40-plus prisons. Yet he has not wasted this time. He has become a powerful analyst, critical voice, an organic intellectual as some might put it. Here is one of his most profound contributions to our understanding of mass incarceration: Being Sane In An Insane Place. ~ James Kilgore


"Lacino please be strong!"

Do I ever leave you with the impression that despite the obvious frustrations of state inflicted punishment, I'm fine? I mean, I'm certain you're aware that when one "makes" it to prison, they have fallen about as far out of the social order as possible. But I often wonder does channelling my anger through articles, and not actions, does it conceal my understanding that I have nothing else that can be taken which would result in discomfort? Does it conceal that I possess nothing material that could cause me mental disorganization? Does it conceal the difficulty in being sane in an insane place?

You have no idea. Imprisonment is not just the concrete, the razor wire, bullet proof glass, or trained assassins watching from gun towers. It's' not just the isolation, the monotony, loneliness, or assiduous misery. It's not just the anxiety, the idleness, apathy, or the pent up frustration with no where to go. Neither is it just having to always chase after something, hide something, or having to hold my ground against something or someone. It's knowing how very different my life could have been. A perpetual defeat of sorts.

It's the unimaginable reality that I, or anyone for that matter, could be kidnapped, held hostage, and divorced from the habits, the routines, familiar, normal, and regular activities of making a life. Such as a career, a family, pleasant memories, contributions to others. It is the forceful, the pointed, abusive, oppressive, and violent manner in which "correctional" policies, procedures and programs assault individuality and independence. An asphyxiation of sorts.

It's the systematic application of the principles of behavior modification. It's techniques that include both rewards and punishments. However, the emphasis is on punishment and minimizing rewards. Which are simply the absence of deprivations one ordinarily expects not to have to sustain.

It is the similarity between the correctional facility and Frankenstein. Whose diseased ego created a huge, pathologically strong, demented, ugly creature (re: prisoners). Which was functionally censored by making him under intelligent. Erecting institutions flexible enough to keep the creature working, but rigid enough to forestall any growth of his mental faculties. And like Frankenstein's creature, I'm suppose to live through the correctional facility. I'm suppose to be content watching the facility flourish, while I deteriorate. A horror story of sorts.

It's not just the distance from family and friends, but the distain from the people that staff these places. People I'm in close physical proximity to, but have little socially in common with. It is the idea that if they do anything other than give me commands, I will pose a danger. It's that administrators and staff are under no obligation to maintain standards of humane treatment. I mean, there are standards, but no one enforces them. It's the contradiction between what staff do, and what official web sites and paid spokespeople say they do. It's even when I'm right, I'm told I'm wrong. Penalized if I don't agree. A schizophrenia of sorts.

It's the systematic process of reinforcing the fact that I have minimal control over the regulation and orientation of my body. It's the misleading name given to this condition i.e., learned helplessness. A derivative of psychologist B.F. Skinner's operant conditioning commonly called, learned techniques. It's being forced to accept without question, administrator's and staff's efforts to control me. It's a brainwashing of sorts.

It's that my talents are wasting. It's that my aspirations have been reduced to ruins. It's dreams deferred. It's tomorrow, and never today. It's days turning into weeks, which turn into months, then years, and getting lost in the confusion of it all. It's a twilight zone of sorts.

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It's articles and not actions because for 23 years I've been encouraged to accept, rather than oppose, all this pain and misery. And not only am I not to resist, but I am suppose to "be good." Suppose to use cunning and guile. Suppose to be some sort of willing participant. An action so heinous as to give the word betrayal a bad name.

This is the real cost of imprisonment, all too easily lost on remedies that may appear appropriate, but aren't.

Articles and not actions because something must be done. Who am I kidding, articles are actions taken. I have not sought to save myself by tactics that preserve my body at the sacrifice of my mind. I haven't been crushed by what feels like the weight of the world being dropped on me. The fact is, and this isn't my ego talking either, I'm strong.

My articles remind those that traffic in imprisonment that in here where the heat is on, prisoners like me are not only not weak, but determined to be sane in an insane place.


Lacino Hamilton, 247310

Chippewa Correctional Facility

4269 West M-80

Kincheloe, MI 49784