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May 22, 2011

Institutional Peer Pressure

Sample paper 2 by Samuel Morasch - Spring 2011

All I can think about is where to start. I was thinking about the beginning but that might be a little too early in the life I speak of. I wish I had more life experience I could work with but maybe the experiences I can objectively speak of can help me and others around me have more understanding of some of life's core values and social norms that can be better understood. In society I have lived constantly adjusting my values and norms to fit those acceptable by society's standards. Sometimes situations arise in the free world that are very aggressive and I work with what good experiences I have to reflect on to avoid the negative group pressure and discover more productive ways of dealing with different situations throughout the course of life. Coming from a good upbringing I was like many others, very foolish in my teenage years. With my parents never teaching me anything about jail or prison I was schooled as soon as I showed up to McLaren "Juvenile jail" and unlike so many other people that came before me in what is referred to as the testing situation, a fight for ones safety, I stood against many by myself with those watching making wagers. In that instant when It was all over I knew that whatever I had done was the right way to act in this place I was sent to live receiving pats on the back from people I have never met and hugs while getting cuffed. Being forced into a living situation where violence is the first and only way to really get your point across did, in a way, corrupt my way of life for a while.

In the free world there are always going to be those people that were on the inside that had a hidden problem and when I happen to cross paths with them I move with caution because ex-cons generally like to sabotage other people's opportunities. After going through the hundreds of job interviews and the discrimination I know I have learned the one thing no one can teach, I learned how to live by standards that are not just my own, but I now live by societies standards as well. After six and a half years one would think resorting to violence is the last way after you have already called the cops. Yet I still find myself at times wondering should I make that call to 911 when life happens, because when we do the right thing it is more of an instinct to keep the community safe. I have become a person chasing this thing called normality and now I'm learning there is no normal, it all seems to depend on what group people hang out with on what they consider to be normal. I wasn't able to write about group pressure I have personally got to be a part of during discussion because the truth behind some of what I'm going to discuss is not society's norm. However, my prison experience stretches nearly two decades so bare with me for I have run into dead ends with all other subjects.

I have been able to contrast a lot from the institutions to the free world, any police man/woman would probably say no way those people don't work like that and that is completely understandable because they really do see the worst side of most criminals. Back to group pressure. Around Christmas time on the inside there is a lot of tension with everyone missing their families and every jail/prison has some amount of corrections officers walking around commenting reminding the inmates about their personal losses of freedom which really does cause defiance to take root and in turn there is more fights among the population. When an 18 year old youngster gets sentenced to a ten year measure 11 and walks the unit no matter where it is there will be some level of uncertainty considering how most of society views prison which is understandably so. It is quite common for the new younger inmates to be tested, some close bonds are made in this primitive head bashing way because if one stands up for themselves against the odds they earn a title as someone that isn't to be messed with and in there that in its self is enough to make the predators back off. I mean after all they want to extort someone that is scared so they can get paid not try to do it to someone that will stand up for what is right. I witnessed a situation many years ago where a teenager was sentenced to 70 months and being that young I'm close to sure that Joey Peterson, the teenager, didn't see any future after his projected release date and quite possibly couldn't even imagine being released. I say this for reasons that he has since 1999 made some poor choices like assaulting staff members and other corrections staff. I have thought long and hard as to why some people when sentenced to something like 70 months choose to do things like assault staff members. After asking around through many letters written through other people so they couldn't trace it to me because having info like that on the inside can be very dangerous I have to say I wasn't surprised to find out that Joey had joined a gang called the Aryan Death Squad and had made a pact to attack officers on sight. Although cases like the one with Joey Peterson are not by any means the norm I have seen an influx of inmates over the last fifteen years get caught up in acquiring more time on their sentences which leads me to believe that the level of group pressure is ever increasing whether gang activity or just more violence It is quite apparent just how strong group influence is inside our State and Federal institutions.

One might be a person that abhors violence within a primitive group setting, however, when people really are put in that very situation and survival instincts take over it makes some capable of going to extremes over group pressures they weren't aware they could go to before they were forced to. As bad as it sounds there is this general acceptance they experience and the measures are set apart in terms of an emotional understanding. If an inmate gets 24 months for burglary and a year and a half into his sentence he starts hanging out with someone that is in for assault and has four more years, the only thing to do is be understanding. Acting any other way could be interpreted as an insult and although some go the insulting route most prefer the non confrontational route. I know especially how people think in the free world about racism. Most jump to conclusions that one person or group of people can actually change the way we view race on the inside. Truth being said it is not even about race directly. It's about the strong ruling the weak, and prisoners testing their closest friends on the inside all the time for reasons like needing that assurance the people around you have your back just in case stuff happens. If someone doesn't follow suite upon arrival there will be a whole lot of people after that one person that won't conform to something bigger than itself. I would add group pressure is heavy in those settings.

Degradation as stated in the text sounded horrid but objectively speaking don't they have to focus on the safety and security of the jail/institution first. Let me talk a little about why those places have such strict policy. First It is a game for someone that is doing five plus years because there isn't any good time to lose so they learn to break as many rules as humanly possible while receiving encouraging nods and signals from those in their group that except the violent way. With much of the ways on the inside being like living in medieval times it is no wonder that over the years those places are becoming more and more violent with longer sentences that generally are given without the option for good time and earned time credits. I have felt the hopelessness at the beginning of a long sentence and it can be overwhelming in a way that is very hard to describe; but all hope being gone and having nothing to live for is pretty close to putting it in words. After a while all we have is our dreams to keep us going every day and believe me when I say they try to take all one holds close to their heart. There isn't any program they have that can teach a person how not to let them take what is important in life as we lose touch with the outside world we dream of living in.

I'm not even sure I'm supposed to be talking about the harsh realities of real life; however, what I say consumes me daily especially in the community I live in. I am not someone that is ever going beg for forgiveness over what was and that alone makes it harder because almost everyone likes an ex-con that accepts his/her wrongs. I look at it like this - I personally had goals that I worked toward with my old life style and now that is behind me I don't look for easy ways to make money and I'm not putting myself in the middle of any unwelcome situations. Please let me elaborate on my unwillingness to just go through their programs. I am a body builder with unbelievable strength and speed and living the life style I use to I kind of ran over the top of many people on the other side of the law. At the time I was under the impression I could smash anyone as long as they were on the other side of the law Boy was I wrong. I didn't realize at the time those people that were making illegal money have rights just like anyone else and because I'm not a cop I know now that I caused more harm than good. I know now that my fight against the law has been misguided and wrong, and I refuse to stand in front of many and lie about how sorry I am. After twenty some years in and out of prison I will be the first to say I wasn't always wrong for doing what I have" assaults". I live in the same community I have always lived in and I'm safe because people still remember how far I'm willing to go when protecting my family. They also know the "bad-boy" peer pressure can't touch me now.

May 16, 2011

Let Us, Now, Step Back Toward Evolution

By B. Kester. Spring 2011
Excellent paper 2

In the novel Ishmael, Daniel Quinn takes his readers on a journey to de-construct the notion of civilization. Our culture is examined over the course of a lengthy dialogue between a teacher and a student. Through this discourse, it is established that our current methodology of living has set us on a path toward destroying not only our own civilization but much of the life on the planet. As products of the very construct from which this dilemma has arisen we, as individuals and society as a whole, find it nearly impossible to see the way out. The answer, according to Quinn, lies in observing nature and uncovering the laws which govern all other systems on the planet. The decision to ignore these laws has landed 'civilized man' in dire straits and, if we are to survive, we must learn to play by the rules on peril of extinction. In essence, we must commit to participating in the competition of the natural world while abstaining from destroying our competitors- either through outright attack or by interfering with their food source. This, the peace-keeping law, is at the core of the evolutionary process and is responsible for the longevity of our world, as well as it's diversity and in turn it's resilience. When we make the commitment to return to living in accordance with this law we will begin the next phase of humanity. Quinn's vision is that humans will realize their place in evolution as being the first to evolve a higher consciousness and that, in a revised climate of supportive coexistence, others will follow- evolution will continue and humans will lead by example. Working toward this inspiring vision will replace our ongoing enactment of a faulty viewpoint which has brought us to the current situation. Ultimately, the all-important question arises: "What do I do?" This question is the crux of the message, yet receives little enough attention by Quinn in the novel. It is this question that baffles individuals on a daily basis as we are presented with a laundry list of problems and enemies that seem so much greater than ourselves. The answer? Teach others, change minds.

The Easy Way In

"How?" you might ask. The secret to the simple answer lies in the existence of this novel. Here, Quinn has put in the time to reflect and coalesce a great deal of information into an enjoyable and approachable book. Pass it on. If everyone who was touched by this book gave it to ten people, eventually the message would be far-reaching and many people of great influence might be inspired to see a way out of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. Similarly, if we utilize the media available to us on the Internet to spread our appreciation of Ishmael via facebook, online book reviews, etc, we can reach a great number of people with a relatively small amount of effort. There are, of course, many other equally inspired writings available to support this cause, as well.

Earn Your Colors

"What can I do right now?" Ultimately, each individual can begin by altering their participation in our cultural system. Every person that commits to living more in accordance with the peace-keeping law will assist in tilting the scales toward balance. The final goal of these efforts is to shift the cultural perception of what is desirable and practical for the success of humanity. Certainly, this is a daunting task. With this in mind, the specific actions to be taken are personal and require a good deal of self-reflection, for there are many ways to make a difference.

First, consider that the peace-keeping law implies that we should not take more than we need to survive, especially at the expense of our planetary cohabitants. The well-known waste hierarchy is a tenet well worth heeding: reduce, reuse, recycle. We can move toward living in accordance with the law which governs all of life through reducing our consumption of goods by limiting our purchases to that which we need. It would be wise to tune out advertisements in general, which seek to convince us that we must be part of the latest trend and consequently lead us to indulge in buying items that we have no true need for. If we can't avoid advertisements, we can at least foster an air of skepticism and seek to uncover the manipulation to which we are subjected so regularly. By reusing or re-purposing products, we keep goods in circulation much longer than would otherwise be the case. Frequenting thrift stores, taking exceedingly good care of our belongings so that someone else might make use of them when we're finished and using discarded objects as the basis for art are all options for interrupting the waste cycle. Finally, if necessary, recycling products rather than sending them to the landfill is an important contribution.

When you must buy, vote with your dollars. Living in a capitalist society, our culture is subject to the laws of supply and demand. By using each of our purchases to increase demand for products that are most supportive of the peace-keeping law and beneficial to the well-being of the planet, we are able to offer not-so-subtle encouragement to businesses to come along for the ride. There are many factors to consider when using purchasing power to voice an opinion. For instance: How much petroleum was used to make and transport this product? Am I patronizing a local establishment? Where did this product come from and how did it get here? Is this product sustainable- i.e. is it made of renewable resources or natural ingredients in a responsible and humane manner? Does this product have excessive packaging and is it recyclable? Is my food as close to it's natural form as possible? Does all meat that I eat come from small, ecologically responsible farmers? The more we consider these types of questions before making purchases, the more informed our purchases will become. By their nature, business and industry will respond to this increased demand. As it stands right now, industry is jumping at the chance to make the claim of being 'green' because they know that catch phrases such as 'green' and 'organic' sell. This willingness on the part of businesses can and should be leveraged to encourage truly sound practices.

Choosing the location of your home carefully allows you to vote with your feet. When making decisions about where to live, take into account how much or how little fuel you will need to consume for every day living. For instance, consider walkability in order to minimize your petroleum dependence. Walkability refers to the ability of an individual to get most services by walking a short distance from their home. Can you walk or bike to work? Can your children walk to school? Is there a grocery store or hardware store nearby? A farmer's market? Entertainment, parks and natural areas?

Craft Your Soap Box and Hop On Up

Defining the platform through which you can reach out to others is also a highly individual process. In Ishmael, the student is encouraged to utilize his occupation as a writer to teach a hundred people and to inspire each of them in turn to teach a hundred more and so on. This notion touches on an important principle- allowing for small efforts to multiply and gather momentum of their own accord. If we don't allow ourselves to start small, the enormity of the situation can seem utterly stifling. So, it matters not whether you change the mind of one person through personal conversation, hundreds through your blog, thousands as a teacher or lecturer, millions as an author, or just one strategic business person as a consultant. What matters is that as many humans as possible start chiseling away at the walls of the prison with as many tools as we have at our disposal. This is the way to shift cultural perceptions and change the path upon which our civilization trods.

The Gandhi Principle

Gandhi was known for his ability to transform an adversarial relationship into friendship. He did so by forging human connections with his supposed enemies. Herein lies an important lesson- that of the ability to listen. If we can stop and listen to individuals we stand a much greater chance of understanding their point of view and in turn being able to offer up practical solutions. When people feel heard, they are much more likely to listen to what is directed at them. Instead of remaining adversaries, the opportunity for coalition is opened along with the possibility for greater change.

The Culture Connection

Early in the novel, Quinn establishes that we are all "captives of our civilization." By this, he simply means that we are each born into, reared and programmed by the culture of our civilization. With this in mind, we are only able to draw on the information and explanations that are offered by our culture. Through careful de-construction the veils of cultural myth were lifted and the falseties upon which we have built our fortress revealed. Through this knowledge we are able to see that while our civilization's viewpoint is not sustainable, our survival depends upon the ability to and willingness to craft an existence outside of this destructive pattern. Here we have explored some practical steps toward shifting the cultural norm in an effort to move us closer to an ecologically sound way of life. It is worth noting that these methods can also be modified to address any aspect of social inequality that we might observe: locate and distribute well-written information, make personal changes, and find the platform from which you can reach as many people as possible, inspiring them to do the same in turn. Through incremental change, individual viewpoints can be altered affecting change in the culture at large. Perhaps one day, in the near or distant future, we will find ourselves living in harmony with the natural world around us so that we might resume the fine act of evolution.

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn