I chose this specific passage because it ties into Conover’s claims about the prison systems; that their environments tarnish the humane quality’s of both guards and inmates. I also found this passage to be relevant to some of the themes that I came across while reading Conover’s memoir which include: (1) the dehumanizing nature of American prison systems and (2) the overwhelming reliance on incarceration as a form of punishment for inmates.
The first observations of life within the prison systems described by Conover are truly bleak and have no sugar coating what so ever. For inmates, their lives are diminished to the small confined cell blocks with a cot, toilet, and sink. There is no room for privacy, which entails a certain level of fear of being victimized by other inmates. This is a daily struggle for the inmates to essentially survive with whatever shred of dignity that they possess, which often is diminished by their peers and correction officers. As for the guards, the constant threat of being assaulted by criminals with little or nothing to loose, the low wages received along with insufficient hours and the fact that they must keep a relatively civil security prison afloat is exceptionally exhausting. For both inmates and guards, the prison system is a form of purgatory; never changing and always a constant struggle in fighting to survive.
Conover’s arguments against the penal system- which filters into an abuse that results in the overcrowding of prisons to punish those who violate the law, results in a massive implosion, politically on dehumanizing inmates. These laws, Conover states are counterproductive and financially costly for the public whose tax dollars are paying for the incarceration of said individuals, who would probably be better of in a treatment care program then cut off from society. If we deprive these individuals from basic human needs, such as contact and communication, we are not solving any of the problems within the system because we are stating that we are not capable of the things that they have done to land them in solitary confinement. It is the classic internal darkness inside oneself that people refuse to acknowledge is there and results in seeing and labeling these inmates as not human.
Conover’s perspectives as both an officer and journalist provide’s a certain level of critical analysis on the “us versus them” (18) theory. This theory, in which correction officers and inmates exist on a constant basis drains both sides and results in some of the more surrealistic experiences that Conover witnesses. One of those instances is when inmates have to from time to time submit to a voluntary search procedure and if they refuse, officers have the will and authority to use force to proceed. The point that Conover states is that the only way inmates can protest excessive or abused rules is to resist them in any way possible. Through this, they are able to retain some sort of individuality and maybe some dignity.
How this all ties into the Stanford prison experiment back in 1971 is what Conover states as the prison system is a form of psychological torture for both guards and inmates. When the guards are given free range to essentially execute the law by whatever fits their means, they turn into slaves of a corrupt prison system. In regards to the “unethical criticism” that Conover alludes to in Zimbardo’s research, the experiment was not a success but also not a failure because (1) by Zimbardo playing the roll of the superintendent, he was unable to remain a neutral observer and always took the side of the officers and (2) the way the prison system’s worked in the past were the causes of inmate and guard behavior, not individuals personality traits. Many people claimed that this research was invalid and an overall unethical study, but I cant help but wonder like Conover do these prison systems really bring out the worst in people?