Wednesday, May 20, 2020

“It’s complicated.” (The Great Excuse.)

I was just in a staffing (teleconference) which was the perfect dramatization of “complexity” as an excuse for incompetence and coverup of dishonesty.

My clients are constantly dealing with allegations that they have broken “rules” which change and are unwritten, or interpreted differently by different people at different times. The immediate example is contraband. When a judge sees a report saying an NGRI acquittee was discovered to have contraband in his or her possession, that might suggest guns or drugs, which would be a serious threat to safety and a criminal violation of law.

But on the plantation, contraband simply means anything the overseers decide to take away from the slaves. For example, a small packet of table salt is “food,” and food’s not allowed in somebody’s room. Or a cup of coffee, even though a staff member said, sure, take it back to your room with you, don’t worry. Or for that matter, an electronic device that was specifically cleared by security for a patient to have, at an earlier time. All of these items have been labeled contraband in patient records and court reports from Elgin Mental Health Center.

The point is simply to make the patient look like he or she is not following the rules, and to demonstrate that the overseers can take anything away from the slaves, including and especially the chance for freedom, any time they like, for any reason or for no reason.

As I write this, I suddenly recall a time when I was in a similar position. I was a second-year cadet at Culver Military Academy, and I really didn’t want to be there any more. The officers did not like me or my roommate: we were called “hippies” as an insult. (This was 1967-68.) Every morning began with personal inspection of our room, usually by First Sergeant Nick (“Nick the Prick”) Capos. Then once a week there was a more through general inspection. These inspections were searches and opportunities for confiscation of items of our property which somebody considered inappropriate. To be fair though, the actual rules at Culver were pretty standard. They were all written, and I can’t think of much that was ever in substantial dispute. But they sure were applied more strictly for guys like me, who had a “bad attitude” and didn’t relish the nobility of standing at attention and calling upper classmen sir. The officers were absolutely gleeful when they found a violation.

My roommate and I became some sort of clandestine revolutionaries that year. We hated the system and the authorities. My greatest victory was in successfully concealing one substantial item of contraband for most of the school year — a decorative wrought-iron hinge that I surreptitiously removed from the west entrance to Main Barracks one night with a makeshift screwdriver, to leave an obvious gap between the hinges above and below, ruining the symmetry on the left side of the heavy wooden double door. My trophy was three feet long by a foot wide and an eighth of an inch thick. I hid it on the back of my bureau, up against the wall. Everyone wondered who had stolen it, but they never found it. I smuggled it home as a souvenir in June. Ten years later, that door of Main Barracks was still defaced, testifying to my righteous protest against the oppression of short haircuts and uniforms, no girls, frequent military roll calls and marching to meals.

Of course, I was able to convince my parents not to send me back to Culver the following year, and I escaped to a suburban public high school, played football and became a respectable citizen. The slaves on the Elgin plantation have no such recourse, no escape. They are forced to comply, and even when they do comply, it's often no good: psychiatric “diagnoses” are arbitrary and insulting, “treatment” is torturous and permanently debilitating, judges just believe the overseers no matter what the slaves/petitioners say, and Thiem dates are far in the future.

The takeaway from my Culver cadet days is that an underlying resistance, an intractable hostility can bubble up and cause trouble for any repressive system. Every now and then, a slave finds a way to avoid being drugged into sub-humanity. Every now and then somebody comes up with a creative challenge. It's probably impossible to completely suppress human ingenuity and the urge toward freedom, even with psychiatry.

If psychiatry were any kind of help, the Elgin plantation overseers wouldn't have to worry. People are not hostile toward valid help, it doesn't provoke underground resistances. But slaves only find nobility in recalcitrance. The forensic psychiatric system tries to pretend it is helping people who are sick and protecting the community from danger. That pretense is so false, everyone who works in the system knows on some level they are lying. They don't feel good about that, because their first intention was to help. They discover they can't, and they only cause harm in these jobs. Then their only relief is tragic comradeship with others equally disillusioned. The system, the bureaucracy, just makes them all increasingly stupid and cynical together.

Tom Zubik can be so proud of manumitting more slaves from his plantation in the last eighteen months than in the three previous years combined, but he doesn't brag that they were cured of anything, and he doesn't seem to think about having improved treatment. He has only stopped holding quite so many slaves. Vera Hosley can hold onto Marci Webber's legal mail for a few days, but that's not very satisfying if it doesn't provoke Marci enough to forcibly drug her.

The complexity of rules and procedures in a bureaucracy is directly proportional to the lies that have to be told or covered up. The conversation in the staffing about little salt packets or a cup of coffee as contraband was convincing evidence of thick and deep lies on Hartman Unit. Incidentally, a "patient" named Arthur died on that unit recently. I tried to get anyone to say it was not related to COVID19, but nobody uttered a single word in response to that query.

There was a weird movie in 1968, entitled. "If...". Highly recommended! It's about crushing dehumanization and defiance. I saw it in the theater when it was first released, the same summer I discovered Jewish girls. I've never watched it again, and I probably shouldn't. There's enough Sherman in me....

There is slavery and there is freedom: it's not complicated.

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