Writing In The Prison, Week One : “Us” vs. “Them”

This past week, I started teaching my independent study in the correctional facility.

While I was teaching, there was one major thing that I noticed. The “Us” versus “Them” mentality, particularly in relationship between the inmates and the guards.  

For example, in the middle of writing, a guard interrupted the class to check on a specific inmate, which caused some friction between the inmates and the guard. After the encounter, the inmates rallied around the one who was singled out, which served as a unique bonding experience.

They were the “Us” and the guard was “Them”. Which made me realize that outside of the prison hierarchy, we ourselves are constantly dividing outselves into “Us” versus “Them” scenarios.

You and your fellow classmates don’t like your professor? “Us” (the students) versus “Them” (the professor)

Your boss at work is rude and tough? “Us” (the workers) versus “Them” (the boss).

Hierarchies exist outside of the prison system, yet they seem to be one of the most notable examples of authority versus the population.

Might it be due to the extreme environment of working/being in a prison? 

Look back on a psychological experiment, known as the Zimbardo experiment or The Stamford Prison Experiment. In the study, the researchers studied the psychological effects of being a prisoner or a prison guard in a mock prison. Despite the fake settings, what was found was that regardless of role, the participants still divided themselves into an “Us” versus “Them”, which created extreme conflict and a severe social hierarchy. 

If a staged psychological study can produce these results, it doesn’t seem to fair well for real-world situations. Why is that?

I will keep my eye on this throughout the duration of my independent study, because perhaps there is more to the story.

Until next time. 

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