Thoughts on the New Year: Habit Forming Enforcement

When you visit David Wade Correctional Center (where Albert remains unjustly held in solitary confinement) unlike both Angola and Hunt, your car is searched when you enter and again when you leave. There are signs that state- “no cameras, no drugs, no alcohol, no firearms”. The guards mindlessly follow up the hand painted restrictions while they look at your drivers license and dig through your glove compartment, “… you got any cameras, drugs, alcohol or firearms?!” Much like the structure of prison, the process is mindless, thoughtless and outdated. On this last visit for instance I traveled with another artist, who takes a lot of pictures and video. Between the two of us were two computers, an iPad, a digital camera, video camera, two tripods,… not to mention my (not so) smart phone.

I unpacked most of the traditional cameras before I went into visit- but left the phone, iPad and computer in the car.  When asked the same question..” you got any cameras… blah blah blah”, I laughed my way through the word, “Nope”.

Phones, iPads, computers etc aren’t cameras when you drive through gates because David Wade, like many facilities operate on an antiquated and mindless system. Guards, many who have been there for decades, follow the rules without questioning the logic- without thought, and many of those rules are what keeps our prison system locked in a tragically outdated and draconian time warp.

Resistance to change, a lack of questioning, or the thoughtless engagement of habit becomes dangerous when we consider the outcome as it relates to the prison industrial complex. Thoughtlessness leads to neglect. Neglect leads to abuse, and many end up actively participating in an unjust system of corruption, neglect, and abuse with out considering the holistic consequences. As Albert eloquently stated, “familiarity breeds contempt.”  On this particular visit, the visiting shed was empty. Only one other family was visiting behind glass on the other side of the room.  All the tables were empty, so I asked the guard if Albert and I could visit at a table and sit across from each other like human beings. He replied, “no ma’am”.  When I asked him why, he shrugged his shoulders and said “it’s the rules”. When I asked him why those were the rules, he shrugged his shoulders and repeated “I don’t know ma’am– its the rules”. With out thought, or consideration he continued to repeat “its the rules”. When i finally got to the point where I asked him why he doesn’t question the rules when they are devoid of logic he replied, “I don’t know– i guess habit. It’s just habit.”

Habit is at the heart of this complaint. As individuals we develop habits that don’t serve us or our greater community. Smoking is an obvious habit, for some the habit is overeating, for others its patterned listlessness, or excessive television, for me there is a bad habit of twisting my hair until if breaks off. Habits are most dangerous when they remain unchecked. The momentum of mindlessness collectively leads us towards the treacherous outcome of a desensitized society dependent on patterns and habits that fail to question outdated social structures, abuse or in the case of Albert, Robert, Herman and too many others– egregious injustice.

The New Year is a time for contemplation and reflection. Many of us take vows– or make resolutions to stop some of the habits we believe we have outgrown. Let 2014 be year where we collective evaluate our habits- a year for the radical eradication of mindlessness, of thoughtless patterns, and a year that erases the routine structures of injustice. It is only when we become conscious of our unconscious that we can dismantle the system and continue an active struggle for equality, love and justice.

All Power to the People.


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