Detainee Interviews

The below is OCEAN Newsletter Volume 1, Issue 6, Article 3 (Nov. 25, 2019) published by Russell J. Hatton & Daniel A. Wilson from the gulag in Moose Lake Minnesota.


If the state authorities are going to keep us locked up forever, they are at least going to know how we’re getting along. <The term Detainee is more fitting than client>

This weeks “detainee” is not an MSOP detainee at all, but a former detainee of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Born in Vienna in 1905, Psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl survived to tell of the horrors of his experience in Nazi death camps. Dr. Frankl’s focus within his writing are of man’s response to suffering. Although he describes the events and people of the camps, my take away from his book Mankind ‘s Search for Meaning is that he was fascinated by what people do with suffering. In this capacity, civil commitment detainees can relate. However, I must make a disclaimer before I continue: My preventative detention was caused by many factors, but simply put: it was my wrongdoings that ultimately caused my incarceration. Although “they” lied to the public and to me about how they were going to achieve the goal of double jeopardy, I am not locked up because of my race, which is far more unjust than what has happened to me.

Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way we respond to it. .. Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you. (p. x)

This is how we became Defenders. Frankl talks about all of the horrors of the concentration camp and the worst horror of them all-apathy. The conditioning caused by repeated trauma resulting in an indifference to human suffering and death. I see this here at MSOP. 77 men have died here. One day I was very bothered by such a high number. I went to group and spoke about it saying, “I bet you clinicians become quite frantic when another one of your detainees dies without rehabilitation. I picture you guys in your offices just freaking out trying to get just one guy better before he kicks the bucket.” The response I got was, “we don’t control when detainees die.” She missed my point completely. She has no feelings at all about detainees dying here, and many of the detainees are just as indifferent. I don’t want to get this way. I want injustices to make me angry. I don’t want my conscious to be seared beyond compassion. I want to rejoice when someone makes it, and weep when they don’t. However, I see myself becoming cold too. I have been here 3 years and have witnessed 13 deaths in that short time. It’s so common. Most of those who have died were well over the age of desistance and the likelihood of them reoffending was almost indistinguishable to someone who has never committed a sex crime at all. MSOP still refused to release them.

So the apathy of all who work and live here is the killer, not MSOP the organization – but MSOP the people.

The fact that almost everyone here-both detainee and staff have lost hope in society altogether-that is why we remain here.

In his book, Frankl goes on to write about a man’s ability to “regress” and become very primitive when he gets committed. His conversations tend to center around politics and/or religion (both sources of power for the powerless) and his obsessions become food and other creature comforts. I see this at MSOP at a level that is quite disgusting. However, reading it in Frankl’s book helps me be less judgmental.

We are all frantic to find meaning and a sense of reality in this box called civil commitment. It is quite ironic that the goal now is to protect ourselves from allowing these facilities to make us insane by means of apathy or regression.

So how do we build hope again? This is what OCEAN is trying to figure out. For me it has been to just do, say, write and fight what I believe in and ignore the consequences. This has meant to fight against the temptation to be comfortable. What we are doing is anything but fun. It’s work. Its daunting work because there is no reason to believe that it will ever be worth it.

But we have heart, and we are men and we have the blood of warriors running through our veins. OCEAN is a manifestation of this mentality.

This might sound too dramatic, but like Frankl says, “Even we psychiatrists expect the reactions of a man to an abnormal situation, such as being committed to an asylum, to be abnormal in proportion to the degree of his normality.” (p. 20) So I am reacting as expected I suppose. [DAW]

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