Note from JustFuture: The original title of the paper was “The psycho/social/spiritual impact of being held in a ‘treatment center’ for sex offenders: reflections on the outcome of a brief questionnaire administered to a group of civilly committed men.” We would love to receive a full copy of the essay. Please contact us if you know how to find it.
The below quote came from “The Legal Pad” Volume 2, Issue 11, (November 15, 2018) published by Cyrus P. Gladden, II from the gulag in Mooselake, Minnesota. Gladden used the above title to describe the paper and attributed the paper to James Hunter in 2018. However, no formal situation was provided, nor was there a url for the source online. Thus far we have been unsuccessful at tracking down the original source or author. Nothing seems to appear on the percy foundation website. According to clues in the text of the paper, it would appear that the individual is a published author because a prisoner owns his books.
Text excerpts beginning on page 4:
The Impact of Prison Life on Self-Esteem
Beyond the stigma that pervades our society, and that is constantly traded with an even greater intensity in prisons, the treatment program itself adds another level to the stigma. Social research has not been able to establish a profile of the typical sex offender. Except that they have broken a law, there is nothing that reliably distinguishes members of this group from a random selection of people in the population. They are not more stupid, more insensitive, or more anything than anybody else. Nevertheless the treatment techniques at Butner, as in most sex-offender programs, are clearly based on the assumptions that members of this group lack empathy, are incapable of love, are manipulative, are dishonest, lack insight, and are highly sociopathic. And they are treated accordingly. So this negative view of who sex offenders are is added to the already overwhelming stigma that the offenders live with. This is hardly helpful to men who are drowning in social induced self-hatred.
The Impact of Prison Life on Self-Efficacy
A prison environment constitutes a massive attack on both the prisoners locus of control and his self-efficacy. This is so self-evident that it would not seem to merit extensive discussion. Most of the decisions about what happens to prisoners on a daily basis are made by the program and by staff rather than by prisoners, and the range of free activity is extremely constricted. Thus, the locus of control is largely external to the individual and the opportunities for self-efficacy are very limited. While this much is obvious, civil commitment programs have gone to a new level in denying the autonomy of the individual.
Autonomy comes in three flavors: behavioral, emotional[,] and cognitive. Prisons have always restricted behavioral autonomy, they were invented specifically for that purpose. But, until fairly recently, an incarcerated person in the United States could say, with some accuracy, “Well, they can deny me my freedom of movement but I still own my mind,” or something along that line. For some, this is no longer the case. Offenders in treatment are subjected to a powerful attack on the autonomy of the mind.
The rationale of the treatment program is that is a person has violated one of society’s sexual laws, this justifies denying the person’s cognitive emotional autonomy, as well has his behavioral autonomy. The sex offender must be forced to think and feel correctly or be punished severely.
In the Butner facility, joining the treatment program is not required. The carrot that is held out to the prisoner for choosing to participate in the treatment program is the hope for eventual release. That most participants never get to eat this carrot is one of the cruelest and most cynical aspects of the program. Respondent #64 states that “Joining the program, ones only way of achieving freedom, simply means one might be out in another 4,5,6 or more years by which time one is totally brainwashed.” for reasons totally outside control or knowledge one might remain in therapy forever.
The comment by respondent #64 raises an important question. Is the “cognitive therapy” that is imposed on people in sex offender treatment programs actually brainwashing — the term he uses — and not cognitive therapy at all. In order to answer this question we must begin with clear definitions of brainwashing and cognitive therapy.
Merriam Webster provides this definition of brainwashing: “a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas”
The American Institute for Cognitive Therapy provides this definition for cognitive therapy:“ Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a relatively short-term, focused psychotherapy for a wide range of psychological problems including depression, anxiety, anger, marital conflict, loneliness, panic, fears, eating disorders, substance abuse, alcohol abuse and dependence and personality problems. The focus of therapy is on how you are thinking, behaving, and communicating today rather than on your early childhood experiences. The therapist assists the patient in identifying specific distortions (using cognitive assessment) and biases in thinking and provides guidance on how to change this thinking.”
There is a superficial similarity between the two techniques. Both deal with an assessment of the clients cognition, and both focus on efforts to eliminate cognitions that are believed to be dysfunctional and to replace them with those that are functional. So it is easy to see how the two interventions might be confused. However, there are significant differences. The most important difference has to deal with the issue of coercion. With brainwashing, we have a “forcible indoctrination,” while cognitive therapy endeavors to “guide” the patients. Brainwashing also attempts to protect the clients from wrong-think and social influences that are deemed negative. So far as I know, techniques aimed at protecting the client from normal social contacts for fear that they might be exposed to negative cognitions is not part of any valid cognitive therapy. Nor are clients published for negative cognitions. With the so-called “cognitive techniques” used in sex offender treatment, and this cannot be emphasized enough, wrong-think is punished with continuing imprisonment. Only physical torture would be more coercive. Finally, cognitive therapy is typically a short-term intervention. It cannot possibly take years to teach a few tenets that are the target of the therapy. In sex-offender treatment the beliefs that treatment leaders consider relevant could be listed on a single page. Why, then, does it take years to teach these simple ideas to the program participants?
All of this does not even touch on the issue of whether the beliefs forced on the program participants are actually supported by science. To evaluate all of the beliefs targeted in the sex-offender treatment program as it is implemented in the Federal Civil Commitment program in Butner would be beyond the scope of this paper. However, looking at one such belief might be instructive. Clearly the participants in the program are expected to believe that any sexual activity between an adult and a child — as defined by the sex offender laws in this country — it is always profoundly damaging to the younger partner. This is shown to be factually untrue by extensive research. The specifics are detailed below in the section titled “The Justification of Radical Measures.”
In a Free Society, Legal Interventions Must be Limited to Behavior
In a free society, the legal system is concerned with whether the behavior of its citizens conforms to the law. Laws that dictate acceptable beliefs or feelings and that allow for the punishment of individuals that [who] deviates from these beliefs and feelings are acceptable only in totalitarian societies. Even if one assumes that sex-offender treatment has a limited but legitimate concern for beliefs that might lead to re-offending, reasons for not re-offending might be quite varied. A person who has committed a sexual offense need not believe any of the “correct” beliefs in order to decide not to “reoffend.” let me illustrate this. Four of the “correct” beliefs that are taught in treatment programs are as follows:
- Sexual activity between adults and minors is always damaging — profoundly and intrinsically so.
- To allow a relationship between oneself and a minor is motivated by a desire for power, not love.
- Someone must be “blamed” for allowing a relationship to become sexual, and this must always be the adult.
- To allow sexual activity to occur between an adult and a person who is defined as a child in this society is a symptom of a mental disorder, which must be aggressively treated.
The assumption of the treatment provider is that unless an offender comes to believe these assertions “among others”, they will continue to be at risk of re-offending. Is this true? Obviously not. A person who has broken one of societies sexual lies might reject all of the above treatment premises, ad simply come to the conclusion that inter-generational sexual behavior, in this society, entails too many risks for both himself and the child, and on the basis of that, he could resolve not to violate the law again. It happens everyday.
The law is about behavior — not about either feelings or cognitions. This is as it should be. You can hate me. You can think I am a despicable person. You can even want to punch me in the face. But you cannot actually punch me in the face. If we are to maintain a free society these distinctions between feeling, thinking, and doing must be maintained.
Furthermore, in a free society even with people who are convicted of crimes, it is not permissible to deny them their freedom of thought and expression. To establish a set of beliefs to which one must subscribe if he is to avoid being incarcerated is a violation of the constitution. This is precisely what sex-offender treatment does. It doesn’t matter if you call it “hospitalization.” imprisonment is imprisonment. In civil commitment people are imprisoned for what they feel, for what they believe, for what they dream[,] and for what they might do. The primary thing that a person must do in order to have any hope of release is to convince a group of treatment providers what the providers can never know for sure — that the prisoner now believes and feels what he is supposed to believe and feel, and is not just thinking it.
A word needs to be said about thinking it. People are not able to simply change their beliefs at will, to demand that they do so is therefore unfair, especially if the consequence for the failure is continuing imprisonment. Suppose that I believe that my car is red, but you want me to believe that it is blue. I cannot change my belief that it is red, even if you threaten to kill me unless I do. The best I can do is fake it — which of course, is what I would do if you held a gun at my head. That is precisely the situation with sex-offender treatment. Everybody who hasn’t given up on ever having a life outside of prison owns a blue car, whatever color it is.
Another factor that assures that the locus of control will remain outside the prisoner, and that he will have little or no control over his life, is the lack of objective and clear criteria that specify when the treatment is successfully completed and when release from the program can therefore reasonably be expected. A contract specifying not only what is expected of the prisoner, but what the prisoner can expect as a result of living up to the programs expectations is lacking. A so-called “contrast” saying what is expected from the prisoner, and not what he can expect from compliance is not a contract at all. It’s just a set of orders. A real contract would allow the locus of control to shift back into the prisoner, and with their body grant him some capacity for control over what happens to him. If I do A, B, C, and D, as the program demands, then I can reasonably expect the consequences E, F, G, and H, will follow. Such criteria are totally lacking in the program.
Autonomy is at the very core of what we mean by “person-hood.” To be a person is to be a free agent. If a person is a danger to others, it may be necessary to limit his or her behavioral autonomy.
But when, in addition, we deny a person a right to feel, think, and dream as he will, we attack his person-hood — and we violate his soul.
Men who have been outed as MAPs (minor attracted persons) experience the loss of significant relationships. Without any exceptions that I know of, incarcerated MAPs have been abandoned by many if not all of their friends, family, and significant others. The stigma associated with the social identity of being a “pedophile” is enormous and it tends to rub off on significant others who tend to distance themselves with any MAP with whom they may have been on friendly terms. Friends, after all, might be part of a sex ring and spouses who do not divorce their offending husbands are probably enablers. In self-defense the MAP must be abandoned. …
A MAP, like the scapegoats of old, is driven out of the community and, in many cases, is subjected to a condition of almost complete social isolation. He can be found under bridges or in programs that have specifically been set up to prevent the MAP from being in the community by extending his incarceration indefinitely. Whether this social isolation of the MAP protects future victims is a debatable point. Whether increasing his social isolation is harmful to the MAP is not debatable. Since being placed in a civil commitment program radically constricts a person’s social network, and is harmful to that person.
To whom might an incarcerated MAP reach out, and to who might be inclined to respond, after family and friends have mostly abandoned him? I would suggest that it is those who have one or both characteristics. First, s/he might simply be a person who does not have a mainstream perception of the MAP — one who does not see him as a monster. Second, s/he might be someone who has actually been through the experience him(rarely her)self, and who is therefore sympathetic to what the incarcerated MAP is going through. Once you have blocked contact with people with these characteristics you have forced the MAP into a deeper level of psycho/social/spiritual isolation. Let me illustrate how this attack on any meaningful social network operates with an example from my own experience. Not long ago I received the following communication as apart of a larger email from an inmate at the Butner Civil Treatment Center:
On a very somber and sobering note, which you will no doubt take very hard, but you need to be aware for future reference… they REALLY beat me up over your books in my possession and my personal communications with you and B.C. [a man who provides helpful; and very non-radical materials to sex offenders]. You might pass this message along to him just so he knows. I haven’t actually been in contact with him since I’ve been here, but that didn’t matter a bit. When i get transcripts of the whole debacle I’ll send them to you and you can take whatever precautions you feel you might need to make for anyone else in this position.
I told them I wasn’t giving up the one person who had befriended me and been a decent person to me in the last 11 years. Then I asked her to set me a euthanasia date. Of course, she refused, but it’s in the record now.
By “beat me up” he was referring, of course, to verbal attack. But it is important to understand the significance of this. The message that was given to him was clear: These people do not support our point of view. Therefore , if you want to ever have a chance of leaving this facility, you must discontinue mere contact with them. Notice that the issue here is clearly one of wrong-think and wrong-association. One must question whether it is permissible to use psychotherapy as an excuse for denying people their constitutionally protected rights of freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. Perhaps that needs to be debated in legal journals. Here we are simply making the point that the Civil Commitment Program at Butner does actively press incarcerated person into an even deeper social isolation than he previously experienced, and is harmful to the person’s well-being for that reason.
The issue of social isolation was one of the concerns that was frequently mentioned in the comment section of the questionnaire. Respondent #26 summarized one of the procedures used by staff on the unit to enforce and even increase social isolation:
Our mail is often restricted and heavily scrutinized. We are told who we can and cannot associate with. We are locked down in our housing unit most of the day. Our cells/rooms are often shut down by psychology staff and our property taken away from us without any good reason, and inmate relations between two inmates is heavily prohibited in this unit.
[Justfuture thinks he means “shaken down” by psychology staff”]
Respondent #32 provided a similar list of socially constricting policies that are enforced on the unit:
It is much harder [to live in the civil commitment unit]. I have contact with only those who live in this unit. We are not allowed to associate with anyone on the lower compound or in the general population. Our mail, both incoming and outgoing, is read and copied — except legal. Anything like magazines, books, or newspapers are screened for inappropriate content whether you are in the [treatment] program or not. We’re subjected to more shakedowns, where property is taken but we cant find out who took it or why. Pictures of family members are taken or mutilated. T.V. programs are monitored to see who is watching what. Programmed or not, our freedoms are restricted more than as an inmate.
The notion of death has become somewhat problematic in modern life. For example, is a person still “alive” if there is no brain activity, but all of the major organ systems — with the aid of technological devices — continue to function? Perhaps we could gain an enhanced understanding of what it means to “be alive” if we expanded our frame of reference a step further. From a phenomenological point of view we function on a variety of levels. These can be designated as the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual. I would suggest that the primary indication of psychological life is agency. We feel alive when we believe that the locus of control of our decisions and actions is, at least to a significant extent, within oneself. We feel yourself to be socially alive when we exist as a valued member of a social group. We feel spiritually alive when we feel that we are making a contribution to life that goes beyond our limited selves.
The treatment of the sex offender and “treatment” centers is a logical extension of the manner in which the offender is treated by the larger society. He is a member of the most hated, vilified, and shunned group in American society. He is ruthlessly attacked psychologically, socially, and spiritually. He is allowed to continue living biologically but only as a burned out shell with the road to a meaningful existence effectively blocked at multiple points. All of the prejudices and hatred that one finds in the larger society are brought, unmodified by professional insight, into the treatment facility. Effectively, the psychological, social, and spiritual life of the individual is terminated by treatment. One has to ask whether the broad attack on the personhood of sex offenders can be defended as “best practice” psychiatry, psychology, social work, or any other component of the mental health movement. If not, how is it justified? Is an individual who has been crushed psychologically, socially, and spiritually less likely to reoffend should he be released? And given the high level of improbability he will be released from civil commitment in any case, what exactly is the point of forcing any regime of therapy on him?