What Are the Similarities Between the Prisoners?

The below is OCEAN Newsletter Volume 1, Issue 8, Article 6 (Jan. 8, 2020) published by Russell J. Hatton & Daniel A. Wilson from the gulag in Moose Lake Minnesota.

All of the information within this section, unless otherwise noted, comes from: Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl

Born in Vienna in 1905, Psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl survived to tell of the horrors of his experience in Nazi death camps. In Dr. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, he describes the mental and emotional reactions from the prisoners in Auschwitz.
Keep in mind that Hitler locked up and eventually killed Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, alleged mental defectives, and others, but his main focus was the Jews. These were normal everyday people. We point this out to emphasize that the similarities between the way Hitler’s detainees and MSOP’s detainees react to their confinement is not a matter of mental illness, but of human nature. Please keep this in mind as we compare the two classes of detainees.
Frankl points out his personal reflections that would be considered morbid or “unhealthy” if an MSOP detainee expressed them. Therefore, throughout this essay, we will repeatedly remind the reader that these are Frankl’s thoughts.
The book congregates around a central theme: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any how.”
These words from Nietzsche encompasses my [DW] whole life purpose now that I’m in MSOP. For me, my daughter and my God, are my “Why.” Frankl talks about each individuals response to suffering. OCEAN’s response is to fight.
Before an MSOP detainee gets officially committed, many of them are placed on a “hold,” awaiting the court’s decision. During this time, and even after they are committed, many experience what Frankl calls “delusion of reprieve.” For instance, I thought that someone would save me right before the gavel came down.
Even after the initial commitment, it took a while to “accept” that I had actually been civilly committed and that I will likely die here. I suppose it still has not fully set in.
“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” (p. 20) Most MSOP detainees have collapsed into “primitive cognition.” Comfort in food, prescription drugs, alcohol, X-Box, Dungeons and Dragons etc. This phenomena is common among prisoners, but especially those who believe they will die in their facility. In a frantic attempt to escape the reality of his situation, the prisoner finds any way possible to drown out the world with physical pleasure. The result: obesity, diabetes, negative neuroplasticity, (the prisoner gets dumber) debt, addiction … the list goes on. When freedom is taken, a type of survival mode is triggered and the prisoner tends to focus on whatever feels good in the moment. This kind of regression will be catastrophic if the prisoner actually does get out.
Like Frankl predicted, many of us have become obsessed with religion and politics. In fact, this may be what birthed OCEAN. Although this pattern is common among prisoners, it is not negative. Politics and religion attract the prisoner who has hope; politics being our instrument to access man’s power, and religion being our instrument to access God’s. Frankl defends the religious prisoner by stating, “The religious interests of the prisoners, as far and as soon as it developed, was the most sincere imaginable.” (p. 34)
Becoming absorbed with religion and politics can naturally leads to an interest with law. This is where the Nazi prisoners and MSOP prisoners differ. Nazi prisoners had no rights to use the legal process to defend themselves against tyranny. But OCEAN does.
To lesson its effect, and defend herself, M$OP has made it a “thinking distortion” to utilize the legal system or to rely on God. We already mentioned that doing anything to challenge the MSOP system is “system stancing.”
But even more egregious is the thinking distortion of “religiosity.” “If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.” (p. 67) “Affectus, qui passio est, desinit esse passio, simulatque eius claram et distinctam formamus ideam. ” Meaning: emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it. (p. 74) This reminds me of the mantra, “it is the unknown we fear most.” Perhaps understanding death helps alleviate the fear of it. Hence another reason for the prisoner to become religious.
OCEAN members are probably in the category of the “incorruptible optimist” that Frankl mentions. However, not the irrational type. In fact, OCEAN members are hopeful of our situation because MSOP is so corrupt. We hope that the worse MSOP gets, the more realistic it is that we could actually go home one day. MSOP will destroy itself. Nothing wicked lasts forever.
Frankl talks about all of the horrors of the concentration camp-but the worst horror is apathy. The conditioning caused by repeated exposure to trauma resulting in an indifference to human suffering and death.
He described it also as “emotional death.” OCEAN knows all too much about this as our peers are riddled with apathy. In the last year alone, 13 of our peers have died. In case you missed it, that’s more than 1 a month. We realize that this is not AS MANY as Auschwitz, however trauma cannot be measured by counting deaths. It is traumatic because so many come here to enthusiastically get the help they think they need. Then they wake up one day, and 20 years have gone by and all their group members are dead and they know their turn is next. To make it worse, MSOP knows they can blame the detainee and everyone will buy it because of the stigma. It is an impossible trap.
OCEAN believes that God has provided a way for the brain to change. In fact, this is the basis of God’s plan.
Apathy happens when the prisoner does nothing to challenge it. However, through empathy meditation, the prisoner can develop empathy. Frankl understands this, “The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.” (p. 65)
Frankl spoke of prisoners, who although were not physically sick, would just give up in the most absolute way. Some prisoners would literally fail to get out of their cots and instead just lay there. Eventually they would be forced into the gas chambers. At least 70 percent of MSOP has given up and are either building a coffin around themselves by eating their way to freedom, or just using minimal effort to do anything at all. So many are simply waiting to die.
Frankl touches on a topic that manifests itself a bit differently here. In Auschwitz, prisoners were herded from place to place like cattle. Some SS officers were more cruel than others. When prisoners moved in groups, as they passed these particular officers, those on the edges of the group would try to get into the middle of the crowd to protect themselves from random beatings. Similarly, MSOP detainees learn to avoid certain clinicians who are ready to find non-existent “thinking distortions” or find a reason to write false statements in the detainees records if she feels snubbed.
We understand how petty this sounds, but the reader must understand something: These clinicians are what stand in our way of freedom. The only hope, besides the legal system, or a miracle from God, is to pacify the right people. MSOP detainees are constantly working to gain the adoration of staff in hopes that it will lessen the chances of dying here. OCEAN members have decided to be the exception and are making a sacrifice by speaking out. We believe that pacifying a clinician is a waste of time and that telling them the truth is the best chance we have.
Like those in Auschwitz, MSOP detainees are at times desperate to get alone with their thoughts. We are constantly surrounded by people. Again, MSOP has their way of shaming the detainee. A detainee who sticks to himself is “isolating” or “avoiding.”
Frankl talks about how the phenomena of time effects the captor. Frankl makes a distinction between the prisoner who knows his outdate, and one that does not. I notice that time seems to fly in here. Frankl mentions that a week seemed to pass quickly, but a day lasted longer than a week. MSOP detainees relate. Also, Frankl says a prisoner once told him that his life seemed to him absolutely without future. He regarded his life as already over. Detainees say this often at MSOP. I also once heard a man at MSOP say that his family member on the phone said that, from the perspective of the family, it is as if the detainee had died.
Frankl talks about the process of “depersonalization” and that all of this seems unreal at times. MSOP detainees can relate, especially when we reach time markers like “New Years” or the next presidential election.
We don’t realize how the days meld together until these events that reminds us that time is still moving without us. Nothing paused when we got locked up, although it sure feels like it has at times.
Frankl describes a day in the camp when it was announced that certain actions would from then on be punishable by death. This included cutting small strips from old blankets (in order to improvise ankle supports) and other petty crimes, like minor theft. The announcement was influenced by an event days prior when a starved prisoner had taken potatoes. The authorities did not know who did it and threatened to not feed the prisoners if they did not give the man up. In response, 2 ,500 men decided to fast . . . . Was this response “criminal thinking?” or “system stancing” as MSOP would claim? Sure it is . . . However, it’ s not wrong. The prisoners in Auschwitz did the right thing to not give up their peer because they knew he would be killed. Likewise, to “hold your peer accountable” as they call it at MSOP, by telling on him for anything, only assists in sealing his fate to die here from old age.
Frankl also talks about his techniques for talking his peers out of committing suicide. Sadly, my reaction was instantly, “Oh, I need to know this.” (Think about this. An MSOP “client” is seeking advice from an Auschwitz prisoner on how to keep his peers from killing themselves.) “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task.” (p. 77, 78) and “You may have nothing to expect from life, life has something to expect from them.” (p. 79) Frankl also says, “a man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.” (p. 8 0) and “What man needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.” (p. 105) and “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questions by life; to life he can only respond by being responsible … Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now” (p. 109). These are the lines OCEAN must remember so that we can save our peers.
Frankl explains how he would continually daydream about his wife and outside life. Perhaps this was his secret to getting released. Was it his ability to conjure up freedom in his mind? If there is any truth to the concept of believing things into existence, this may be evidence. In a more practical sense, Frankl’s habit of daydreaming about freedom, as opposed to blocking it out, motivated him to look as healthy as he could, for as long as he could, to avoid being “gassed.” Perhaps MSOP detainees could learn something from this. It may be difficult to think about freedom, but it may motivate the subconscious mind of the detainee to find new creative ways of getting home.
“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now”
-Viktor Frankl

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