The Half Message

By Joanne Greenberg

Care2 News Network
Care2 News Network

Many people who have been through strongly negative experiences will declare afterwards, that their sufferings gave meaning and richness to their lives. I’ve never heard these emotions expressed by people who have been in prison. Incarceration is an experience its designers made for the purpose of changing lives. Each country’s prison system mirrors its society’s values. We prize liberty – liberty is denied. We prize individuality – prisoners are given numbers for their names, dressed alike and regimented. What stops the prison experience from bringing meaning and thus growth to the experience is the huge inconsistency of the system, which was once planned to be strict but fair, and has ended up being capricious and undependable hour to hour. What is OK on Monday is forbidden on Tuesday. Where there is randomness, meaning shrinks and dies and so does learning. Lab animals are driven mad by random rewards and punishments; people fare hardly better.

Pg2a.org
Pg2a.org

I could imagine Deaf people doing well in a structured, consistent and fair situation. They follow a lifetime of watching the body language of the Hearing, which may be inconsistent with what the hearing person is saying. Unfortunately, the randomness of prison life has militated against guards or prisoners expressing outward emotion at all. Deaf people can read displeasure, fear or rage by closely watching the pupillary reaction of a subject, with this beyond conscious control. Staring however, which is what such monitoring takes, is liable to land the starer in the infirmary, or worse. In addition, body language can tell what – anger, fear, etc. but not why. The half-message  is often worse than none.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

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