In the Belly of the Beast
Jack Henry Abbott
The "Pains of Imprisonment" and "The Inmate Social System"
"In the Belly of the Beast" is a generous collection of autobiographical, political, and philosophical letters to an author from a man who takes life head on, but with a different approach. Norman Mailer, an author, was in the middle of writing a novel entitled "The Executioner Song", which is the story about a murderer named Gary Gilmore. While this novel was in the works, Mailer received a letter from Jack Henry Abbott, a convict having been in jail most of his life. Abbott's letter was solely criticism that accused Mailer of not knowing what real life in prison is like, but that Abbott would do everything in his power to clarify the aspects of what violence and everyday life is like in prison.
A wide array of subject matter was covered far past the basic account of "a day in the life of an prisoner". The rationale of the inmate hierarchy is displayed from the inside with a totality that would take years of research and interviews. It is clear that there is no doubt concerning the feelings Abbott has for his jailers, and the establishment they represent. He clearly expresses throughout his writings that the corrections system exists to oppress the unfortunate and underprivileged.
Abbott began to talk about the fact that he was in and out of foster homes almost from the time of his birth. By the age of nine, he was already in juvenile detention centers. The downhill trend continued for Abbott as he was sent to the Utah State Industrial School for Boys at the young age of twelve. He was only released from this institution when he reached the age of eighteen. The correspondence are depictions of extraordinary events that have allegedly happened over a span of about fifteen years. Therefore, even before he became an adult, he was subjected to violence, deviant behavior, and prison-like environments.
There are many other aspects of deprivation or frustration about the human psyche left to its own devices are deep wells of analytical possibilities. In an attempted to understand the psychological effects of prison life on the inmates, a study was conducted by Sykes, at the New Jersey State Prison. Sykes (1958: 64) stated when you place many individuals together that have similar problems in a confined and restrictive environment, it is going to yield a unique social order.
He also pointed out that the deprivations or frustrations of prison life today might be viewed as punishments which the free community deliberately inflicts on the offender for violating the law (Sykes 1958: 65). He coined the term “pains of imprisonment” to show the deprivations an inmate goes through while incarcerated. The following are the five pains of imprisonment and an explanation of each deprivation.
The first is the deprivation of liberty. This deprivation is the most obvious one. "The prisoner’s loss of liberty is a double one-first, by confinement to the institution, and second, by confinement within the institution (Sykes 1958: 65)." The stigma that you are now labeled as a criminal is hard to get past, it becomes your master status, and you are taken away from society. "In the Belly of the Beast" Abbott (1981), discusses that "a man is taken away from his experience of society, taken away from the experience of a living planet of living things, when he is sent to prison. A man is taken away from other prisoners, from his experiences of other people, when he is locked away in solitary confinement (52)". He was referring to being stripped of their free-will, and their minds deprived of social interaction. The second is the deprivation of goods and services. "It is the basic needs of the prisoner are met; they don’t go hungry, wet, or cold, but the standard of living misses the point when trying to explain the deprivation of goods and services (Sykes: 1958: 68)". They attack the perception of the personality...
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