posted by Rob on .
Communist Prison Camp
In such prisons the total regimen, consisting of physical privation, prolonged interrogation total isolation from former relationships and sources of information, detailed regimentation of all daily activities, and deliberate humiliation and degradation, was geared to producing a confession of alleged crimes, the assumption of a penitent role, and the adoption of a Communist frame of reference. The prisoner was not informed what his crimes were, nor was he permitted to evade the issue by making up a false confession. Instead, what the prisoner learned he must do was reevaluate his past from the point of view of the Communists and recognize that most his former attitudes and behaviour were actually criminal from this point of view. For example, a priest who had dispensed food to needy peasants in his mission church had to “recognize” that he was actually a tool of imperialism and was using his missionary activities as cover for exploitation of the peasants. Even worse, he had used food as blackmail to accomplish his aims.
The key technique used by the Communists to produce social alienation to a degree sufficient to allow
Such redefinition and reevaluation to occur was to put the prisoner into a cell with four or more other prisoners who were somewhat more advanced in their “thought reform” than he. Such a cell usually had one leader who was responsible to the prison authorities, and the progress of the whole cell was made contingent upon the progress of the least “reformed” member. This condition meant in practice that four or more cell members devoted all their energies to getting their least “reformed” member to recognize “the truth” about himself and to confess. To accomplish this they typically swore at, harangued, beat, denounced, humiliated, reviled, and brutalized their victim 24 hours a day, sometimes for weeks or months on end. If the authorities felt that the prisoner was basically uncooperative, they manacled his hands behind his back and chained his ankles, which made him completely dependent on his cellmates for the fulfillment of his basic needs. It was this reduction to an animal-like existence in front of other humans which constituted the ultimate humiliation and led most reliably to the destruction of the prisoner’s image of himself. Even in his own eyes he became something that was not worthy of the regard of his fellow man.
If, to avoid complete physical and personal destruction, the prisoner began to confess in the manner desired of him, he was usually forced to prove his sincerity by making irrevocable behavioural commitments, such as denouncing and implicating his friends and relatives in his own newly recognized crimes. Once he had done this he became further alienated from his former self, even in his own eyes, and could seek security only in a new identity and new social relationships. Aiding this process of confessing was the fact that the crimes gave the prisoner something concrete to which to attach the free-floating guilt that the accusing environment and his own humiliation usually stimulated.
A good example was the plight of the sick and wounded prisoners of war who, because of their physical
Confinement, were unable to escape from continual conflict with their interrogator or instructor, and who therefore often ended up forming a close relationship with him. Chinese Communist instructors often encourage prisoners to take long walks or have informal talks with them and offered as incentives cigarettes, tea, and other rewards. If the prisoner was willing to cooperate and become a “progressive” he could join with other “progressives” in an active group life.
Within the political prison, the group cell not only provided the forces toward alienation but also offered the road to a “new self”. Not only were there available among the fellow prisoners individuals with whom the prisoner could identify because of their shares plight, but once he showed any tendency to seek a new identity by truly trying to reevaluate his past, he received again a whole range of rewards, of which perhaps the most important was the interpersonal information that he was again a person worthy of respect and regard.
1. What specific techniques were used to bring about the destruction of self-awareness among the prisoners?
2. What opposite processes could be used to create the reverse, that is, a strengthening of the self-concept?
3. Assume that you are charged with the orientation of a cohort of new managers in your organization. How would you help them understand their own strengths and inclinations and how they could best contribute to the firm?
4. What mechanisms do people use, and what mechanisms could the prisoners of war have used, to resist a change in their self-concepts?
5. What could be done to reform or rebuild the self-awareness of these prisoners?
What can be done to help individuals without self-awareness to improve that skill?
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