Our society prides itself on the fact that the concentration camp remains a thing apart, a distinctive feature of totalitarian society. We have prisons, of course, but the prisoner is usually protected from starvation, unrestrained brutality, and pitiless economic exploitation. But while the prison is not deliberately organized to destroy the prisoner’s sense of humanity, simply by being a place in which men are denied their liberty it comes uncomfortably dose to achieving the same ends as the concentration camp.
Professor Gresham Sykes of Princeton University makes clear in a recent study of an American prison that focusing on the recent gains in raising the material conditions of prisoners is to miss the critical experience of imprisonment. For even if the prisoner is more or less adequately fed and housed he still exists in a state of deprivation. Some of the deprivations are obvious: The largest cells in the New Jersey State Prison 15 feet long, 7’/z feet wide, and 10 feet high. A prison is a one sex society, but the crucial consequence is not so much the sheer biological frustration or the guilt that results from succumbing to the numerous perversions that are a common feature of prison life. A heterosexual relationship is usually necessary for maintaining one’s self image; in prison, writes Sykes, “the inmate’s self image is in danger of becoming .. . fractured, a monochrome without the hues of reality.” It is in terms of the damage to the individual’s identity that the deprivations are significant....
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