Wisdom from a man in a cage


When a prison resident becomes a danger to themselves or others, he/she can be placed in Administrative Segregation, also called AdSeg for short or, familiarly, “the hole.” A few weeks ago, I visited, for the first time, a Donovan resident recently sent to AdSeg. And it definitely created a new experience. I walked into a familiar-looking housing unit to step into the unfamiliar world of AdSeg, which started with being given a protective vest to wear. The cement walls and metal doors made every movement in the corridor a very noisy one. I waited in a clinician’s office until Bernard (name changed) was escorted in, locked into a metal cage they call a module and then de-handcuffed. Just a few days prior, he and I had been sitting side-by-side exchanging stories and insights. Now, for the first time, I was speaking to another human locked up in a metal cage.

I looked past the metal cage to connect to this human being who has been a creative, loving, dynamic and genuine member of one of my teams. And despite the cage and the incident, the human being was still strongly present. Bernard instantly acknowledged his regret for having lost his cool. “I’m upset at myself. I know better now. It’s shown me that I still have rage I have to release.” (Like so many men inside, that rage was the response modeled to him his entire childhood.) And then, unprompted and unsolicited, Bernard moved into articulating: “And I’m ready to do the work. Being in AdSeg is a blessing. There are here the resources to help me and I’m going to use them to address this rage. This is the last time I am in AdSeg.”

Too good to be true? Only time will tell. Here’s what I know. First, many men enter AdSeg angry, rageful and with zero interest in uncovering the “causative factors” to their actions, seeing in their rage their advocate. Second, many other men speak of AdSeg as the start of their transformation towards positive change. Therefore, clearly, AdSeg can be either a blessing or a curse. And the outcome depends entirely on the men’s decision to create the blessing or the curse.

Seeing a man in a cage is not a pleasant experience. Hearing him committed to using this “punishment” as an opportunity to grow and change transforms the circumstances into beauty. It turns out, this is the only thing we can ask of each other. Growth comes with its ups and downs (as stated in this post for last spring). Can we have the patience to hold people with love during the downs so that the downs can become the bottom that creates a new up?