Art at Guantanamo


In prison, those things withheld from and denied to the prisoner
become precisely what he wants most of all.

~Eldridge Cleaver~

 This morning at the gym, I was watching the news as I worked out on the treadmill. Then a woman changed the channel to Fox. I watched as one of the panelists carried on about how awful it was that prisoners at Guantanamo were allowed to produce art. The implication was that they should be punished and allowed no amenities. The prisoners at Guantanamo are detainees and it does not appear that any of them have been convicted of a crime by a court. It also appears that these detainees are not allowed private access to lawyers, a right central to the American sense of justice.

Several years ago I volunteered through Americorps at Genesee Orleans Council on the Arts. One of the projects I considered was a display of art by inmates at local prisons. The bureaucracy involved became too much for me to contend with and I did not complete the project. Yet I did spend considerable time exploring prison art and had a chance to consider its usefulness.

I learned that art for prisoners is no different than it is for anyone else. It is a chance to express ideas in ways which words cannot always do. Art expresses hopes, despair, longing, rage and frustration among other feelings. Of course there are more direct ways of expressing feelings.

Direct ways of expressing rage and anger are among the major causes of people being in prison in the first place. In the case of Guantanamo detainees are there due to suspicion of such behavior. Further dehumanizing prisoners before and after conviction through years of punishment and allowing little if any chance to act as a human being makes it harder for prisoners to readjust to society when they finally get the chance. It also reinforces any antisocial tendencies they might have.

What if we encouraged prisoners to find more constructive ways to express their feelings rather than acting them out? What if that helped them confront their own feelings? What if the rest of us relearned the place of art in humanizing our society? Something to consider.


What you can do about violence


Where there is no human connection, there is no compassion.
Without compassion, then community, commitment, loving-kindness,
human understanding and peace all shrivel.

~Susan Vreeland~

 In the next few posts, I invite you to consider with me the various levels on which violence can be addressed. Let’s start with the personal level. No one person can create world peace alone, but what takes place within you can certainly have an impact.

Baba Ram Dass lists sources of internal violence including feeling isolated from others, looking at life from a “me first” perspective, meeting only your own needs and disregarding those of others, having no context for your life or way to judge your thoughts, feelings and actions, having an exaggerated sense of self importance, not appreciating the importance of anyone else’s life and using others only to meet your own needs.  All of these traits increase the likelihood of your violence toward others and their violence toward you.

Sebastian Yunger suggests basic human needs which, when met, reduce the inclination toward violence toward yourself or toward others. They include:

  • Feeling competent means you feel able to accomplish things in your life.
  • Feeling authentic or autonomous means seeing yourself as being taken seriously and as a valuable person.
  • Feeling connected to others means being able to interact with others on a level where your lives are both valuable.

So how do you eliminate sources of internal violence and realize these basic human needs in your life? You could start by rating yourself on the destructive and constructive traits. Then you well have a better sense of where you need to refine your view of yourself.

You might also look at where your traits came from. What did your parents teach you about your self ­worth? What did they teach you about the value of other people compared to you? What have you learned about yourself and others from your own experience?

Have your upbringing and personal experience left you feeling at peace with yourself and with others. If so, count yourself fortunate. If not, how did your negative traits arise? Do you blame someone for your misfortune? Can you balance your misfortune with positive aspects of your life? How can you start to think in a different way about yourself and other you encounter along your life path? What can you change about you thinking, feelings and actions to help you feel more at peace with yourself and with others?

Action steps  

  • If you find yourself in the grip of the negative traits mentioned above, what can you change about your life to help you develop new traits?
  • Who can help you change the direction of your inner life?
  • If your basic needs are being met, concentrate on helping others meet their needs.
  • If not, what would it take to help you feel better about yourself?
  • How can you accomplish these goals without hurting others in the process?

These and related ideas are treated more fully in my book, From Violence to Peace, available from Amazon. For a free sample, follow the link and choose Look Inside.

Addressing Violence in America

Social justice cannot be attained by violence.
Violence kills what it intends to create.

~Pope John Paul II~

We often hear and speak of fighting a war on violence. Efforts in this direction often carry their own hostility. What can we do besides fighting another war? Such efforts only increase aggression in our society. If we don’t use forceful means, what can we do?

For starters we can learn to understand where violence comes from and what its intent is. In my last post I suggested ways to understand the mind of the murderer. We know that murderers and perpetrators of other violence are angry, frustrated and desperate. Yet we can’t go from one person to the next individually addressing what ails them. We also do not know which people are likely to act in a violent way. Psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists have been trying for years to find satisfactory ways to predict violence in individuals. So far no good ways have emerged.

Does that mean we have to give up? No. It just means we need to address violence on several levels. These include personal, interpersonal, family, community and governmental approaches.

Your own mind and emotions as well as your reactions to what happens to you in life incline you toward being either a peaceful or violent person. Understanding and possibly changing yourself is a good place to start.

What happens between any two people affects how each of them, think, feel and act toward each other as well as toward others? Each interaction carries forward to the next encounter.

Families set the tone for young children. Children learn how to think, feel and act from their parents and older siblings. Although children encounter many other influences, their families set the tone for future learning.

How we interact with each others in our communities influences how we think, feel and act toward each other for better or worse. We can work together to make our communities peaceful or violent.

Our government consists of those we elect to lead us toward our goals. Violent, divisive or self absorbed leaders tear apart our society. Peaceful, considerate and supportive leaders help us build a healthy society.

I plan to write further posts addressing each of these approaches in more detail. Stay tuned.

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Inside a Killer’s Mind

A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something almost monstrous,
but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man. It is only if the murderer
is a good man that he can be regarded as monstrous.

~Graham Greene~

 We have had more than our share of unexplained shootings lately as well as a growing number of vehicle killings. I do not refer here to gang shootings, organized crime or war killings across the world. I mean what we call mass murders and random shootings now appearing around the world with troubling frequency.

Most of the time we don’t know what provoked the killer to take another’s life or many lives. We blame guns, mental illness, or political beliefs. Several years ago in the midst of the uproar about clergy sexually abusing children, no one seemed to care why they did it. Everyone looked for how to prevent it or punish it. We looked everywhere except inside the mind of the abuser. The same is now true of considering the killers among us.

We are too busy hating the killer to take time to understand him and it is usually him rather than her. Our anger rises to the surface. Our first thoughts are of vengeance and we are relieved if the murderer dies in the process or aftermath of the killing. But what about the murderer’s mind?

Can you imagine killing someone? I don’t think most of us reach this level of hatred without considerable provocation. Yet I do think that anger and hatred very often lie in the background. I don’t mean just a single incident resulting in anger. I dare say that people driven to murder usually experience a long history of very troublesome emotions.

A childhood marked by abuse, neglect, and even hatred shape and direct young or growing minds toward at least the possibility of violence. Being treated as if their lives have no value can leave some resentful toward society where they seem to find no acceptance. Being trained as a war machine can leave veterans estranged from traditional human values. Feeling left out of the privileges others seem to enjoy can build up resentment for society as a whole. Racial prejudice can leave people hating their oppressors. Even white men can feel left out of the benefits they see offered to those of other races.

Fortunately not all of these people end up as murderers. Yet many of them end up living angry lives and sometimes feel pushed to the extreme of violence and even murder. They are often drawn to anger-­driven groups and movements. To my mind, those who reach this extreme state feel isolated, unvalued, persecuted, treated unfairly, and generally left out of society which they come to see as their enemy. Maybe what they want is to be taken seriously or to be recognized as being of some significance.

What can we do about it as a society? That’s another topic which I will leave for the next post.

Action Steps

  • Think of the time in your life when you were your angriest.
  • What got you to that point?
  • How did you want to react?
  • How did you actually handle it?
  • What would have helped you handle it better?
  • How well do you handle your anger now?

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Veteran recounts difficulties re-acclimating to civilian life

WELLESLEY – It was not uncommon for a wounded American solider to die in Michael Anthony’s arms during the Bridgewater native’s yearlong deployment in Iraq.

In fact, it happened frequently.

The hospital where Anthony worked as an operating room technician in Mosul was under frequent attack and had countless mass casualty situations, including one on his first day overseas.

“That was pretty much a daily occurrence,” said Anthony, who served in the Army Reserves for six years.

Excerpt from Jeff Malichowski’s article in MetroWest Daily News. Read more.

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