Originally Posted by Jordan Riak
Who's not in prison?
The person whose closest caretakers used methods of infant care and child rearing that were gentle, patient and loving is not in prison. The person who sensed from earliest infancy that adults are the source of safety, security and comfort is not in prison. The person who always felt wanted is not in prison. The person who was respected, encouraged to explore and inquire is not in prison. The person who grew up seeing family members and others treat each other with respect and honor each other's privacy and dignity is not in prison. The person who had ample exposure in childhood to people who used reasoning, not violence, to solve problems is not in prison. The person whose physical and emotional needs during infancy and childhood were met is not in prison. To summarize: The child who is reared in an attentive, supportive, nonviolent family will never spend time behind bars.
To the skeptical reader, I offer the following challenge. Visit any prison and try to identify just one incarcerated felon who was brought up in a household where harmonious interaction was the norm. You will not succeed.
Rebecca Aponte: You worked with highly violent individuals for many years. Most people are not particularly inclined to work with those kinds of populations. What drew you to work with this population? James Gilligan: That's a good question. I think the ultimate answer, as with most major life decisions that people make, goes back to my earliest childhood. I grew up in a family with a father who was quite violent toward my two brothers. He was only violent toward me when there was a medical excuse for it—he was a surgeon. But my brothers he would really whack around. He would knock them across the room to the point where I was really scared he would accidentally kill one of them.
Now, it's true, the level of violence didn't reach the extremes that I later became familiar with when I worked with prison inmates who were often the children of fathers or mothers who actually had killed a family member. My father didn't go that far. He was never arrested, and nobody ever made a complaint of child abuse or anything. That was in the days before people even had a concept of child abuse. The whole concept of the battered child syndrome wasn't articulated and expressed until around 1963 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Before that, people didn't even talk about child abuse.
So this was, you might say, "invisible," even though it was happening in a small town in Nebraska where everybody knew everybody else. People could see the bruises on my brothers, but nobody would say a word.
So without consciously intending this at all, I became interested in becoming a peacemaker and trying to figure out how to prevent violence—how to get it stopped, or how to prevent it from happening in the first place. I wouldn't say that I consciously articulated that to myself at the time, and not until years and years later.
But when I became a psychiatrist, I was not at all interested in working with violent patients. I wanted to work with people more or less like myself. When I became a psychiatrist, I was not at all interested in working with violent patients. I wanted to work with people more or less like myself.
I wanted to become a psychoanalyst and work with the ordinary neuroses that everybody has to one degree or another.
When I was in my residency training at the Harvard Medical School, the teaching hospital was paying me such a small salary that I couldn't afford the expenses I had, because I already had a wife and three children. I needed to supplement my salary, which I learned I could do by spending one day a week in a state prison doing something I had never heard of before and had no interest in, called prison psychiatry.
So I went into this project with no high hopes. I thought it would be an exercise in futility. I thought it would be boring. And I had been taught up to that point that the kinds of people who wind up in prison are totally untreatable—they have no motivation to examine themselves, no motivation for introspection. They wouldn't tell you the truth. They would try to manipulate you by lying to you so that you could help them get an early release date, and on and on.
I was taught all of this and believed it. Then I went into the prisons and discovered that almost everything I had been taught was wrong. And I discovered that it was the most moving experience I had ever had in psychiatry, because I was face to face with the deepest human tragedies on a daily basis. And I mean not just the tragedies these criminals had inflicted on their victims, but also the tragedies they themselves had been victims of in the course of their lives.
What I found was that the most violent among them, and many of those who weren't even at the highest level of violence, had been subjected to a level of child abuse that was beyond the scale of anything I had even thought of applying that term to. As I said earlier, the most violent people were really the survivors of lethal violence, either of their own attempted murders at the hands of one of their parents, or the actual murders of close family members who were often killed by other family members right in front of their eyes.