English 216 6M
7 May 2017
Survival of the fittest
Survival of the fittest originated from Darwinian evolutionary theory to describe the origins of natural selection. These organisms that will continue to exist, are the best adapted to their environment. For prisoners, it is the same way when it comes to survival of the fittest. The prisoner must adapt to their new surroundings to survive, whether their surroundings be inside the prison or outside because they were able to escape.
Prisoners are put to the test when it comes to being put into confinement. They are forced to change themselves for their new way of living, whether it be temporary or for the rest of their life’s. The prisoners will go through physical and psychological changes through the body. They will learn a new sleeping, eating, and living life style. These prisoners are practically becoming brand new people.
In the book, In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison by Jack Henry Abbott, Abbott’s survival is really tested only starting at a very young age. At age nine he began serving time in juvenile detention quarters. At age twelve he was sent to the Utah State Industrial School for Boys. He was paroled once for about sixty days. Already at this young age of Jack Abbott, we are seeing his survival skills being tested. What kind of people would imprison a child for not being able to adjust to strangers? I couldn’t even imagine the psychological damage that Abbott went through as a child. When he turned eighteen, he was released as an adult. About five or six months later he committed the crime of “issuing a check against insufficient funds” and was sent to the Utah State Penitentiary. His sentence was for up to five years but about three years later, never being released, he killed one inmate and wounded another during a fight. He received an “indeterminate term”. Your good behavior seems to determine how long you stay in prison. At twenty-six Jack Abbott escaped prison for about six weeks. “I am at this moment thirty-seven years old. Since age twelve I have been free the sum total of nine and a half months. I have served many terms in solitary. In only three terms I have served over ten years there. I would estimate that I have served a good fourteen or fifteen years in solitary. The only serious crime I have ever committed in free society was bank robbery during the time I was a fugitive.” (Pg. 7) In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison by Jack Henry Abbot. He had to unfortunately adapt to the fact of being in prison for that long amount of time for only bank robbery.
The prison system is unjust, cruel, and oppressive towards Abbott and as well as many other prisoners. The prison system treats the prisoners like children. Jack Abbott had to go through the horrific experience of black out cells where no light shines and “the hole”. “The hole” is solitary confinement where he has been starved and forced to psychiatric drugs, all to the point of close death and insanity. This kind of cruelty and savagery acts are being brought upon the prisoners by the guards. In the book, Abbott calls them “pigs” because they are universally violent and oppressive. They can do any kind of harm to the prisoners and not receive any consequences for their actions. Guards accuse these prisoners for acts of violence that they did not commit just so they can torture them more than they already have. “The faces of the guards, angry, are at the gate of your cell. The gate slides open. The guards attack you. On top of all that, the guards come into your cell and beat you to the floor.” (Pg. 25) In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison by Jack Henry Abbott. Prison Guards become corrupted with the power that they have and its very sad that the prisoners must learn how to survive in the safest way, if even possible.
There are a numerous number of things that prisoners find comforting to help them survive in prison. Some choose the way of homosexual acts, in which “punks” provide service for their master in prison. Abbott himself, has found the comfort in the form of drugs, including heroin and marijuana, and philosophical reading. Others choose to take this chance to learn and to even better themselves. Also, Abbott took on an inspirational liking with Marxism and communism. He believes that communists are the only ones capable of honesty when describing Americas prison system.
Racism is uncontrolled in prison, guards stir up racial hostility and non-whites asserting the dominance that society has otherwise mugged from them. History has been an effort for whites to proclaim power over non-whites. Relating to this, Abbott associates classism with racism, which, I would agree with as well because being racist towards people is putting them in a separate group/social class from you. “The idea was that the white races would rule and administer the affairs of the non-white races; that the non-white races would become the source of labor and the white races would become the source of capital, i.e., civilization, wealth, culture. It is still in existence.” (Pg. 136) In the Belly of The Beast: Letters from Prison by Jack Henry Abbott. The non-whites are being put aside in a separate social class by the whites and the whites discriminated and was prejudice against the non-whites based on their belief of their own race being the higher superiority.
Surviving outside of prison from escaping can be a little more difficult especially when you are injured. In the book Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin, Anne is in reform school for those who have committed crimes. The book starts with Anne already having jumped out from the wall to escape from prison. She ends up hurting her ankle which puts a rut in her plan and puts her in severe pain. In prison you can fake your illness, or you could envy people who could see a doctor, but now she is experiencing real extreme pain. From now experiencing this pain she now realizes she would never again envy anyone who is in this type of pain. She struggles to get away from the prison because of how much pain she is enduring, and she is almost willing to give up. Anne finds herself exhausted from the pain and lays in the middle of the street. A truck stops, and a man moves her to a tree and tells her not to move or speak. At the beginning of the book she must use lots of new survival skills that she most likely didn’t use in the prison. She must adapt to the fact the she can barely move and stand on her own to feet. Anne is now relying on a stranger to help her successfully escape from prison.
Anne is taken to Julien’s home where his family will help her. Anne is taken to a children’s room to sleep in. Staying in a children’s room makes Anne very uncomfortable because she is sleeping in a child’s small bed and she is surrounded by playing toys which makes her think back to her horrible childhood. Julien’s mother is very sweet and helpful to Anne, but Anne doesn’t know how to talk to women normally because she has had relationships with them, but she can talk to men fine. Doing this is making Anne use her survival skills and helps her to adapt to the situation. Seeing Julien has made Anne suddenly amused by men. Throughout the book, Anne has dreams and theories of her and Julien being together at last. Having Anne doing this, I think it has made it easier for her to cope through the situation because she has something to look forward to win this is all over and she can stop pretending.
Criminals must act, they must pretend. Anne must adapt to survive and play the role of the loving sister to Nini to be able to become a patient at the hospital for her injured ankle. She doesn’t know if she is an orphan or not, but she must reconstruct who she will be. To survive, Anne makes up things at the front desk when checking in. She made up that she was playing with dogs and hurt her leg and people believed her. She’s realizing how much her blood and cells in her body means to her. Anne will not allow for amputation, if they want her body, they can take it all because she doesn’t want amputation. Anne is thinking the opposite of Newton in this way. If Newton was going through this experience he would say do whatever you want with my body because I still have my ideas for myself.
In the hospital things are too much, too clear, too blinding. It’s like a denial of colors and she’s losing familiarity. Anne is feared to be recognized because she thinks that she is visible, but she is just as visible as everyone else. She is unable to wash away her constant routine, which isn’t good when trying to survive outside of prison without being unnoticed. In prison all you have is your mind to have what you are going through. When you get out of prison, the mind becomes the slaves of the mechanisms of the body. She is free from prison itself, only to be imprisoned by her broken ankle.
Anne starts to have real problems sleeping. She is unable to sleep because she is unable to do anything. She’s not tired from not doing anything. After her operation she keeps ruining her foot and must get a knew cast. God the father, the doctor, puts something on her leg that is so heavy that she can’t mess it up. “My foot was going to do again what it had been made to do: place itself in front of the other foot, support for a second the entire weight of the body… and I had walked for such a long time without even thinking about it!” (Pg. 108) Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin. Anne becomes so hopeful that her feet will walk in front of each other again and dreams about not having to be prop up by Julien anymore. As she begins to walk again she starts to regain her tiredness and can adapt to the situation.
Julien brings Anne to Paris where she as always dreamed of being and she is back on her feet. To make money Anne turns to hitting the streets with prostitution. Anne was able to provide herself with money by adapting to her new living arrangements and she knew what she needed to do to survive. As Julien’s absences grow longer and longer, its obvious that he is now the rescuing figure Anne needs to keep herself from rolling into the abyss. This is when Anne discovers the pain of love. “A pain in my stomach or the pain in my leg I can put aside and move away from; but here there is no possible drug or dodge, the pain twists and shivers my whole body, it is myself. This time, in the impatient and assured me, that abstract and blue face of love, that pride, all that dies in the sand of the beach; I understand the terrible consistency of loving, and I am mad with pain.” (Pg. 185) Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin. This quote shows just how much Anne adapted throughout the book and she realizes what the pain was really showing her this whole time during her experience.
Jack Henry Abbott and Anne had to overcome some extreme situations to survive for their safety. Abbott, although his situation was horrible, he adapted very well. He was able to overcome his childhood and overlook the whites. He found inspiration in Karl Marx, which really helped him when he realized what the whites were doing to the non-whites. Anne experienced horrible pain when dealing with her ankle, but she was able to overcome that and accept help from strangers. I think that both, Abbott and Anne have learned how to survive and adapt from their certain situations.
I definitely feel different about the world, prison wise. I used to want prisoners to feel pain because I thought that they deserved it because they were in there for a reason. I always thought, why commit the crime if you know that if you get caught you will receive punishment. Now I feel that prisoners shouldn’t be beaten or put into pain because people don’t learn discipline that way. I think that the prisoners should be treated by psychologist to help them mentally and even physically. Also, I believe that the guards and other prison staff should all be trained on how to correctly treat the prisoners. Even though the prisoners have committed a crime, they are still a living human being and shouldn’t be belittled. I think that if the prison staff didn’t treat the prisoners the way they do, the prisoners wouldn’t act the way they do towards others while in prison. For example, prisoners cause fights with each other and maybe if the guards didn’t beat the prisoners, the prisoners wouldn’t beat other inmates. Prison writers should be more well-known. No one in my family knew that there was such a thing as prison literature and that is bizarre because it was interesting and very alarming. Prison literature has changed my way of thinking about life as a whole because it has brought out such a broad spectrum that I didn’t even knew existed.