THEY CHOSE HONOR: The Problem of Conscience in Custody by

THEY CHOSE HONOR: The Problem of Conscience in Custody

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Merklin spent two years of his life, 1967 to 1969, discharging his military obligations by accepting the job of prison psychiatrist in the Federal Correction Institute at Lompoc, California, and this book is the brooding, deeply disturbing report of what he witnessed and endured. Working with a group of draft resisters, Merklin was especially interested in how these very atypical and noncriminal prisoners who thought of themselves not as convicts but as deeply moral men making a political statement would fare in such a dehumanizing environment. He learned a good many things about survival strategies, most of them grim. As the months rolled by he witnessed time and again ""identity erosion,"" psychic numbing, victimization of inmates by guards and, worse, of inmates by other inmates. In this, ""the opposite of a therapeutic environment,"" what Merklin calls ""petrifaction"" -- the deliberate repression and denial of all feeling (""if I notice nothing, then nothing is happening"" and ""if nothing is happening, then nothing is happening to me"") -- afflicted the resisters no less than the other inmates. Ultimately self-mutilation or violence against others became an affirmation of the ability ""to feel something."" A highly observant man, Merklin occasionally lapses into excessively clinical parlance while simultaneously having difficulty keeping the pronoun ""I"" within bounds. Nevertheless you can add this to the lengthening list of first-person documents testifying to the atrocities against body and mind perpetrated in the name of ""rehabilitation.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1974
Publisher: Harper & Row