Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Memorial Prize, Honorable Mention, SANA, Society for the Anthropology of North America
A Man Who Needs No Introduction
Sam is starting to smile. It's not his "happy" smile. I have seen that smile many times over the past month since he arrived, and particularly as he worked both of the day rooms, his buoyant personality and boundless energy barely tolerated by most (something of which he seemed oblivious). No, this is his defensive smile, his "Now I'm getting pissed" smile. Lips tight together, his smile fighting off a grimace, and his face flushed. His Autobiography, of which he seemed so confident a day earlier when I interviewed him, has not gone as planned. Therapists and inmates alike, surrounding Sam in a big three-quarter crescent like vultures circling wounded prey, have questioned, challenged, and even openly scoffed as he told his life story. Sam has become rattled, confused. It has seemed at times he was about to lose control, an all-too-frequent occurrence according to his criminal record and a problem that partially explains his sexual crimes. Losing control in the group would also send a very wrong signal to the therapists who are documenting the session carefully. But how can he sit here, listening to such critical commentary on his life, and not respond? Why is he not allowed to respond? Whose story is it anyway?
Sam is in a Canadian therapeutic prison, an institution that is both prison and psychiatric hospital. He is participating in a "high-intensity" treatment program for sexual offenders designed according to the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a standard psychotherapeutic technique that seeks to change how individuals think about or understand their life (more on this later). An Aboriginal man in his midtwenties, he is short, heavily muscled, with shoulder-length hair and a wispy moustache. Like most men in this program, he has a long record of juvenile and adult criminal offenses, in his case including assaults on his spouse and a previous conviction for sexual assault. He is now serving a three-year federal sentence-his first-for sexual assault, and he came to the treatment program a few weeks ago to join a new cohort of sixteen men. Like the others, he has "volunteered" for treatment, although he was uncertain what the experience would be like when he did so. He is already known on the sex offenders unit as a sarcastic "tough guy," a little hot-headed and belligerent if crossed, but otherwise always joking around. He has been asked to provide his "Autobiography,"and now the other inmates and two psychiatric nurse therapists listen intently to it.
His life so far, he tells us, has involved bouncing back and forth between his home reserve and the city; he has committed crimes in both places and, by his own admission, is not well liked on the small reserve as a result. He is asked about this. Can he go back? You should go home and make amends, he is instructed. Does your family still want you? He responds patiently. "I think so." He finds the anonymity of the city much more appealing, however, even though he there joins the largely unemployed coterie of Aboriginal people eking out a living in a society that seems to care little for their plight. Why stay if you can't find a job? he is asked. You will surely get into trouble without work. Who are your friends in the city? Do they use? "Yes," he replies, "but I don't." "Not true," interjects a nurse, pointing to some papers in her lap. "Well," he clarifies, "I don't do drugs anymore." "That's because you're in jail," deadpans an inmate in response. Many laugh at the irony of this, since access to drugs in penitentiaries is often greater than on the street. Sam laughs a little too, but it is an uncomfortable laugh.
He arrived at this Autobiography session this morning with handwritten notes to use as a guide. The previous day I had asked him about his plan for his "Auto." He expressed confidence, informing me that he had worked though several drafts already and had received feedback from his primary nurse therapist, who had requested revisions and the addition of several other episodes of his life. The assistance of the therapist was important to the framing of his story. "I had a little bit of troubles and got help, like wording it and stuff. And then after they looked it over, they tell you to make some changes, and then you make some changes." It seemed to Sam that his life story had been preapproved, so he was not nervous. Despite having attended a few other "Autos" since arriving at the treatment program, and having seen how other inmates had been roasted, he seemed to feel he would make it through unscathed. Sam did not lack confidence, framed by the kind of bravado necessary for survival in prison.
Today, however, he seems visibly nervous as he faces the group. He speaks quietly at first and is asked repeatedly to speak up. He begins by discussing his family, the breakup of his parents' marriage, and some of his employment history. He also touches on the development of his sexuality, when and in what contexts he began to masturbate and when he had his first sexual encounter. Not the usual content of a life story-at least not on the outside-and a clear sign that he has been prompted. He began to masturbate at fifteen, he admits. "Not likely," suggests an inmate. "How about, like, ten?" "Okay, maybe," agrees Sam. Details about his sexual history are sparse, however, and he continues to be interrupted with some frequency by both therapists and the other inmates.
Since Sam is being vague on the details, the therapists seek clarifications, about his work and especially about his sexual activities and offenses. They glance frequently at their notes, a compendium of legal and psychological "facts" about Sam. He eyes them nervously as they do, wondering what the notes say, hoping he gets it "right." The therapists are particularly insistent that he disclose specific details about the sexual offenses, details he did not initially offer in his story. In a few instances he responds with annoyance by saying that he is going to present these details later in the presentation, implying that he is being rushed or interrupted before the narrative can unfold according to his plan. This attempt at self-rescue is met with guffaws from some men. In just a few weeks they have already learned not to believe everything Sam says.
Sam's story becomes jumbled as he introduces new details about previously narrated events, while still attempting to move the story forward. Episode laps episode, details jumble together, and Sam's attempts to clarify only obfuscate. At one point a staff member interjects that the story so far has been rather confusing. "It's your life story," she reminds, adding, "Try to do it in a neat, chronological way." Several other men also note that from their point of view the story is difficult to follow. Sam stares blankly at his pieces of paper, by now a somewhat disheveled mnemonic that, it seems, is starting to fail him. He stuffs the notes between his knees when one of the two therapists in the session directs him to discuss the details of his sexual crimes. There is nothing in his notes he can use now.
Sam's description of his first offense is rather evasive, and he offers up few specific details. He describes his assault of a "drunk" female acquaintance who had passed out at a party. She had "come on" to him while dancing, then again later at the house, he relates. After drinking for a while he went looking for more beer and came across her sleeping in bed in a "see-through nightgown." "Whoa," interjects an inmate, and several other heads simultaneously snap around to look not at him but at the nurses. This sounds an awful lot like "justification," I think to myself, and I suspect that others have picked this up. But Sam's primary nurse shushes the inmates and indicates to Sam that he should proceed. Sam does. He looked around for the beer, he continues to explain. Then, providing no details whatsoever, he states, "Then I assaulted her."
The quizzical look on some faces suggests that this is not an adequate explanation of the crime. There is quite a gap between looking for beer and sexual assault! And so questions follow. One inmate insists on hearing "how it actually went down." "Did you watch her for a while first?" asks another inmate, suggesting that Sam contemplated the assault before committing it. Sam continues to be evasive, saying that he just "did it." The woman woke up part way through, he clarifies, but she did not struggle or order him to stop. "Minimizing!" an inmate accuses. Did you physically hurt her? others want to know. How much had you really drunk? You must remember more than what you are disclosing. Sam retreats, insisting he can recall few details. He continues the story and explains that when he was finished assaulting the woman he told her not to tell anyone and left. He was arrested a few hours later after she contacted police.
Sam pauses before launching into an explanation of his second sexual assault. He begins slowly, explaining that when he arrived at the apartment where the offense took place he rang the buzzer. No other background information is provided. We have no idea how he came to be at this apartment. A woman answered, he continues, and asked if he was alone. He said yes. She asked again if he was alone. He said yes again. Then he was buzzed in. He climbed the stairs to the apartment and knocked on the door. Sam then backtracks, filling us in on some details. He had been drinking heavily that day and in preceding days, he explains. He starts to enumerate the different kinds of alcoholic beverages involved and their sizes and quantities. He informs us where he got them: from the liquor store, then from a friend's place. The story of this assault is clearly different from the last: the last has just been criticized for providing few specific details, but this new story is bogging down in them. Belaboring the minutiae, Sam also seems to be slowing the story down, perhaps trying to avoid getting to the part in which everyone is most interested. Others seem to sense this game as well, and a few eyes start to roll. Then the interruptions commence yet again.
Both therapists and inmates want more pertinent details and clarifications, and he is admonished many times to "explain" himself, especially in reference to the assault. The cacophony grows. At one point an inmate, seemingly angry, attempts to rescue Sam. "I'm losing track of the story," he declares, "because of all the interruptions!" Some of the issues on which the therapists want clarification have already been provided or are simply irrelevant, he continues, and Sam should be allowed to finish his presentation. After several minutes of questions and discussion, Sam is allowed to resume, and the audience goes quiet, anticipating the finale. This is what they all want to hear. It is what they want to hear every Autobiography, what every inmate in prison wants to know about all the others: "What are you in for?" While they appreciate that they have all been convicted of at least one sexual offense, they generally know little about each other or the specifics of the offenses. Personal information-such as what makes up an autobiography-is carefully guarded. Indeed, on the unit they may be surprised to encounter an acquaintance or even a friend from the penitentiary, someone who had until this point been able to hide his sexual offense from the others. Was Sam's sexual offense a "good" one or a "bad" one? I cannot help thinking there may be a titillating, pornographic element to the insistence on details, and I wonder to myself if it makes sense for inmates convicted of sexual crimes to hear such specific details of the commission of other sexual crimes.
Sam frustrates yet again, as his detailed recounting of events leading up to the offense suddenly gives way to a very thin, indeed evasive, description of the offense itself. Sam explains that he was helping a seventeen-year-old girl with her homework. (At this point in the story, no mention has been made of her existence. Men look around at each other and shrug, clearly unable to connect the victim to the other events in the story). Later when she was sleeping he assaulted her. She told him to stop. He did. Then he left and was arrested a short time later. That's all.
The Autobiography is now over. In this room, it seems the story of one's life effectively ends with the commission of the "index" offense, the one most directly relevant to the current incarceration. Little that happens subsequently in a man's life seems tell-worthy or of rehabilitative value. Prison experiences are, of course, logical material for autobiographical construction, but they are not therapeutically significant.
Several men shift in their seats, and one lets out an audible sigh as he slouches back in his chair. An air of disappointment lingers. Sam stares at his feet again. He waits for the questions, the criticism, or the advice that he doesn't want to hear.
During the question period, the control of Sam's narrative shifts perceptibly to the group as a whole. The constant interruptions during the story were just the opening salvo, after all. Sam's emotional state follows suit; he raises his voice and flashes looks of anger at his challengers. They press for details of his second conviction. Who was this seventeen-year-old girl? Was she a relative? Why would you be helping a "high schooler" with homework? one man asks derisively. Sam tries to explain that he almost has his grade 12, adding that he is trying to complete it in prison. "This was not about homework," states a therapist emphatically, ending this line of discussion. Sam starts to become defensive, even belligerent. When one man suggests that if Sam, like himself, does not quit drinking he will surely reoffend, Sam blurts out, "That's based on your life. That's not mine." When asked bluntly if he will quit drinking, Sam responds with an emphatic "no," a response that encourages several other men to jump into the discussion, a cacophony of voices, some in support of Sam's right to make his own choices but many more critical of his lack of insight into the negative role of alcohol in his life. Sam is then accused of being flippant, of laughing and smirking throughout and not taking the session seriously. Sam denies each accusation. Another man verbally challenges the first, saying that this is simply how Sam expresses himself when nervous. It is a matter of opinion, he says, and the first man should keep his to himself. The exchange is heated, and a therapist asks them to calm down. Sam sits back and watches for several minutes as his life is discussed.
Several inmates now accuse Sam of lacking insight and failing to disclose his thoughts and feelings at the time of the offenses. But another inmate intercedes before Sam can respond, claiming that no one knows these things and that they come to treatment programs to figure them out. Sam, making no effort to intervene, again sits back and watches the debate. This is a brief respite: he is no longer being challenged and no longer needs to defend himself. With the narrative event now completely in the group's hands, Sam actually seems content; the focus is no longer on him even as he remains the subject of the discussion. He could interject at any time but chooses not to do so. The clock creeps ever more closely to lockup time when the session must terminate for count. Saved by the bell? Not yet. There is still one more phase to survive before he is done. The therapists push forward, also mindful of the time. Predictably, perhaps, Sam's demeanor changes when the formal feedback component begins. In the ultimate blow to narrative agency, narrators are not permitted to respond, allowing the audience to have the final say in judging the merits of the Autobiography they have heard. Sam now sits back stone-faced and quiet, refusing to look at his inquisitors, while inmates and therapists lend commentary to his life. This is definitely not his happy smile he is wearing now.
Sam's experience is not unique, as I shall demonstrate in this book. His engagement with prison-based therapeutic intervention for sexual offending behavior exhibits an ongoing tension between subjective experience and personal agency, on one hand, and a positivist, science-based "best practices" model of treatment on the other. At stake here are competing versions of the "truth" of an inmate's life. This truth is laid over a factual frame, the who, what, where, when, and why that are at the core of both judicial process and autobiographical narrative, yet what these facts "look" like often diverges dramatically. These five "w's" are hotly contested, to be sure, situated as they are at the front lines of an ongoing carceral-therapeutic struggle among therapists and inmates. The picture is complicated further, however, when we add into the autobiographical mix other cognitive and affective details. "What were you thinking about at the time of the crime?" "How did that make you feel?" The manner in which the inmate presents and explains the details of his life is crucial to his success in the treatment program.
While initially enticed by the illusion of agency, the request and opportunity (and yes, the demand) to tell his story-and especially to an audience partially composed of presumably sympathetic allies-most inmates ultimately and to varying degrees come to terms with the therapeutic paradigm, some for instrumental and others for therapeutic reasons (and some for both). This authoritative paradigm is backed by a massive dossier of previously acquired information about the inmate and supported by a cognitive behavioral science treatment model that is designed to help him see how his personal narrative is problematic. He must change his story in just the right way as treatment unfolds, as the "real truth" of his life cannot be found except through the therapeutic filter of treatment. Sam needs no "introduction" because his life is already known and understood; its significant factual details are in the existing judicial and correctional files, and its meaning is clearly articulated within the theoretical model of treatment. His "type" is known and understood. While he may assert his subjectivity and agency to define the relevant facts of his own life and their meaning, if he decides that a positive evaluation in the program is important, then resistance to the treatment team's efforts to rebuild his narrative is counterproductive. Why? Well, this is a prison, and many people-correctional officers, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, members of parole boards, parole officers, judges-will have a great deal of influence over Sam's ability to achieve what, for him and others, is the ultimate goal: to get out of prison and back into the community. If he emerges a better person, that is value added.
Goals of the Book
This book is an ethnography of a prison unit for sexual offender treatment, the "Hound Pound" of my title.Hound is prison slang for sexual offender, and Hound Pound is the term that the inmates have coined for the sexual offenders unit.
The book has three basic goals. First, I want to begin to fill in a large gap in forensic treatment by providing an ethnographically rich account of the experience of treatment itself, particularly within the complex world of power relations that is a federal prison. "There is still little that addresses the culture of the therapeutic setting-the broader context in which treatment takes place-and especially the active participation of those undertaking treatment," write Ware, Frost, and Hoy (2010: 731). This focus on those undertaking treatment necessitates a consideration of power relations, and in this I am inspired by Desjarlais's (2005: 369) critical phenomenological perspective to engage with the "interrelated concerns and lifeworlds" of the inmates within the context of the "social, discursive, and political forces" that underpin these lifeworlds (see also Good 1994). Very little is known of the experience of treatment in part because most research on prison rehabilitation has been dominated by quantitatively oriented psychological and psychiatric perspectives, with an intense focus on issues directly relevant to public safety, such as risk to reoffend. Inmates are assessed at several stages throughout their sentences, including at the beginning and end of their treatment programs. Sometimes the instruments used involve file reviews only, with no interaction with the inmate. These tests afford very little opportunity to comprehend the experience of treatment itself and how the dynamic interaction of inmates, therapists, security personnel, and treatment paradigm works to influence these assessments and, concordantly, the individual inmate's ability to "do" the program. While my aim here does not involve an assessment of the effectiveness of this treatment program, such an assessment cannot be fully and properly undertaken without a rich understanding of how that treatment is experienced (Ware, Frost, and Hoy 2010).
I do aim here, in part, to problematize the somewhat simplistic assumption that therapeutic prisons, like prisons themselves, can be characterized by one-way power relations. I seek, as Jefferson (2003: 56) would say, to "conceptualise the complexity" of the therapeutic prison and, while emphasizing the power and control of the treatment and correctional staff, to nonetheless acknowledge the inmates' agency to engage with the staff, each other, and the program in dynamic ways. As Foucault (1982) suggests, power, in this sense, references how humans are created, shaped, and regulated as subjects and how they resist such efforts (see also Rose 1998). The ethnographic approach-combining a variation of the person-centered perspective with more traditional, group-oriented ethnography-is ideal in this situation, yet for many reasons little prison ethnography is undertaken (Wacquant 2002). Indeed, Lorna Rhodes, in "Toward an Anthropology of Prisons" (2001), was surprisingly able to cite relatively little work by anthropologists, noting that we have largely left this field to sociologists and psychologists. Perhaps my work will spark other anthropologists to go behind the walls. What goes on there affects us all.
A critical engagement with the dominant treatment paradigm, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is my second goal in this book. The experience of treatment for the inmates can be understood only within the context of CBT, an approach common to most sexual offender treatment programs in North America and much of the Westernized world as well as many other therapeutic contexts. While there has been research on the utility of CBT in forensic treatment, no one has approached the issue from such an experience-near perspective as I do here. I am interested in therapeutic pragmatics, that is, how a treatment theory is put into practice in context with actual therapists and inmates, and how the inmates in turn learn, accept or reject, manipulate, and otherwise engage with the therapeutic lessons derived from that theory. This kind of detailed ethnographic exploration flows naturally from broader critical engagements with the "psy" disciplines, especially those with a Foucauldian concern with relations of power (e.g., Rose 1998).
The third goal of this book, then, is to explore the impact of power relations and truth discourse on the employment of narrative in forensic treatment. Rather than simply presenting and dissecting narratives, as has become fashionable in anthropology as well as many other social science and health disciplines, I seek to examine the dynamic context in which narratives are generated, manipulated, shared, contested, and defended. In particular, I seek to examine how narrative is dynamically situated when truthfulness and accuracy become central to its validation and acceptability and when authority is invoked not only as a force for refereeing narrative delivery but also for judging its acceptability in terms of both specific details and overall theme or message. Such can be the case only in situations of power imbalance, whether structurally or more informally imposed. While the judicial process, and prisons especially, represent a severe form of structured imbalance, I will argue that this is augmented by the imposition of a scientifically based theory of treatment that, by invoking authority, defines not only what is likely to be "truthful" but also what is likely to represent acceptable verisimilitude in the absence of the necessary information with which to assess truthfulness. In more explicitly dealing with the dynamics of power and control, this work deviates somewhat from most of the narrative scholarship in anthropology.
The struggle that emerges in this form of forensic treatment, then, is between narrative as an inherently subjective process designed, in part, to generate and communicate personal meaning and what psychologist Jerome Bruner (1986) refers to as the "paradigmatic" or "logico-scientific" mode of cognitive functioning, another mode of thinking and communicating that is fundamentally at odds with narrative but that shares its space in the daily lives of individuals. The articulated relationship between narrative and paradigmatic modes has not been explored in detail by medical or psychological anthropologists. As a result, we may have overstepped the useful bounds of narrative as an analytical framework for understanding human experience and missed the obvious role that the existence of the paradigmatic mode plays in the creation, delivery, and receptiveness of narrative.
Finally, across these three goals is an overarching theme to reconceptualize prison treatment programs as processes of "habilitation" rather than "rehabilitation." While this theme will be developed throughout the book, it is important here to at least touch on how I frame the two. Rehabilitation is a term synonymous with prison treatment and one common element of public discourse on what to do with criminals (the other being to punish, or worse). Strictly defined, rehabilitation refers to a process of restoring the individual to some prior point in time, presumably a nondysfunctional period characterized by a noncriminal lifestyle, a time when life was good and prior to a descent into criminality. Such a definition of rehabilitation is nonsensical for the men in my study, as there is rarely an appropriate restore point in most offenders' lives; if, for argument's sake, there were, then most certainly the stigma of being a sexual offender in the community would act to ensure that such an unproblematic return would be unlikely. Instead, contemporary prison treatment programs, including those for sexual offenders, focus on public safety, with recidivism the measure of successful rehabilitation. This means that inmate rehabilitation is clearly and specifically for the benefit of society, and short of committing another crime what a released offender does or does not do in the community is of almost invisible concern. Certainly his progress in prison treatment programs will be monitored and personal changes in attitude and cognitive functioning will be noted, but, as I will discuss later, "risk to reoffend" remains the singular most definitive measure of treatment success or failure.
Here is another way to look at rehabilitation, one that will weave throughout this book: the unarticulated assumption of treatment for sexual offenders is that risk to reoffend is best achieved through a process of habilitation. This is a transformative and not restorative process; the idea is to create moral individuals who emerge from prison as "fit" for society, individuals rendered safe to be among us. Habilitation is a process of attempting to create in others that which we most admire or wish to emulate morally, ethically, and socially; hence the model of morality employed in this sexual offenders program is an ideal, un-nuanced, and unambiguous one. This necessarily involves education in what is often referred to in prison programs as "prosocial behavior," delivered in the form of uncontestable and utopian social and moral truths about the nature of human sociality. The success of habilitation should be measured by the extent of sociality inculcated in the individual, his ability to live among us in a moral manner, to be moral, which, of course, does not in and of itself preclude committing a crime. Such an assessment is never done, of course, and defaults to recidivism are inevitable. So while in both rehabilitation and habilitation one measure of success can still be the degree to which we are better off, habilitation shifts attention away from so-called "criminogenic" factors, those individualized characteristics, behaviors, and attitudes that influence criminality, and toward the broader moral lessons being taught and the extent to which individuals experience them, learn them, and invoke them in prison and community contexts. This opens the door for other ways to assess treatment success than simply recidivism and allows us to begin to explore the vicissitudes of an inmate's life in prison as well as the community as a moral-or newly habilitated-individual, with all the opportunities and challenges that this entails. While evaluating treatment success per se is not a goal of the book, it is my hope that the research presented here will spur further work on life in the community among released sexual offenders who have undergone this form of treatment, to explore if and how the lessons of habilitation introduced in prison make any sense to a released sexual offender in the community, and, yes, even to determine how meeting the challenges of everyday living as a habilitated individual contributes to public safety. But first we need to understand what the experience of habilitation is like for incarcerated sexual offenders.
Truth Discourse and the Struggle between Narrative and Paradigmatic Modes
Narrative theory has emerged over the last two decades as a major framework in psychological and medical anthropology, and the work of Jerome Bruner remains central to much of this scholarship. For many anthropologists who have engaged with this "narrative turn" (or "turns"; see Garro and Mattingly 2000), Bruner's theorizing on narrative is often the jumping-off point and, frequently in combination with phenomenological or "meaning-centered" approaches, has led to some sophisticated analyses of illness and trauma experience (e.g., Becker 1997; Becker, Beyene, and Ken 2000; Foxen 2000; Garro 1992, 1994; Kirmayer 1996; Mattingly 1998a, 1998b; Waitzkin and Magana 1997; Waitzkin and Britt 1993).
According to Bruner (1986, 2002), narrative-stories about experiences-represents a fundamental and perhaps preferred mode of cognitive functioning and a means by which individuals order their experiences, construct reality, and communicate with others. Narrative gives meaning to experience, and through narrative the speaker discloses personal forms of thought and feeling. Narrative also allows the individual to construct order from the disorder and chaos that sometimes plague our daily lives (Viney and Bousfield 1991) and to come "to terms ... with a problematic experience" (Garro and Mattingly 2000: 28; see also Jackson 2002). A good story typically revolves around a complicating factor, an element that confounds the plot but is theoretically resolvable. In Bruner's terms, then, narrative is "about the violations of the shared ordinary, and about how such violations are resolved" (J. Bruner 2008: 36). Through narrative, these "deviations from shared ordinariness" are rendered "both conventional and manageable" (35).
We can think of criminal behavior as one kind of deviation from or violation of "shared ordinariness"-be it a dominant moral order or more specifically codified laws-that calls out for resolution. Prison programs can be seen as an attempt to enhance, educate about, or reconfirm for the offender the particular "shared ordinariness" of that dominant moral order regarding appropriate behavior, one that is underwritten by law and the system of justice and has been enacted to put him in jail. Narrative seeks resolution of such deviations by providing an avenue for the meaning of personal experience to emerge and more importantly allows the narrator to communicate that meaning in a more or less deliberate fashion. While for sexual offenders their crimes and subsequent incarceration constitute rather significant "problematic" experiences that call out for narrative rendering, within the CBT theory of forensic rehabilitation such renderings are the source of much conflict. This is because the therapeutic process in prison is dominated by truth discourse and paradigmatic-like thinking, narrative notwithstanding.
Anthropologists generally have paid little attention to the idea of a paradigmatic mode, so a few words of elaboration here are needed. Bruner, in a relatively brief discussion in his groundbreaking book Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986), outlines his theory of the paradigmatic mode largely as a means to move his discussion of narrative forward. The paradigmatic mode, according to Bruner, "attempts to fulfill the ideal of a formal, mathematical system of description and explanation. It employs categorization or conceptualization and the operations by which categories are established, instantiated, idealized, and related one to the other to form a system" (12). Further, the paradigmatic "deals in general causes, and in their establishment, and makes use of procedures to assure verifiable reference and to test for empirical truth" (13; emphasis added). He writes:
Each of the ways of knowing [narrative and paradigmatic], moreover, has operating principles of its own and its own criteria of well-formedness. They differ radically in their procedures for verification. A good story and a well-formed argument [the latter being Bruner's comparable example of the paradigmatic mode] are different natural kinds. Both can be used as means for convincing another. Yet what they convince of is fundamentally different: arguments convince one of their truth, stories of their lifelikeness. The one verifies by eventual appeal to procedures for establishing formal and empirical proof. The other establishes not truth but verisimilitude.... A story (allegedly true or allegedly fictional) is judged for its goodness as a story by criteria that are of a different kind from those used to judge a logical argument as adequate or correct. (11, 12)
Several questions begin to emerge upon a review of Bruner's ideas. If narrative and paradigmatic modes are "complementary" yet "irreducible to one another," as Bruner (11) maintains, what happens if the criteria for judging a story and that for a "logical argument" conflate in such a way that the "correctness" of the narrative is centrally in play? What happens if one mode moves beyond simply being a "means for convincing" to the extent that it acts to shape the other and then evaluates the merits of the reshaped form? More specifically, what happens when narrative must play by paradigmatic rules and convince of its "truth"?
Of particular relevance to the narrative experience of Sam and the other inmates is Bruner's description of paradigmatic language as "regulated by requirements of consistency and noncontradiction" (13), two attributes rigidly required and policed throughout forensic treatment as inmates present their life stories. As I shall demonstrate, the CBT theory of sexual offender treatment is constructed upon this paradigmatic mode, and the inmates struggle with it because, as Bruner iterates, it aspires to increasing levels of abstraction and "in the end disclaims in principle any explanatory value at all where the particular is concerned" (13). In other words, the goal of treatment is the dismantling of subjective narrative meaning and its replacement, to varying degrees of success, by a CBT-compatible narrative that is, presumably, therapeutically "meaningful" for all precisely because it no longer values "the particular." This, of course, is not unique to CBT or forensic treatment, as much "modernist" therapeutics involves "the slow but inevitable replacement of the client's story with the therapist's," according to Gergen and Kaye (1992: 169). Nor is the authority of the treatment team to determine "truth" unique, as this is common in other kinds of therapeutic programs as well (Lester 2007), although critics suggest that the employment of "privilege and brute force" to settle "mnemonic disputes" is incompatible with current understandings of memory, as I shall discuss later (Wertsch 2011: 27).
In such a therapeutic context, argue Gergen and Kaye (1992: 169), "The client's story does not remain a free-standing reflection of truth, but rather, as questions are asked and answered, descriptions and explanations are reframed, and affirmation and doubt are disseminated by the therapist, the client's narrative is either destroyed or incorporated-but in any case replaced-by the professional's account." The "professional's account" represents a kind of scientific narrative, a "structured stor[y] of how things come to be as they are," that owes allegiance to the particular model of therapy in which the practitioner has trained or is implementing, in this case CBT. Such training and the knowledge underpinning it are avowedly "scientific," and therapists are trained to be either "scientist-practitioners" or technicians employing scientifically validated theories and techniques from which their authority to assess emanates. It should not be surprising that the power of science is brought to bear on the evaluation of narratives offered by patients, since, as Gergen and Kaye (1992: 169) write, "The trained professional enters the therapeutic arena with a well-developed narrative for which there is abundant support within the community of scientific peers." The inmates in my study are even provided with reviews of scientific research on sexual offending that bolster the authority of the treatment paradigm and its practitioners to evaluate and assess the inmates' lives as a whole as well as their treatment progress. So, while the idea that therapists should seek to develop "shared narratives" with their patients carries much appeal (Kirmayer 2000; Mattingly 1994), at least in my research it seems that the power imbalance favors the therapeutic approach critically described by Gergen and Kaye, an approach that is fundamentally paradigmatic in orientation.
As I shall demonstrate in this book, then, much of the treatment experience for inmates involves how they choose to respond to challenges to their personal narrative. These challenges come from two sources. First is the positivist ethos of the judicial-correctional process (Wesson 1984-85), best encapsulated in the well-worn expression "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," communicated by justice and correctional officials and enacted throughout the judicial process, from police interrogation through trial to forensic treatment. This ethos is manifested in the creation and maintenance of an "institutional memory" (Linde 1999) about the inmate, which is considered to be far more "accurate" than the inmate's own memory.
The second challenge to personal narrative is from CBT, a set of theoretical propositions and therapeutic techniques constructed on a platform of science-based empiricism with allegiance to "best practices" models, communicated by registered or licensed therapists, and enacted in the quotidian experience of treatment and, more broadly, life on the unit. Together, truth discourse and CBT form a more or less coherent, enacted therapeutic system. This system reflects the institutional mandate to emphasize and privilege the "truth" of criminal activity as determined and reinforced through forensic avenues, be they police and court reports, judicial pronouncements, or assessments by mental health, parole, and other correctional officials. This truth is in turn interpreted through the theoretical lens of CBT, in which both the "landscape of action" (or "story grammar") and the "landscape of consciousness" (or "what those involved in the action know, think, or feel, or do not know, think, or feel") come under scrutiny (J. Bruner 1986: 14).
This search for "truth" that is philosophically fundamental to our legal system casts a long shadow over all aspects of the individual perpetrator's life as an inmate and dogs him even upon release. The "facts" of this forensic "truth" provide the only acceptable building materials for narrative construction-the fabula, as narratologists would call it-setting the stage for a clash between narrative and paradigmatic modes that dominates the experience of treatment and establishes the grounds for continual contestation that is, in my view, unnecessarily disruptive to the broader therapeutic goals. In some ways Bruner's work anticipates this clash even if he does not directly address the possibility, as when he notes that, in everyday discourse "we have no compunction about calling stories true or false" (1991: 5). As Sam experienced, in this treatment program the inmates, who themselves act as cotherapists but lack training in CBT, become preoccupied with this idea of the truthfulness or falseness of narrative, scrutinizing for a "lack of consistency" and "noncontradiction."
As noted, Bruner's original work in narrative suggests an inherent complementarity between narrative and paradigmatic modes, and in more recent work (J. Bruner 2002: 105) he cautions that we not "isolate narrative and bare factuality from each other," using the example of patients' stories of illness versus the "facts" on the medical chart. I take this caution seriously and suggest that the paradigmatic and narrative modes engage each other rather substantially in some contexts. But I also suggest that they are potentially more conflictual than complementary. Certainly it is necessary to reject any sense that the paradigmatic and narrative modes are simply "incommensurable," as Bruner suggests, if we are also willing to accept that legal cases (J. Bruner 2002), medical records (Mattingly 2008), and science texts more broadly (E. Bruner 1986; Gergen and Gergen 1986) can be seen as having narrative dimensions and if the paradigmatic mode can be employed to analyze narrative, and narrative to analyze the paradigmatic (Polkinghorne 1995). It should not be surprising to find that the two modes influence and contaminate each other.
I argue that the dominance of the paradigmatic mode in the form of a therapeutic model has the effect of laundering subjective meaning and explanatory value from inmate narratives, which are generally seen as problematic. Therapeutic success within this model hinges on the replacement of these narratives with ones that are more therapeutically valid. But I will demonstrate that for many inmates the paradigmatic therapeutic model employed slowly transforms inmate narratives from mechanisms for the generation of self-meaning to measures of therapeutic compliance and effectiveness. Many inmates become preoccupied first with resisting the imposition of this therapeutic narrative and then with learning it for the purpose of obtaining a successful evaluation in the treatment program. The very character of the narrative mode is challenged here: when Jerome Bruner (1990: 53-54) writes that "to make a story good, it would seem, you must make it somewhat uncertain, somehow open to variant readings, rather subject to the vagaries of intentional states, undetermined," he is describing a mode of communication that can negatively affect a sexual offender's experience of treatment, leading to failure in the program, sometimes expulsion and return to the home penitentiary, and quite possibly denial of parole. "Narrative mind reading," as Mattingly (2008: 137) defines it-"that practical capability of inferring (rightly or wrongly) the motives that precipitate and underlie the actions of another"-opens the door to such a negative experience for inmates, as they are invited to actively explore each other's motives and intentional states, and not always for purposes of assisting the narrator, as Sam discovered.
So narrative and paradigmatic modes do not simply "live side by side," as Jerome Bruner suggests (1986: 43; see also J. Bruner 2002), in a parallel but separate existence; rather, they engage and influence each other in contexts frequently rife with power relations. Bruner tends not to consider how the existence of paradigmatic knowledge-or more precisely the idea of the paradigmatic-especially bolstered by formal and informal structures of power, affects the shape and rendering of narrative (J. Bruner 2002) (and I would suggest the reverse is also true). For all his contributions to narrative theory, and his assertion that " to ignore one at the expense of the other inevitably fail[s] to capture the rich diversity of thought" (1986: 11), Bruner himself seems to truncate his discussion of the relationship of the two modes in favor of advancing his narrative theory, which of course he does superbly. In his discussion of both the inappropriateness of applying Karl Popper's criterion of falsifiability to the believability of stories and of narrative's central concern with "the vicissitudes of human intentions" (J. Bruner 1986: 16), however, Bruner does provide some direction for my analysis here. While the application to stories of a criterion similar to that of falsifiability-that a story could be shown "false"-is indeed an example of "misplaced verification" (14), I will demonstrate that this is precisely what happens in the treatment program. The "clear and definite reference and literal sense" (22) characteristic of the paradigmatic mode comes to be the standard by which the inherent ambiguity and subjectivity of narrative are judged.
Part of the problem, I shall show, is that the fabula of a story, its elemental materials or details and the sequence in which they "really" happened, comes to take on a heightened significance in the validation of the story because of the dominant, even hegemonic therapeutic model bolstered by the overt power structures that represent the penitentiary, including the authority of the "disciplines" (such as psychology and psychiatry) to render judgment on treatment effectiveness (Foucault 1979; Rose 1998). Attention to the "truthfulness" of these details includes consideration of both "fact" and sequence-or the "historical truth," as Donald Spence (1982a) labels it-that are empirically open to validation. This is a forensic preoccupation that begins the second an individual is apprehended by police. Indeed, the form of therapeutic intervention that inmates undergo in this treatment program invites a kind of scrutiny that is akin to what they went through in their court cases. In this nascent process forensic officials emerge and are entrenched as "authorized primary recipient[s]" and "authorized overhearers of narratives" (Ochs and Capps 1996: 35); they are positioned to judge the compatibility of inmate narratives with the "historical truth." Such a focus on the details detracts from the broader story as told, how the events are represented-the sujet as narratologists define it-that communicates the meaning of the story for the teller, its "narrative truth" (Spence 1982a). Narrative truth is dependent not upon fact checking but rather, as both Spence (1982a) and Jerome Bruner (1986) suggest, on its "goodness" as a story, one that convinces and, in so doing, characteristically plays with the "facts." Perfect correspondence with past events is not essential to narrative truth. Hence, while with historical truth we are engaged in the process of reconstruction, in which memory is crucial, narrative truth involves a process of construction, in which memory per se carries less importance than the broader aesthetic value of the story. The appeal to empiricism found in the idea of reconstruction reflects that found in the paradigmatic mode, and, as I noted above, Bruner (1986: 11) argues persuasively that the procedures for verification within the narrative and paradigmatic modes should, typically, "differ radically."
The therapeutic approach employed by the treatment unit that is the subject of this research, and much psychological and psychiatric treatment more generally, is ultimately all about "fixing" the individual's story, and hence the "self," through what Rose (1998: 17) refers to as "therapies of normality," that is, "the pedagogies of self-fulfillment disseminated through the mass media" that serve to shape the form and content of one individual's aims and desires. This kind of disciplining of the self-psyche appeals to the broader authority of the "psy" disciplines, as Bruner (2002: 11; see also Howard 1991; Kirmayer 2000) seems to suggest when he elaborates, "Patients must be helped to tell the right kinds of stories in order to get well" (emphasis added). It is the therapist's job to assess that these emergent stories are adequate, that the details are compatible with the empirically verified record, and that the meaning of the stories is compatible with the CBT therapeutic paradigm. Eventually, these "right kind of stories" may come to emulate the moralizing "institutionalized master storylines ... that define world views of criminality, sanity, and sexuality" (Ochs and Capps 1996: 33), and as they do the inmate may be seen to be making progress. But resistance to these master storylines is inherent in the process and confounds treatment. And forensic treatment is not simply about the patient developing insight or self-actualization; it is about the patient being transformed into the "right" kind of citizen, one that is both a moral being (i.e., according to community ideal standards) capable of self-governance (conducting himself according to these standards with minimal or no supervision) (Foucault 1988; Rose 1998) and safe for the community. I will show in this book that these two goals, while obviously related, are hardly equal at the end of the day, since measures of therapeutic "success" focus almost entirely on the matter of community safety.
So my aim here is to interject into the scholarly conversation the need to critically explore the interrelatedness of the narrative and paradigmatic modes within the contexts of power and to urge that this be more directly addressed in our research on narrative, because everyday life-including narrative expression-is lived within an authority-emboldened paradigmatic as well as narrative context. The paradigmatic mode-think "science" as an example-presents as a powerful, even hegemonic influence on our thoughts and behavior. It intrudes on narrative, just as narrative intrudes on the paradigmatic. The power accorded the paradigmatic in our society ensures that narrative in particular must necessarily engage with it, even if only in passive assertions by narrators that the stories they relate "really happened." Here I challenge all readers to watch for this next time you tell a story about a shared event; notice how interlocutors will challenge the details (e.g., the day of the week when the event took place, its location, who else was there, who said what), in so doing upsetting the narrative flow. Note how an error in the details can be fatal and terminate the entire narrative, as evidence of its overall lack of veracity, its "believability." Now consider how the meaning of the narrative itself can be forced into a conceptual framework emanating from the paradigmatic mode, where the assumption that a narrator will lie or exclude details is de rigueur and where meaning becomes subjected to "falsifiability" according to some externally generated standard. Imagine that you can be directed to tell and retell "your" stories of personal experience until you get them "right." Think of a context in which the audience is hardly passive or not there to be entertained but is rather entreated to be active in your story, to challenge and dispute, to poke at the details, to trip you up, to relish the premise of narratives' falsifiability. Now consider that there is an arbiter, a judge, another individual or, more broadly, a paradigm, positioned to render a verdict as to the acceptability of your story, not so much its verisimilitude anymore as its veracity along with its personal meaning, and to punish you when you get it "wrong," to literally imprison you. This is not a world of scholarly engagement and theorizing about narrative; this is narrative in context, a therapeutic pragmatic, in a real-world situation, with all its sloppiness and contradictions, all its nastiness. Welcome to Sam's Autobiography. This is therapeutic intervention, and this is life in the Hound Pound.
Outline of the Book
This book, then, invokes narrative in several ways. I present the story of the experience of sexual offender treatment from the perspective of my participants, in a somewhat linear fashion from arrival at the treatment center to the end of their program and anticipation over the future. The book is also about how the inmates engage with narrative as a central element of their treatment programs. More obliquely, this book is even about the story of my experience studying their experience.
The structure of this ethnography is a little unorthodox, as I adopt a somewhat unusual approach in an effort to provide readers with a more global feel for the treatment program as experienced by the inmates. This is because so many things happen during the day, inside and outside the program, that interconnect and affect the experience of treatment for the inmate. What is happening in one group session is affected by what is happening in others; what happens in the sessions is affected by what happens outside them. The inmates, on any given day, may be involved in two or three separate kinds of programs, and the flow from one to another is not always smooth. They work in two separate cohorts as well, and incidents in one cohort spill over to affect the other. Sometimes the unit is abuzz with activity; other times nothing much seems to be happening.
In chapter 2 I explore the nature of this therapeutic prison within the context of power relations that affect both the inmates' experience of treatment and my own ability to undertake this research. I describe in greater detail the research process. Here I also introduce brief vignettes, several per substantive chapter, to touch upon other elements of inmate experience that are salient. Derived from either field notes or interviews, the placement of these might sometimes seem out of sync with the surrounding chapter content. This jaggedness is intentional, and at times readers should feel that they are "out of place" in the otherwise orderly unfolding of the text. Abrupt, often unannounced changes and developments are common in the program, and this is an element of the inmates' experience. The program does not typically unfold in a seamless, orderly way, so this ethnography should not either. And being "out of place" is, in the end, the lot of the sexual offender in our communities, a point I will develop in chapter 8.
In chapter 3 I look at the issue of the nature of the "problems" for which the inmates are being treated and present a more detailed description of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy paradigm. chapter 4 looks at the early days of inmates on the treatment unit and the manner in which a moral, therapeutic community forms despite the challenges of the "con code."
The following three chapters reflect the three main components of the program of interest-chapter 5, on the Autobiography; chapter 6, on the Crime Cycle; and chapter 7, on the Relapse Prevention Plan. These chapters are bookended and interrupted by moral habilitation "chapterettes," detailing some of the many other programs the inmates are taking at roughly the same time that, I argue, are designed to further the development of their moral character. These little chapters, in combination with the vignettes mentioned previously, challenge the seamlessness of much ethnographic writing. Together, I hope these features will provide at least some sense of the many and varied things that are going on in this very closed community and will lessen the necessary "flattening out of experience" (Throop 2010: 241) that ensues when the complexities of lives being lived are reduced to textual presentation.
Chapter 8 examines prospective narratives, as the inmates look into their futures as sexual offenders and explore anticipated experiences both in their home penitentiaries and in the community. The case of one of my participants who was released subsequent to my research is presented, allowing us a glimpse into the kind of civil society reaction that awaits many released sexual offenders. This chapter also raises the question of the appropriateness and utility of the idealized process of moral habilitation for life in a very unruly community context.
In chapter 9 I return to some of the central themes and arguments of this book and make the case for an anthropology of therapeutic intervention that explores the experience of treatment in nonvoluntary contexts, especially where the issue of the designated beneficiary is complex, as a means to further advance our understanding of the process of healing.
The book concludes with a brief epilogue about the study participants and responds to a question many readers will have by this point, "where are they now?"
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