Going To The Crack House

S. Yaeger's picture

'Going to the crack house" - Jill McKorkel

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S. Yaeger's picture

Here are my preliminary thoughts after the McCorkell piece

In reading Going to the Crackhouse, by Jill McCorkell,  I was struck by the differences between a drug treatment program in a federal prison and treatment programs in private rehabilitation facilities.  Though both programs share a philosophy of viewing addiction as a disease that affects the addict’s sense of personal identity, the prison program that McCorkell observed seems to focus its action on making the addicts feel as though they are, in many ways, fully responsible for their addictions via having been criminals, whereas, it is my understanding that non-penal rehabilitation programs focus more on the role of heredity and predisposition in the establishment of a drug habit or addiction.  In some ways, it appears as though the model described by McCorkell is an inverted version of the model used by programs like A.A. 

In A.A., a patient works at understanding that they are powerless against their addiction, and that their addiction has been the driving force behind their bad decisions and the harm they have caused others.  Once this is established, patients then work with counselors to rebuild confidence and to establish healthy habits.  This process is seen as a lifelong struggle and patients are encouraged to continue their paths through recovery by attending meetings and forming new relationships.  As patients recover, they begin to see that their addiction has caused them to harm their loves ones, but this relationship between addicted harm is one that can be overcome and the harmer is not seen as inherently bad.  In contrast, the program McCorkell describes appears to begin with the addicted individual being seen as bad and to operate with the goal of breaking the individual down until they accept their own worthlessness.  Their crimes are not a result of their addiction, but their addictions are the result of their crimes and their crimes are the result of their own flawed natures. 

These differences are striking to me when placed in the context of the larger social landscape of the U.S. for several reasons.  The first is that private rehabilitation facilities are expensive.  So expensive, in fact, that only those with health insurance can afford them.  When coupled with the higher rates of addiction and drug use among poorer Americans and with the higher penalties for crack (a less expensive drug) it appears as though those who are most likely to suffer from an addiction and be incarcerated are least likely to receive self-positive treatment.

For me, this raised the question of who is worthy enough to be treated humanely while they are suffering from an affliction that can affect anyone.

Speaking to the question of what conditions must exist for resistence to be sought, I wonder if the sheer undesirability of seeing oneself as bad is sufficient to drive one to create a critical space in which one can actively resist.  In my notes above, I thought about some of the differences between self-positive drug rehabilition and the one McCorkell describes.  Your question makes me wonder if it is the message rather than the medium, or in this case the venue, that drives such a resistence.  Perhaps it's inherently easier to see ones' self as powerless.

btoews's picture

Some thoughts

Hi Shannon - 

I am about to email you this study. This is one of my dissertation studies and I have more complete notes elsewhere. I thought this study might be relevant for the class and reading Haney affirmed this thinking as it immediately came to mind during Haney's analysis of Visions. I look forward to your thoughts - how this piece strikes you for course themes, questions/discussion/activites it inspires and its possibiliies. 

McCorkel’s analysis of a therapeutic/addictions treatment wing of a correctional facility for women suggests that women in such facilities can resist the therapeutic discourse of the facility and the expectation of exposure and disclosure. Her work stands in contrasts to Haney’s analysis that this particular discourse effectively disempowers women to the point that they withdraw, rather than fight back. The women in McCorkel’s facility appropriate public and programmatic space for their own uses and to challenge program narratives. In these physical and psychological “critical spaces,” they can then be who they want to be and as they see themselves (often unbeknownst to staff).

 Certainly, there are differences between the facilities in the Haney and McCorkel studies but is McCorkel having a "romance of resistance" (Haney, p. 180)? What conditions may be necessary for women to resist unpalatable discourses? What can be learned from these women about how to transcend others’ attempts to control our identities and behavior? What are the secret psychological and physical spaces we have in our own lives that we use to be our true selves, despite others’ expectations (...call back to McConnel and the secret tree…)?

 This article can be used as a complement to Haney (when reading about Visions) and/or during the visionary leadership/social change as it covers both daily life inside and resistance (a possible form of leadership). As my questions above suggest, it lends itself to experiential activities and discussions in both the joint FDC/BMC classes and on campus. It further highlights the importance of reading Goffman, who is influential in terms of understanding institutional life. 

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