I've been religiously watching National Geographic's Hard Time Series about, among other things, Prison Gangs, surviving in prison and those who acquire the 'prison mentality.'
Apparently, there are typically two roads a convicted felon takes: to pursue rehabilitation (education, acquring a craft, etc.) or to adapt and acquire the prison mentality. Those who decide to take on the prison mentality hustle, lie, steal or do whatever it takes to make it on the inside. Those who pursue rehabilitation often have to hold themselves apart from the troublemakers, avoid gangs and be single-minded in their efforts to reform themselves.
As always when watching documentaries about people from all walks of life, I'm always struck by how similar we (human beings) are, no matter where we find ourselves. In prison, as in life, there are those who are trying to make something of themselves - elevating themselves above their circumstances and making the best of bad situations - and those who adapt in a predatory fashion to what their society has to offer.
In prison, as in life, people make choices. Whether to do well or to do poorly. Whether to give or take. Whether to make their time meaningful or just let it slip away.
Apparently, in prison, some prisoners become 'institutionalized.' In other words, it starts to feel more normal to them to be in prison than out of prison.
And in many ways, we in the 'free' world can become institutionalized as well. More comfortable in jobs we hate than in pursuing other job opportunities. Too accustomed to the routine at home where no one speaks or relates to one another to try and make a connection with our loved ones. And too stuck in the ruts of our own lives, doing the same thing day after day after day to ever seriously contemplate doing something different.
Because, sure, you'd LIKE to do something different with your life, but who has kind of time, right? You're busy. You have a lot going on. You barely have enough time to do the things already on your plate without adding anything else.
You have become institutionalized.
Just like those prisoners on Hard Time...