There was another suicide last week. The numbers of people hanging themselves in Massachusetts prison cells is staggering, brutal and saddest of all, preventable.

A system is in place whereby a prisoner can talk to mental health workers, but the consequences of doing so are counter-productive. You tell Doktor Walker here at MCI Shirley that you are despondent, and she has you locked up in a bubble-cell and dressed in a "turtle-suit" (a thickly padded green uniform). You stay locked up with nothing in that cage until you decide you no longer want to kill yourself. Great "therapy."

People are afraid to talk to mental health (staff) about anything, because "therapists" like Doktor Walker call the prison gestapo (IPS) to report all you have to say. It used to be they would only rat you out if you threatened to harm yourself or others, or planned to escape. They no longer restrict themselves to those three contingencies. I have heard more men complaining about the gestapo questioning them on issues that were discussed in supposed confidence with mental health. Example: A dear friend told mental health about having been molested as a child. The very next day he was called over to the gestapo office and interrogated on that issue. Foul!

Now we have these secret-squirrel wannabes pretending to be an extension of mental health? Well, here's a tip for those of you that feel you need to see a prison therapist — eliminate the middle-woman and go straight to the IPS.

I have a theory about prison suicides. It is my opinion alone, and I do not claim to know all the answers. That's why it is called a theory. I'm certain many will disagree with me, and that's okay. I would appreciate hearing their theories as well as their criticism. As a prisoner that has been in the joint for over 37 years and with 18 or more years in the hole off and on, I feel somewhat qualified to hypothesize.

In the early seventies I read some of the works of B. F. Skinner, a professor at Harvard University. He conducted an experiment with rats that was interesting. He placed them in a box of mazes. If the rat went down the right corridors, it was rewarded with a piece of cheese. If it went down the wrong ones, it received an electric shock. He concluded from this experiment that people were much like rats. If they do bad, punish. If good, reward.

Here in Massachusetts prisons you can get up early in the morning and be the perfect slave. Stand for count, make your bed, sweep and mop your cage, yes sir and no sir the screws, go to work and clean toilets, sweep floors, wax until outsiders can see themselves in the shine, go to programs, or try for your GED, become the model "inmate."

In the end you will not even get a thank you or a simple well done. You will go to the chow hall and eat the same garbage that vermin turn their noses up to. You won't even get a sandwich out of your hard work, or for that matter, an extra slice of semi-stale bread.

Do this for 25 years and not receive a single disciplinary report, and the parole board will still give you a five year set back. My only logical conclusion is that no matter how "good" you are or how "bad," you still receive the same amount of nothing.

A reasonable conclusion therefore might be: Suicides happen because there is no cheese!

At a time when we need more family and outside support to keep our heads on right, the DOC in its infinite wisdom has decided to restrict the visiting policies even further. They want to further alienate us from those we love and make the procedure so draconian that mothers don't want to be penalized for the crime of loving their sons and daughters in prison.

The more alienated our friends and family become, the more alienated and isolated we are. Alienation causes despair and anger. By extension, it causes us all to lose hope. When there is no hope there is always (for far too many) a rope.

We all know the system is broken and we can point fingers as I do now. Yet, little will change because of these words. The punishments will increase as the system gets even more crowded and as the budget gets tighter.

We need a collection of voices from beyond the walls and fences festooned with razor wire. We need for good people to stop being accepting of the status quo. We need their anger in the form of protest at present prison conditions that push people into the darkness of death.

I cannot help but wonder what a prisoner must feel at the last moment of life as they sit in the pity of their cells. More, what that final act does to their family. Mothers will cry forever and ask why.

At this writing, I am angry. So, if I offended any DOC personnel or The(-)Rapists...Too BAD!!

   Joe Labriola

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