In Between the Sword and the Pen

Published date01 May 2022
Date01 May 2022
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(2) 200 –203
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862221096724
In Between the Sword and
the Pen
Troy Brownlow
Sometimes words are not enough to capture the rote menace of a particular circum-
stance. This is how I feel about certain aspects of my own incarceration. From my
perspective I have yet to meet any individual in prison who didn’t harvest what they
manifested through the process of cause and effect. This universal phenomena rarely
drives an exception yet there are occasions in prison that go well beyond the rational
limits of sufficiency. For myself I see today’s prison milieu through the lens of my own
existential experiences inside of a Correctional system where the societal expectations
for retribution and rehabilitation are often murky and capricious. In the context of
violence and its nexus to our prisons, violence at its etiological core has historically
been, and to a larger degree still is, society’s ultimate arbitrator of justice. Don’t see
the valence, think ‘death penalty’!
One of the curious traits of violence, especially in a prison setting, is that it can
materialize in a broad spectrum of constituencies. During the past 16 years I have seen
everything from some tense verbal jousting between several of my peers and prison
staff to a full fledged brawl that erupted out of nowhere right in the middle of an intra-
mural league basketball game. Several years ago I witnessed an older, effeminate man
who, tired of being constantly bullied, took a metal mop wringer and nearly beat to
death one of his more ardent tormentors. Then, there was the time when a Tower
Guard shot two inmates, one of them fatally, who were fighting with each other out in
the exercise yard. Whether it’s at the State’s behest or an individual’s, violence as a
means to an end permeates our culture in degrees and justifications regardless of
whether its inside of these walls or out.
Then there is the matter of how we treat the effects of empirical violence. In society
when there is an incidence of violence, whether it’s at a school or someone’s work-
place, individuals who witness or survive the encounter are typically interviewed and
then sent on their way. Afterwards they are then given the opportunity to meet with
Mental Health Care Counselors who can then help them process their thoughts and
feelings. Witness something brutal in prison and you’ll be locked down in your cell for
a few days, weeks or even months if it’s really bad. I work as a Mental Health Peer
Counselor in our State’s largest prison complex so I see numerous clients who after
years of witnessing varying degrees of violence develop cases of acute chronic/
1096724CCJXXX10.1177/10439862221096724Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeBrownlow

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