. . . And both an inspiration & challenge to Quakers & other people of faith.
Thank you to the Times for implicitly acknowledging this. And to Obama for commuting her prison sentence.
Chelsea Manning: ‘I’m Still Bound to Secrecy’
By Chelsea Manning
Ms. Manning is an American activist and the author of the forthcoming memoir “README.txt,” from which this essay has been adapted.
It is not possible to work in intelligence and not imagine disclosing the many secrets you bear.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when the idea first crossed my mind. Maybe it was in 2008, when I was learning to be an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army and was exposed to sensitive information for the first time. Or maybe the germ of the idea was planted when I was stationed at Fort Drum, in upstate New York. I was tasked with transporting a cache of classified hard drives in a large box in the summer heat, and I began to imagine what might happen if I screwed it up and left the box unattended. If someone managed to get ahold of a stray hard drive, what ripple effects might it cause?
I knew the official version of why these secrets had to be kept secret. We were protecting sources. We were protecting troop movements. We were protecting national security. Those things made sense. But it also seemed, to me, that we were protecting ourselves.
While I felt that my job was important, and I took my obligations seriously, a part of me always wondered: If we were acting ethically, why were we keeping so many secrets?
The monthsI spent in Iraq in 2009changed the way I understood the world. Every night, I woke up in the desert at 9 p.m. and walked from my tiny trailer to the Saddam Hussein-era basketball court that the military had converted into an intelligence operations center.
A man who was arrested over a Facebook parody aimed at his local police department is trying to take his case to the Supreme Court. He has sought help from an unlikely source, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Monday.
“Americans can be put in jail for poking fun at the government?” the brief asked. “This was a surprise to America’s Finest News Source and an uncomfortable learning experience for its editorial team.”
The source is, of course, The Onion.
Or, as the satirical website described itself in the brief, “the single most powerful and influential organization in human history.”
Charles Kaiser The statistics are familiar but remain startling: America’s incarceration rate per 100,000 is “roughly twice that of Russia’s and Iran’s, four times that of Mexico’s, five times of England’s, six times Canada’s” and nine times that of Germany. In addition, “parole and probation regulate the lives of 4.5 million Americans” – more than twice as many as are confined in prison.
Keller is a veteran journalist who won a Pulitzer for his first New York Times posting as a foreign correspondent, in Moscow as the Soviet Union collapsed. He went on to be executive editor and then a columnist, but in 30 years, criminal justice was never one of his specialties. That all changed when Neil Barsky, a journalist turned investor turned philanthropist, tapped Keller to be founding editor of The Marshall Project, an ambitious effort to produce great journalism about the “causes and consequences” of mass incarceration.
Keller’s book highlights many of the best pieces by Marshall Project reporters, but he also uses plenty of his own reporting to illuminate this particularly dark side of American democracy.
The “good news”: the incarcerated population has actually been in slow and steady decline, from a peak of 2.3 million in 2008 to 1.8 million in 2020, including an unprecedented drop of 14% spurred by early releases because of Covid.
America’s unfortunate exceptionalism on this subject is actually a fairly recent development. From the 1920s through the 1970s, the rate of incarceration mostly held steady at around 110 out of every 100,000 Americans. But it is nearly 500 today.
Liberals and conservatives were equally responsible. A Democratic House speaker, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, sharply overreacted to the crack cocaine overdose of Len Bias, a Boston Celtics draftee, pushing through the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, “which imposed mandatory sentences, asset forfeitures and outlandishly severe sanctions on crack cocaine” favored by Black ghetto residents, while white consumers of powdered cocaine faced much more lenient penalties.
As Keller writes, “Rehabilitation was denigrated on the right as coddling”. But a Democratic Senate judiciary committee chairman, Joseph R Biden of Delaware, made everything much worse by championing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which not only spurred a prison-building boom but also eliminated Pell Grants for prisoners enrolled in college courses. President Biden has acknowledged his mistake.
It was President Reagan who inserted the profit motive into the prison business, allowing the Corrections Corporation of America to pioneer “the idea of privately run, for-profit prisons”. As Keller explains, “Since the new prison owners were paid the same way as hotel proprietors, by occupancy, they had no incentive to prepare prisoners for release.” Private prisons now house about 7% of state inmates and 17% of federal.
Keller makes an unintentional argument for sending more Republicans to jail, by pointing out that three of the more unlikely advocates of prison reform are Republican officials who ended up in prison.
Patrick Nolan was the minority leader of the California assembly when, in 1993, he was indicted on charges of racketeering and extortion. He served 25 months in a federal prison near San Francisco. When he was paroled, he was recruited by Charles Colson, a famous Watergate felon from Nixon’s White House who found religion “shortly before serving seven months himself in a federal prison”.
Colson campaigned for more humane treatment of prisoners. Nolan became director of a new Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation. Meanwhile, Bernard Kerik, Rudy Giuliani’s police commissioner who then did three years in federal prison for tax fraud and other crimes, became an advocate for voting rights for ex-felons.
It’s not all good news. By the end of Trump administration, Nolan had succumbed to a rightwing conspiracy theory that “billionaire George Soros was masterminding a ‘Trojan horse’ strategy to elect soft-on-crime prosecutors and bring down the entire criminal justice system”.
Keller points to Norway and Germany as providing the best examples for systemic reform. While American prison guards rarely get more than a few weeks of training, Germans get two years of college courses in psychology, ethics and communication. American visitors to German jails are amazed to see unarmed guards “shooting baskets, playing chess, sharing lunch” and having conversations with prisoners.
One reason Europe is so far ahead is its depoliticization of the criminal justice system: judges and district attorneys are appointed, not elected.
A Fordham University professor, John Pfaff, has pointed out that in the US, during the 1990s and 2000s, “as violent crime and arrests for violent crime both declined, the number of felony cases in state courts” suddenly shot up. Because of political pressures, “tens of thousands more prosecutors” were hired, “even after the rising crime of the 1980s had stalled out”.
Pfaff attributed the racial inequality in numbers of prisoners to “an imbalance of political power – tough-on-crime prosecutors elected by suburban whites who see the community destruction of mass incarceration from a distance”.
Keller reports the most effective ways to reduce the prison population are also the most obvious ones:
Make low-level drug crimes “non-crimes”.
Divert people into “mental health and addiction programs, or probation or community service”.
“Abolish mandatory minimum sentences and encourage” judges to “apply the least severe punishment appropriate under the circumstances”.
Give “compassionate release to old and infirm inmates” who don’t pose a real threat to the general population.
The challenge is to get these common-sense ideas to prevail over the rhetoric of politicians who still rail against anyone who is “soft on crime” – the knee-jerk ideology which got us into this catastrophe in the first place.
What’s Prison For? Punishment and Rehabilitation in the Age of Mass Incarceration is published in the US by Columbia Global Reports
Washington Post — Opinion by Molly Gill — September 29, 2022
Molly Gill is vice president of policy for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
We are keeping many people in prison even though they are no danger to the public, a jaw-dropping new statistic shows. That serves as proof that it’s time to rethink our incarceration policies for those with a low risk of reoffending.
To protect those most vulnerable to covid-19 during the pandemic, the Cares Act allowed the Justice Department to order the release of people in federal prisons and place them on home confinement.
If you’re a certain age, and a New York Times reader, this piece may (or ought to have) caught your attention:
New York Times — September 27, 2022
The Forgotten Lessons of the Recovered Memory Movement
By Ethan Watters
Mr. Watters is a journalist and author whose work focuses on psychiatry and social psychology
Most students in psychology and psychiatry programs today are too young to have any firsthand memory of the moral panic engendered by the recovered memory movement in the 1980s and early 1990s. This was a time when therapists proudly advertised their ability to help clients unearth supposedly repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse; the accusations that followed shattered families and communities across the country.
The belief that such memories could be repressed and then recovered through special techniques was widespread among mental health professionals for well over a decade. In books and on television, therapists portrayed themselves as the first generation of healers to understand both these mechanisms of repression and how to unlock them without contaminating the story that emerged.
The results were dramatic: Patients often recovered abuse memories that began in infancy and lasted for decades. Some came to believe not only that they had repressed memories but also that their minds had fractured into many personalities to manage the pain and betrayal.
With a few decades’ perspective, it’s clear this level of confidence led to disastrous results. In 2005 a Harvard psychology professor, Richard McNally, called the recovered memory movement “the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy era.”
The effects of this “catastrophe” spread far beyond the mental health field. Many innocent people had their careers and lives ruined. Further, the moral panic planted and spread conspiracy theories, especially in fundamentalist and evangelical church groups, about vast networks of satanic cults kidnapping, breeding, torturing and murdering tens of thousands of children, and doing so, under the noses but somehow beyond the reach (or even protected by) police, the FBI/CIA, or liberal Democrats. As Watters recounts:
That popular culture influenced what happened in therapy is clear. . . . Pop culture also seemed to drive two of the more incredible outgrowths of the movement: the precipitous rise of multiple personality disorder and the widespread belief that satanic cults were abusing children on an industrial scale. Two best-selling books, “Sybil,” published in 1973, and “Michelle Remembers,” published in 1980, were critical in stoking public interest. Both books tell supposedly true stories of therapists helping their patients recover memories during therapy. Both were later thoroughly debunked — but not until long after they had their impact.
Stories of satanic cults have arisen in different times and places for over a millennium, but “Michelle Remembers” gets credit for kicking off the particular hysteria that struck the 1980s. The book describes the treatment of Michelle Smith, who recovered memories of being held captive in cages filled with snakes and witnessing the butchering of kittens and stillborn babies.
The popularity of “Michelle Remembers” was a precursor to hundreds of stories that began popping up across the country about day cares and preschools suspected of harboring Satan-worshiping child abusers. In a parallel development, patients in recovered memory therapy began to “recover” stories of satanic abuse from their childhoods. These types of memories were far from uncommon: One survey of clinicians taken in 1994 revealed that 13 percent reported seeing at least one case of a patient remembering ritualistic abuse. Thousands of patients described truly incredible scenes of ritual murders, cannibalization, gang rapes and forced pregnancies.
For quite a long time, there was a broad consensus in popular opinion that memories recovered in therapy — including the outlandish satanic cult tales — were true. Nearly a decade after the publication of “Michelle Remembers,” Ms. Smith appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show. Her stories of torture and human sacrifice were portrayed by the host as if they were indisputable facts.
Other prominent believers in the validity of recovered memories and satanic ritual abuse ranged from the feminist icon Gloria Steinem to the evangelical preacher Pat Robertson to the talk show host Geraldo Rivera. In 1993, Ms. magazine published a cover story with the warning “Believe it! Cult ritual abuse exists.” These prominent and well-respected public figures were seemingly convinced that an international cult of satanic child abusers would soon be fully exposed.
Fortunately, what was eventually exposed was that, while child abuse was real enough, a vast satanic conspiracy was not behind it, and “recovered memories” were mainly coerced compliance with credulous adult fantasies masquerading as therapy or religion. Michelle Remembers , among other accounts, was extensively and effectively critiqued.
However, while the “moral panic” it produced soon subsided, like a latent virus, the notion of cult child kidnappers and cannibals never entirely disappeared. Abetted by social media, a new version of it, called Pizzagate, emerged in 2016 from the toxic mix of dark internet channels, social media, and rightwing conspiracy broadcasts such as Infowars. This time many allegations named Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as the center of a murderous child sex trafficking ring, which supposedly had a torture chamber hidden in the basement of an obscure Washington DC pizza parlor.
In December, 2016 a North Carolina man, Edgar Maddison Welch, invaded the pizza parlor brandishing an AR-15 assault rifle, ostensibly to rescue child captives. Welch fired the weapon, but no one was injured, and he was arrested. The pizza parlor was “revealed” as having neither a basement, any captive children, nor evidence implicating Hillary Clinton.
The troubled human mind appears uniquely attuned to clues from social settings, mirroring behaviors, feelings and beliefs with little or no conscious awareness. In her 2021 book “The Sleeping Beauties,” the neurologist Dr. Suzanne O’Sullivan wrote compellingly of immigrant children falling into comalike states and groups of young women experiencing seizures without organic cause. Her insights into the connection between culture and these unique symptoms of psychopathology are trenchant.
“We embody narratives,” she explained. “Some are told to us by powerful people — doctors, politicians, activists, public figures, celebrities.” She continued, “If a model for illness is vivid enough and the basis for the illness is sufficiently salient, it is easily internalized by the individual and then passed from person to person.”
The recovered memory narrative, along with multiple personality disorder, became, for a time, one of those compelling and socially contagious models for illness. Healers, politicians, activists and celebrities were all involved in making the story salient and legitimate. The cultural currents they collectively created were strong.
Sometimes . . . cultural influences on patients’ symptoms are entirely unconscious, and the vectors of the contagion are difficult to identify. But the impact of cultural beliefs on the rise of recovered memory therapy is simply impossible to ignore. The process that recovered memory therapists describe in their books was the looping effect on steroids.
Patients began with vague symptoms of distress and ended up with a compelling story of why they were unhappy — a story that was embraced and promoted in both the mental health profession and popular culture. In the end, the patients had new memories, a new designation as a survivor and altered relationships with everyone in their lives. The transformation into a new identity — a new way of being — could hardly have been more dramatic.
Or, for many of us, more familiar, or more current: every day I read or hear people lamenting the drastic change that has come over relatives, friends, associates; and I lament such changes too; and agonize about their potential social /political outcomes.
I also have memories of my own:
In 1991, I reported on a case involving some British Quakers in the print predecessor of this blog. The house of a Quaker family living quietly on the Scottish isle of Orkney was suddenly invaded at dawn by police and child protection workers, their children seized from their beds and taken away, and the parents threatened with major legal charges, based entirely on unconfirmed allegations of being part of this intercontinental satanic child-abusing conspiracy. The full article is online here. (No paywall.
Can it happen again? It already has, a year ago in January at the Capitol and itssimmering toward another boil. Watters does not offer a facile. “How-To-Prevent-A-New-Panic (or Panics)” list. He notes that the exposure and discrediting of the recovered memory infestation was largely the work of reporters and detectives outside of the mental health field, who had not, pardon the expression, drunk the kool-aid; it took years. And his conclusion is not upbeat:
Recently, I spent an afternoon watching various TikTok channels under the hashtags #recoveredmemory and #dissociativeidentitydisorder. The ideas and themes I heard, mostly from young adults, were disturbingly familiar. Belief in memory repression and the idea that the mind can split into dozens of distinct personalities are alive and well. Across social networking sites, I also found a maelstrom of information, opinion and conversation about mental health topics . . . . The internet as we know it didn’t exist during the rise of recovered memory therapy, but it is a powerful cultural force now and may be ground zero for the creation of new symptom pools, new looping effects and new ways of being.
What takes place on social media will, no doubt, influence what develops during private therapy sessions. Effectively treating this new generation will require an understanding of how culture is once again shaping the symptoms of patients and the certainties of healers. Without that knowledge, mental health professionals will risk engendering new hysterias that they can neither control nor cure.