America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
Psychedelic Re-education: A Policy Proposal for the Incarcerated
Why do we need psychedelic re-education camps and MDMA based therapeutic programs for our prisoners? That is a great question. This proposal is based on the contention that if we are going to lock people up then we are implicitly saying that those people are not like us – that they have abrogated their humanity. For us to simply throw away the key and allow them to create horribly violent sub-cultures, which in turn actually affect our own communities and larger culture and make us more violent, says that we are no different from them at all. We have a humanitarian commitment beyond that. Unlike developing nations, buying 1-goat per prisoner isn’t going to lift our prisoners out of the mental poverty we have created for them. Only the peaks and valleys of a pure phenethylamine high can do that.
Prisoners should be re-educated and treated, not on the kinds of drugs that make them mindless slaves like Prozac or Ritalin, but rather with entheogens that will open their minds and expand their vistas. Have you ever seen a violent person on pure MDMA or psilocybin? Now I’m not talking about letting them get intoxicated and go crazy; I’m talking about psychedelics for prisoners in a therapeutic and controlled setting – prefaced with months of educational materials and gardening.
Some say this is the wrong approach – that drugs got them into jail in the first place. I say let’s re-educate prisoners to love – to be Earth-loving hippies. We should even have a state-by-state ballot initiative where we communally decide how they will be re-educated and which psychoactive compounds will be used to re-educate them. The suggestions provided in this paper are even aligned with the interests of the FDA, the American Psychiatric Association, the Corrections Corporation of America, and large pharmaceutical companies; the FDA would be able to expand into a whole new regulatory world, while the APA could restart all the research on MDMA for trauma patients that was shut down in the 1980’s. Furthermore the CCA would have not only a compliant workforce, but a highly motivated and enthusiastic one. Pharmaceutical companies would be able to make billions more every year providing entheogenic compounds to the more than 2 million Americans currently imprisoned.
Let’s not kid ourselves: these prisoners are in fact being “re-educated” into a culture of violence, hatred, and homosexuality. And that is of course the primary reason prisons exist: they are a shadow in the background of our culture, a kind of distant, yet ever-possible, fear for the citizenry. Prisons are a form of social punishment and control against the lower classes and the marginalized. But why don’t we change the dialogue to say, “Hey baby I’m gonna punish you with love. And it’s going to hurt so good.” What must be done-away with is the idea of prisons as punishment and replaced with the idea of prisons as betterment.
Ideas for the educational portion of the program would include a rigorous meditation program designed to promote personal and spiritual growth, and a wilderness survival program, with a strong focus on botany and horticulture, as well as a graduation style structure based on existing prison-based/mandatory educational models (traditionally called schools, as developed by the Prussians in the early 19th century). These ideas will be explored in this policy proposal.
Now a real re-educational system is going to be hard given the actual physical reality prisoners have to deal with; Alexander et al. poignantly describe in A Pattern Language how architecture influences and determines our cultural and inter-personal relationships and experiences. He says, essentially, that the architectural design of a space more or less determines how people interact. So with this proposal we can start to break down those walls between cells and create a community of giving. Security costs and prison construction costs would decrease.
It is unconscionable that corporations are the only ones to benefit from modern-day prisons. Why not develop work teams of prisoners who are advanced in their re-education program and send them into communities across the nation to do real work that helps actual people? They could clean up after disasters, shovel snow, and fix things. They could build large numbers of cob houses to create sustainably green communities.
The strong focus on gardening will allow inmates to re-connect with the earth, release their traumas, and become whole again. It will also give them practical skills with which they could feed entire communities, including themselves; this would further reduce prison costs and the costs of local communities. Once the prisoner has completed a certain amount of meditation and gardening he or she would then be introduced to the wilderness survival portion of the program.
Wilderness survival would put inmates in a harsh environment for 3-5 days without food and require them to take psilocybe cubensis mushrooms on the final day. The inmate is sure to find God at the end of this experience, at which point he will reach a critical step in his re-education process. This is where he is most impressionable and should be given the most freedom; ideally at this stage he would choose, or begin to consider, his “core purpose” in the prison. The idea here is to give the inmate a deeply meaningful and spiritual rite-of-passage experience that has been all but forgotten in American culture.
We want to empower these inmates. Thus, a graduation style structure where they achieve a certain class standing at different intervals in their education is important; an organization with strong capitalist or religious control on the outside and communal equality on the inside is actually a form of personal disempowerment to the members and is essentially a cult-like style of managing people. Furthermore, inmates are still likely to have strong social stratifications within the prison; the goal wouldn’t be to destroy cliques, but rather to re-define the lines upon which they are drawn. Instead of groups based on race, hatred, or “whose going to get turned out,” they could be defined in terms of an inmate’s ability to teach others, or their level of personal enlightenment, or even their emotional empathy. In such a system one can imagine how inmates might have impromptu classes or lectures much like the philosophical lessons Aristotle used to have in the Greek amphitheaters. For a more in depth analysis of prison based social systems see Barbara Pabjan’s paper Researching Prison – a Sociological Analysis of Social System.
The modern conception of a prison could even be done-away with and replaced by one where the inmate must learn to build his own cob house in a remote wilderness. All you would need is one big Jurassic park sized electric fence preventing inmates from leaving. This would help to combine the wilderness portion of the program with the gardening portion.
There are many creative ideas to consider for this re-education program as we move toward a bright new future, which will transform the prison industry as we know it.