Sunday, February 10, 2008

GroupThink: the Lighter Side - Chapter 5

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“Would you please tell me what’s going on?”

Ed glanced over at his wife, Mary, as they left town. The last few hours had been hectic, throwing some things into the car, grabbing Mary from work and heading out of town. The whole time, Ed had felt the “eye” of the Coalition watching him. Some of the inmates had even given him helpful tips:

Don’t forget your toothbrush!

Oh, thanks, …get out of my head!


Now, as he put miles between himself and Attica, the voice seemed to be slowly fading.

But what should he tell Mary? “Hey Mar: there’s this weird mind-control thing going on at the prison so I thought I’d leave before…no.” How about “you know how in ‘Planet of the Apes’ there were these guys would could control minds so…no.”

They stopped for some gas and Ed used the restroom. He looked in the mirror, trying to figure out what to say. Thinking back, he recalled a time when he had to tell a girl whom you had actually hit it off with that he had to leave. It was a sad time, when they had decided to rescind his parole.

Abruptly Ed realized that it was not his memory.

Ed left the gas station and kept driving. Mary seemed to have resigned herself to whatever Ed was doing and kept staring blankly out the window as they drove through the night.

Ed woke up the next day and sat bolt upright. Mary stirred next to him and rubbed her eyes. Looking blearily at him she said:

“What is it?”

“Nothing. I hear nothing.”


“Don’t you see? It’s back to the way it was!”

“What was it like before?”

“About the same.”

Mary gave him a “well…he’s my jerk” look and went to the bathroom. Ed looked around and tried to put his finger on what the difference was, but it eluded him. He tried “remembering” the foreign thought he had last night, but failed. He tried “calling” on the voice but could not hear anything. Ed was on the verge of dancing when Mary came back in the room.

“Why are you so happy?”

“I’m free!”

“Great. Now what do we do?”

Ed’s mouth dropped. A good question. Hundreds of miles from their home, no job…not a good situation.

Back at Attica, the Coalition was pondering its next move.

If that is how non-convicts react to us, we are going to be in trouble soon.

Just then another person joined. The Coalition gave the mental equivalent of a hand wave.

The possibility that Ed might tell the police did not concern the Coalition – it was rather amusing to think of poor Ed running around telling people about “the voices in my head.” What did concern it was having members arrive and leave by the hundreds. If things kept up the way they were going, all 2000+ inmates would be Coalition in 12 months. There would simply be no way to avoid the problem if it came to that.

What we could really use is the warden.

Yes, but just thinking about a guard caused Ed to join, and look what happened with that.

Good point…wait a minute! I am the warden!

Uh oh…

Over the next month or so, several other guards and prison employees joined the ranks of the Coalition. A quick examination led it to the conclusion that it wasn’t that prison held societies criminals, prison just held the ones who had been caught.

Having the warden join the Coalition simplified the problem immensely. It effectively halted the release process. When you got right down to it, people were very concerned that criminals go to jail, but there was much less concern around ensuring that they got released.

While the basic problem remained, the Coalition had some breathing space.

* * *

Year 10, Month 6

Breathe in.

For a person whose life is chaotic, a moment of sanity can be jarring.

Breathe out.

In the case of the Coalition, many members had gone their whole lives in a blur of chaos. Victims of abuse, foster homes, and the just plain socially maladapted – they covered much of the extreme end of a chaotic life.

Breathe in.

One thing about the day-to-day in prison is that it is very predictable. One day is very like the next on the inside. When you factor in complete control of the prison itself, like the Coalition had, there was very little to upset the rhythm of life.

Breathe out.

Japanese traditions call this “Wa” or harmony. Some of the members of the Coalition who had been to Alcoholics Anonymous called it “Serenity.” Whatever it was, the People (as the Coalition called its members), were experiencing this feeling on a very large scale.

There were no fights, no threats, nothing out of order. Many of the People felt like they were underwater. The sound had been turned down. There was nothing touching them. Serenity. Wa.

Breathe in.

Being one of the People also gave perspective. The odd thing was how easily guys like the warden meshed with the rest. Sometimes it seemed like the difference between those on the inside and those outside was luck: the ones on the inside had been caught.

Whatever the case, while some of the People were extreme, most of them were not a whole lot different from the non-convicted members. Many of the non-cons were just as surprised at experiencing serenity as the convicts were.

Breathe out.

If harmony was strange and new, the concept of group meditation was even stranger. The Coalition had to be careful when doing this: otherwise everyone would stop what they were doing and meditate all the time. The feeling was contagious and somewhat addictive. Those who were better at it could help the ones who had trouble, hence, the group as a whole learned very quickly.

Open your eyes.

200 people simultaneously came out of the meditative state. In various states of repose, they got up, moved about and left the room so that another 200 could come in. The Coalition had to limit the time and size of the groups.

If the rest of the inmates thought something weird was going on before, now they felt that the place had been invaded. The inmates had a tendency to be paranoid to begin with, but these days some of them were jumping out of their skin at the slightest noise.

The Coalition gave a mental sigh. The day was coming soon when it would have to leave. No paroles and no departures for 6 months was pushing its luck. It didn’t help that some of the non-members had been talking about how weird Attica was before the People had managed to get control of the mail going into and out of the prison.

What was coming was risky. The entire population was going to have to leave in the space of one day. This was going to make the news all over the world. There might even be nation-wide panic. How do you explain 2000+ prisoners vanishing, and worse, how do you explain that you can’t find them?

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