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When in Rome


  Imagine what it must be like to be in prison and having to, in whatever way; adjust to your environment as a means of survival. While I’ve never been in prison I have seen shows on television showing how inmates interact, often following a chain of command even outside of the legal authority. This chain of command appears to often be related to gang relations or some form of power attained either by seniority or the ability to manage and control those around you. In this chain of command you have those who are aggressors and those who are victims. Typically the victims are the ones unable to adjust to their surrounding and are seen as a target. Of course there are those who manage to stick to themselves and probably can avoid trouble to some extent. Those who spend a certain amount of time in this environment are labeled as being “institutionalized” or having a “prison mentality.” The truth is these individuals have adjusted to survive which considering their environment isn’t a bad thing. 

Growing up in a relatively violent and volatile environment I choose to become aggressive as a means to prevent being victimized or even being seen as a victim. Just acting tough or trying to look tough goes only so far but when you have the opportunity to show your power by physical altercations you can prove the look is in fact not just show. After expressing yourself aggressive you at least eliminate any question as to whether or not you are willing to defend your position. Unfortunately even though those around you know you will fight it still does not provide you the opportunity to show vulnerability because that would most certainly invite those around you to attempt to dominate you. Those who are dominated get to live out each day afraid of everyone and being targeted by everyone on the “chain of command.”

When and if a person is allowed to come out of that environment they probably won’t have the ability to switch off their “prison mentality” even if they exist in a non violent or threatening environment. Having learned the skill of survival has served them well for a long time and interacting with others in a vulnerable way isn’t even considered. Not being able to show vulnerability or carrying yourself in a threatening manner prevents others from getting close to you as one of the bases for forming friendships is showing vulnerability. If I meet someone and I sense they are venerable in whatever way it relaxes me and allows me to perhaps show a level of vulnerability. This practice is fairly new to me and I am learning to “let down my guard” knowing my environment is in fact safe and the people I know are not attempting to size me up and take advantage when the opportunity arises. 

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