Sunday, October 2, 2011

Do psychiatric institutions want to make people well?

from FLASHBACKS, an Autobiography by Timothy Leary (Published by Jeremy P. Tarcher ©1983, 1990 Timothy Leary.

MARCH 1961
HARVARD UNIVERSITY I walked through the first tall cellblock, across the prison yard to the hospital. Bell, peephole, metal hinges creaking. Entered the hospital. Knocked on the door of the prison psychiatrist. It opened and facing me was good news. The prison psychiatrist was black and definitely avant-garde. Hurray! Philosopher Thomas Kuhn said that when you wish to introduce change-technology to a culture, you'll find your best allies among the outsiders, those whose alienation from the establishment makes them more open to change.

Aside from being a black psychiatrist Dr. Jefferson Monroe [Madison Presnell] stood out in the primitive period of 1961 as another kind of rarity—a sophisticated psychiatrist. Impeccable, graceful, hip. He had a twinkle in his eye and a wise, cool way of looking at you. He was definitely ready for something neew.

A few days later Dr. Monroe paid a return call at the Faculty Club and then came to a staff meeting at the Center. We put him on the Harvard payroll as a consultant. The following Sunday he brought his wife over for cocktails.

"Your plan to teach prisoners to brainwash themselves is simply delicious. There's even a slight chance you can pull it off. Do you know what that might mean?"

"A great boon to society," I suggested.

Dr. Monroe crossed his legs gracefully and laughed. "My dear, you don't really understand what you're getting into, do you? Sooner or later you're going to discover that law enforcement people and prison administrators have no desire to cut crime. They want more crime and more money to fight it. I'll cover you from the medical and psychiatric end, but sooner or later, if your methods work they'll start coming down on you. Reporters, bureaucrats, officials. 'Harvard Gives Drugs to Prisoners!' And you're going to have to do the impossible. Cure prisoners with your left hand while you try to hold off the entire bureaucracy with your right. "

"So what? If it works."

"Being human, sooner or later you'll make a teeny little mistake. One of your subjects will revert. 'Harvard Drug Parolee Robs Bank.' "

 "As long as we do everything out front, no secrets," I said, "we can make a few honest mistakes."

"Maybe," said Monroe. "Look, here's the deal. I'll back you all-out, until you goof. When they start coming down on you, exactly at that point I'll have to protect my own pretty black ass. 'Cause, I'm not you. I'm not the new Freud. So I'll win with you, but I can't afford to lose with you."

On that basis we agreed on a plan: Monroe would line up volunteers in the prison population for the drug project and I'd line up Harvard graduate students willing to put their nervous systems on the line taking drugs with maximum security prisoners.

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