“These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.”
Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) gets put in Shawshank Prison in New England after his wife and her new lover turn up dead. He is slow to make friends, but manages to win over Red (Morgan Freeman) with his amiable strolling and lack of nighttime wailing. During his long stint in the clink, Andy becomes a librarian, a banker, and a rock collector, but he never gives up hope of also becoming an escapee.
Brooks was Here
I thought about putting the Brooks scene in this blog post, but my tear ducts can’t handle it. Old Brooks (James Whitmore) has been in Shawshank for awhile; when he gets released, he gets put in a halfway house, gets a job bagging groceries, and has a hard time sleeping. He’s not used to life outside the prison walls, so he commits suicide.
It’s so fucking sad, you guys.
Instead of making you watch that part, ^the video features Red talking about Brooks getting feisty when he discovers he is going to be let out of prison. Rather than celebrating their friend’s freedom, the men worry about Brooks on the outside – and their worries prove to be well-founded.
Syndrome is a medical term for a group of similar symptoms that don’t have one obvious cause. Turns out that institutionalization – or institutional syndrome – is a real phenomenon sometimes suffered by ex-convicts. The symptoms are unspecific, but this syndrome refers to a lack of inability to adjust to new responsibilities or social demands once convicts are out of prison. Complicated matters like handling finances can seem overwhelming; simple things like going to the bathroom without asking for permission can also be overwhelming. On top of this, people released from prison – especially after lengthy stays – are now adjusting to a different lifestyle and abandoning friends they made in prison. This type of adjustment is seen as a positive one by onlookers, but can bring emotional stress and anxiety on those going through the readjustment process.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
One component of Institutional Syndrome is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; in recent years, it has become clear that this is a pretty common disorder, as any type of trauma can have lasting effects on anyone who experiences a perceived traumatic event.
Nightmares – Trauma is relived by those with PTSD, sometimes via bad dreams. Brooks confesses to the fellas in Shawshank that he has trouble sleeping. Going to prison and his reason for being there might be the root of Brooks’ trauma, but living in the outside world with no one to care for him might be part of the problem too.
Detachment – Brooks does not have any friends or family on the outside. He’s a kindly man, but perhaps his age or his own insecurities about his past cause undue difficulty in social interactions. It’s not clear if he is detached on purpose or if his struggles to adjust are causing the detachment. What is clear is that Brooks is very lonely.
Brooks’ situation is not unique, but better education on how to support ex-cons once they get released can lead to better systems that foster hope, and redemption.