Psychology

Comparing the Theory of Lifespace and Prison



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Lifespace and the Prison World

There was this movie I saw about life in prison. The title was "The Shawshank Redemption". The stars were, Tim Robbins (Andy Dufresne), Morgan Freeman (Red Redding), and James Whitmore (Brooks Hatlen).

Brooks Hatlen was paroled after 50 years. And, the world into which he stepped out was no longer the same world from where he came when he went in. As anyone would expect, Brooks got the biggest culture shock of his life. The world outside was a totally different world; big, strange, and fast. Prison has made Brooks' world small. Unable to adapt, he hanged himself.

Brooks said in his letter to his friends in Shawshank:

"I can't believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid but, now they're everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry . . . . . . . I have trouble sleepin' at night. I have had dreams like I'm fallin'. I wake up scared. Sometimes, it takes me awhile to remember where I am. Maybe I should get me a gun and rob the Foodway, so they'd send me home. I could shoot the manager while I was at it, sort of like a bonus. I guess I'm too old for that nonsense anymore. I don't like it here. I'm tired of being afraid all the time. I've decided not to stay. I doubt they'll kick up any fuss. Not for an old crook like me."

Home for Brooks was the prison. He wanted to go home to it so bad. The world outside of prison has become too big and too complicated for him. In his mind, he had become irrelevant.

The Theory

The person responsible for the theory of lifespace was Kurt Lewin (1890 - 1947). He said that a field is "the totality of coexisting facts which are conceived of as mutually interdependent" (Field Theory, published 1951).

This theory maintains that the lifespace within which the individual acts is a conglomeration of many lifespaces which create the experiences that govern his or her behavior. Experiences in the different lifespaces make up what the person is. To be able to understand the person's behavior you need to look into his/her experiences within these lifespaces. For example, family is a lifespace. So is work, school, church, the social circle within which one moves, and any other areas where a person may find himself or herself and may either influence it or be influenced by it and gaining experience therefrom.

So, thought and behavior patterns begin in the lifespace. It is there where principles, beliefs, ideals, theories about the world and everything that govern a person's thought processes are formed. Formed as it were, by the experiences that impact his or her consciousness.

The lifespace could be limited or boundless, depending on the capacity of the person's mind to grasp the reality that surrounds it. Obviously, where the faculties are impaired, the ability to form a healthy lifespace would be likewise impaired. Where physical constraints are imposed upon a person - resulting in a limited experiential formation - such a person would also have a very limited lifespace. Consequently, expanding one's consciousness expands one's lifespace.

This explains what happened to Brooks Hatlen. His lifespace formation was limited by the confines of the prison walls.

There was another character in the movie, Red Redding, played by Morgan Freeman. While answering questions before the parole board, Red Redding said, "To tell the truth, I don't give a "shit," indicating he couldn't care less whether he got paroled or not. He got paroled anyway.

In one instance, while working as a bag man in a grocery store, he needed to go to the bathroom. He asked permission from his boss who said, "If you need to go, just go. No need to ask." On the outside, Red was acting out life patterns formed while he was in prison. Where everything that anyone needed to do must be done with supervision.

In his narration, Red said that for so long all his actions had been under the control of somebody else. He said, ".... forty years I been asking permission to piss. I can't squeeze a drop without say-so."

Outside, he cannot act on his own. He was socially, and culturally clumsy. The prospect of being on his own, to do things on his own, scared him.

He said, "There is a harsh truth to face. No way I'm gonna make it on the outside. All I do anymore is think of ways to break my parole. Terrible thing to live in fear. Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all too well. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won't have to be afraid all the time."

Red experienced fear outside of prison. In his prison world everything was predictable. He was the wise one inside. He always knew what was going to happen next. But, the world outside was unpredictable and very threatening.

Walls Do Not a Prison Make

There was another character in the movie, Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins. Andy had a different experience. Inside prison, he never ceased to hope for freedom. To his friend Red, he said,

"Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best thing. And, no good thing ever dies."

Unlike Red and Brooks, whose entire worlds ( both mind and body) were limited to the confines of the prison wall, Andy's encompassed the outside. He did not allow his mind to be imprisoned. It is this consciousness that never killed his desire to escape. Andy spent 20 years at Shawshank Prison. In those 20 years he worked on his escape. In the end, he did.

One thing that worked in Andy's favor was that he was a professional and working as a banker before he went in. So, he had his formation on the outside. In a sense, he was already "fully formed" when he got in. Red and Brooks, on the other hand, were very young when they got in and basically grew up - and grew old in prison.

It is important to draw this contrast. Andy's formation was made on the outside. His lifespace was stable. On the part of Red and Brooks, the substantial part of their formation was inside. Whatever early formation they had was later on eclipsed by the prison environment. While they were inside, things had changed dramatically on the outside. They world "passed them by," so to speak.

One more thing that worked in Andy's favor was his education. With these, he managed to keep intact his experience of the outside world with the use of his imagination. "Irons don't bar a cage", as a poet once said. With his prior knowledge of what the world was, he knew what it was going to be.

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