via The Marshall Project

There are few situations that are more stressful than being incarcerated. The threat of physical violence looms over everything. You are separated from the people you love. Your personal freedom is all but gone.

One stressor that's seldom discussed is the psychological abuse people experiencing incarceration must endure from prison staff, namely their corrections officers.

This form of punishment was outlined in a thesis by Patrick Doolittle, a senior at Yale studying criminal justice, called "'The Zo': Disorientation and Retaliatory Disorientation in American Prisons."


This 96-page essay was based on an archive of letters compiled by the American Prison Writing Archive.

"The Zo" is a "disturbing study of a struggle between prisoners and their captors, waged not with fists or weapons but with deliberately disorienting rules and impossible tasks," The Marshall Project's website reads.

via MyFuture.com

It explains the tactics guards use to gaslight inmates to keep them psychologically off-balance. Eventually, the inmates become disoriented, slowly lose their identities, and become nothing more than numbers in the confusing system.

This feeling is known by inmates as the Twilight Zone or "The Zo" for short.

Doolittle's paper was handed over to The Marshall Project a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.

But the nonprofit was unsure what to do with a 96-page essay. So they decided to turn it into a short, animated video series explaining what it's like to live in "The Zo."

Below is the first video in the three-part series, "Induction," narrated by Michael K. Williams ("The Wire," "Boardwalk Empire"). The video shows how prison guards and administrators use deliberate bureaucratic paradoxes to make prisoners question their grip on reality.

You can watch the rest of the series at The Marshall Project.


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