I’ve been thinking more about the Roxanne Carr videos. About the way she was handled by the police in the cell block. The officers seemed so calm and methodical, as if they were just following proper procedure. They didn’t seem to be angry or out of control. Add to this the fact that the Acting Chief said he was satisfied, upon viewing the videos, that they handled her with the utmost professionalism.
So perhaps this is standard operating procedure. Perhaps this is how people are routinely treated in the Ottawa cell block.
Perhaps it’s normal for half a dozen officers to tie a woman’s arms together behind her back while she’s face-down on the floor, handcuffed and clearly not resisting. Perhaps it’s normal for several people to forcibly remove her clothing. I can only assume it must be normal if it didn’t cause the Acting Chief any consternation, and if two reviews exonerated the officers.
There’s a book called Asylums, written 50 years ago by sociologist Erving Goffman. It is about “total institutions” – closed worlds, such as asylums, prisons, army training camps, boarding schools, old age homes, where the inmates are not free to leave.
He talks about admission procedures to such institutions, and how they are designed to convert the individual into a more pliable object. There are a series of “abasements, degradations, humiliations, and profanations of self.” For example, depending on the institution, there may be “taking of a life history, photographing, weighing, fingerprinting, assigning numbers, searching, listing personal possessions for storage, undressing, bathing, disinfecting, haircutting, issuing institutional clothing, instructing as to rules, assigning to quarters.”
There may be an obedience test or a will-breaking contest, in which defiance is provoked and then punished until the individual accepts defeat and humbles himself.
“The admission procedure can be characterized as a leaving off and a taking on, with the midpoint marked by physical nakedness.”
That would be leaving off of one’s individual identity, and a taking on of a new, assigned identity as an inmate of an institution. There’s much more to it, of course, including loss of privacy, forced relationships, loss of chosen relationships, loss of self-determination.
A prison would be a more classic example of a total institution, since one’s stay there is generally long-term. But I would think any form of incarceration, even an overnight stay in the cell block, bears some similarities.
Perhaps what we are witnessing in the videos of Roxanne Carr and Stacey Bonds in the Ottawa cell block is a series of degradations and humiliations considered perfectly normal and acceptable by the people who carry them out. Meanwhile, the rest of us might expect that a non-resisting prisoner would be escorted into the cell block and politely processed, and then restraints would be removed, and the person would be placed in a cell.
Perhaps that’s how both sides can view the same video and come to such radically different conclusions.
Perhaps we need to be having a different conversation entirely.