Unspoken Conditions Resulting From Incarceration: Conspiratorial Thinking    by   Ruth Utnage

If you’ve ever had a family member or friend incarcerated for a long period, say 7 years or more, then you invariably welcomed them back into their community a changed person. There are numerous changes that a person undergoes as a result of long-term incarceration. Recently I have noticed a trend in myself and some of my peers that I can finally name. Conspiratorial Thinking.

Because we are information deprived, both intentionally and unintentionally, and our brains are problem-solving organisms when we see a gap in information we simply fill it in with what makes sense in that situation for our own particular circumstances. Over the long-term we sometimes make giant leaps and begin to make connections where they really do not exist. I call this inventing constellations.

We see a few dots in the sky (information), and they occur in similar time frames or situations relative to one another (over the course of a few hours, say), and because we do not have all the information about why something occurred or whom exactly did something for whatever reason- the linking begins (forming constellations where they do not exist).

This type of thinking is both unhealthy and dangerous. First, the link that is made may not be accurate and may only be made because of some previous memory that is unrelated (i.e., this type of person did this thing, therefore, it stands to reason that this type of person is most likely responsible for these things in the future). This is their “truth” that may not be true in any sense of the word. Second, it creates unnecessary tension between us and figures in authority.

Simple protocols become tension builders that cause extreme divisions simply because the inmate does not understand why something is occurring. A simple explanation would suffice to end this occurrence.

But over time, another result from constellation inventing is mistrust. One demographic may be telling the complete truth and the “opposing” demographic will not believe the truth because they have made their own constellations that are entirely fictitious.

As you are welcoming your loved ones back into society, know that this is going to happen and will result in some strange behaviors.

With Love
Ruth Utnage