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Islamic and Christian Conversion in Prison

November 26, 2014

My latest article Religious Conversion in Prison: Prosocial V. Antisocial Identities appears in the International Journal of Education and Social Science, Research Institute for Progression of Knowledge. http://www.ijessnet.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/7.pdf.

In this article “Prisoner transformation through religious conversion is a varied pathway where the reasons for seeking change, for selecting religion as a means of change, the selection of a helper, the religious group affiliated with and the effect of social, cultural and political factors create subtle distinctions in how one experiences conversion or not and if so, how transformation develops and proceeds toward anti- or pro-social outcomes.  Does this tell us anything that we may later quantify and statistically base predictions upon? In responding to this question there are seven points worthy of consideration.

First, religious conversion and transformation in identity is a “much nuanced pathway”.

Second, what is found in both religions is that there are many “forks in the road” during the conversion process and transforming identities. Forks were evidenced in both the inclusivist and exclusivist religious community identity and in the incorporationist and rejectionist worldview identity.

Third, the narratives evidenced that religion is just one alternative for gaining knowledge of self. Other alternatives are education, counseling, and gangs.

Fourth, in comparing Christian and Islamic participants it emerged that not all of either faith who experience religious conversion and become inclusivist or exclusivist and in both types there are both incorporationists and rejectionists. Of the 22 participants 2 coding exclusive and 2 coding inclusive were rejecting of society. Moreover of those coding both exclusive and rejecting one was Christian and one was Islamic. Most participants were cooperative toward larger society whether inclusive or exclusive in religious identity.

Fifth, in each religion no definitive process of radicalization emerged although one participant professing Islam and that coded exclusive/rejecting spoke of hate of white people and racism. And, in another case a professing Christian that coded exclusive/rejecting spoke of leading people in violent opposition to government.

Sixth, the four participants coded rejectionist used particular words related to specific concepts that disassociated and sanctified their anti-social behavior even in light of their profession of religion and spirituality.

Seventh, descriptive words and phrases may be operationalized in relation to concepts and scales created to quantify findings in future studies.

Policy Implications for Corrections and Directions for Research

This research establishes a model study for giving prisoners a voice in their transformation, it offers guidelines for study of religious conversion in prison, provides assistance to the correctional system and supports the professional and volunteer chaplaincy as part of an overall prison treatment program designed to help individuals seeking to change their lives pro-socially to do so, to desist from crime and thereby reduce their chances of returning to prison. Findings support a conclusion that isolating one religion as a radicalizing source unduly burdens free practice of religion and fails to recognize other religions have similar tendencies. As noted by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (2008) restrictions on any non-Christian religion must not result in having their “free exercise” rights to practice religion unduly burdened by the state without a compelling interest.

Prison administrators, chaplains, psychologists, counselors are better equipped to understand how including religion or spirituality into correctional treatment assists desistance (stopping crime) and thereby helps prisoners help themselves not return to prison. It promotes a better understanding of how involving the felon in an active role will promote possible transformation to a pro-social member of society (Norcross & Wampold, 2010; Worthington, Hook, Davis, & McDaniel, 2010).

Importantly, the findings support the need for an interdisciplinary approach where treatment professionals and institutional administrators work holistically with religious services as part of an overall treatment program.  Simultaneously it speaks to the need for trained volunteers for all religious faiths served by the prison chaplaincy programs. It therefore provides support and direction for prison chaplaincy and volunteer programs and enhances chaplaincy as a correctional profession.

America: the Free

February 25, 2015

@famousquotenet: Both oligarch and tyrant mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them of their arms. – Aristotle

The “Iron Rule of Power” doctrine says that ‘eventually even Democratic Republics will become centralized with a professional political elite.’

This occurs when the perhaps well meaning political elite perceive their ruling ability to be superior to the masses. In assuring the survival of the state and best functionality of society at large they will formulate an Oligarchy of the intelligentsia which will rule the society. The Oligarchy will regulate order and necessary change through the use of a strong military and military-like national law enforcement system. Social controls will be enforced through the use of severe and plentiful laws.

A problematic arises when groups within the citizenry realize that power is becoming too centralized and exclusive. Left unchallenged the intelligentsia will continue to slowly reorganize the society’s laws toward support of an Oligarchical leadership. During this time certain patriots or opportunists may attempt to enter the scene. These individuals and groups may seek to restore the Democratic Republic. Many of these challengers will be portrayed as traitors, whistle blowers and otherwise un-patriotic deviants or criminals. Where necessary to preserve the order of the change these groups will be silenced in the name of order, national security, or un-Americanism. Mass media will become a tool of the intelligentsia in managing the move from Democratic Republic to Oligarchy. Hence most of the public will be unaware of the change until all is complete.

In the midst of the transition from Democratic Republic to Oligarchy coups led by patriots and/ or opportunists may occur. These rallies in autonomy of the people may be marketed to the public as an attempt to restore order in the name of the people. If the coup is successful the leaders may restore the Democratic Republic or use their new power to establish authority in a Dictatorship.

Measuring Likelihood of Desistance From Crime Upon Release From Prison

February 24, 2015

Here is an article on prison systems across our nation that are attempting to predict continued criminal engagement among prisoners upon release.

The problem as I see it is that the questions being utilized attempts to predict future criminal engagement (criminality) in which the experience of prisonization in and of itself associates with a change in the individual.

Prisonization is the social and bureaucratic process of adjustment and adaptation of the individual to prison life. A major part of this adaptation involves ‘managing punishment ‘, ‘personal safety ‘ in a harsh climate and ‘learning how to navigate the bureaucracy of prison management and power and authority among the prisoner hierarchy’. These are multiple concerns which promote the ability to stay alive and hopefully remain sane and uninjured.

In the traditional measure, discussed in the article I am critiquing, what is being used as a predictor of future criminality upon release is the “ability to manage one’s life in order to maximize survival”. This appears to me to be an invalid measure for gauging desistance and predicting less likelihood for future criminal behavior upon release from prison. Rather it appears the current measure may be more indicative of greater criminality upon release as a result if the prison system itself.
Basically, prisonization teaches neutralization (to avoid seeing ones self as guilty) solidifies drift (where the felon takes on the full or a split identity embracing criminality as a legitimate means of attaining life goals, and teaching if better skills related to deviance and/or crime.

Rather what is needed is to focus on shifting prosocial identity as a predictor of desistance and less likelihood if recidivism. This is the heart of the model and measure I am currently working on. More to come.

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/027a00d70782476eb7cd07fbcca40fc2/states-predict-inmates-future-crimes-secretive-surveys

Peace?

February 15, 2015

When will people wake up? It is governments and their social institutions that change accepting children into rejecting adults? ~ Malcolm L. Rigsby

Chapel Hill: Shifting Expectations from East to West to East

February 15, 2015

By, Malcolm L. Rigsby, Ph.D., J.D.

As a sociologist and criminologist I must seek objectivity in my reasoning about society.  When headlines on heinous events such as the killing of three Muslim students, a lone Black man, the burning to death of a Palestinian in Israel, the killing of an American citizen by ISIS, or a homeless immigrant beaten to death in a U S city come to my attention I must control the guttural human emotion that touches my heart.  In this short essay I am calling out not only to my many friends across several cultures, but to Americans and foreigners who are also receiving similar reports that may urge a tit-for-tat exchange of violence.  Rather than allow emotion to dictate our categorization of groups or cultures based on the actions of one or a few, we must seek logic and reason as a means to cope, analyze portrayed events and seek change that will lead to positive social intercourse.

Since 9/11 there has been a growing fear in America.  This fear is not an excuse to categorize sub-cultures as evil demonized collections of people.  However, fear and other emotions, as basic behavioral and animalistic responses are often employed by social structures as a means of social control of the masses.  A bit of truth combined an authoritative but skewed report that directs the receiver of the message to focus upon a “demonized” target will drive some that receive the message to a behavioral response.  A response is always needed to initiate the inertia of the crowd and masses to follow the authority blindly, unquestioningly and immediately.  This process is used both by those seeking to preserve the status quo, and by those that wish to change it.  We see it employed in convincing people to support their country’s design to engage in war as well as in social activists seeking to bring a change to society as in reform of marriage in the U. S. A.  In order to spread the message the sponsor of the message must plan how the message will be distributed to the audience.  Each sponsor must enjoy a certain amount of power and authority in order to receive an initial audience.  In keeping this analysis simple the sponsor must have at its disposal an initially receptive audience that if recruited to the cause will become a type of midlevel distributors of the message and of which the public audience will listen to and believe.  Examples include members of the public that have actually perceived or experienced the fear “personally”, public personalities that can spread the message with “knowledge”, and the media who spreads the message with “authority”.

The fear and distrust of, apprehensions against and characterizations of quote “Muslims” in America is an example of our post-9/11.  Similar examples are plentiful across the globe.  Fear has fed the patriotism that has made the American military’s presence in the “War against Terrorism” possible without a draft.

What must be considered in our analysis of other cultures and sub-cultures within each of our societies is that as human beings we all share certain universals.  We all seek love, respect, a future ability to make a living, the need for religion, the need for family… these are only a few basic commonalities that bind us, rather than segregate us.  Granted, due to our histories, traditions, religions, governmental politics and structure we all have differing expectations of how these basic universals are played out and constructed.  Religion from a sociological analysis distinct from theology which explains the truth of the religion and falsity of other religions as a means to the Divine, provides each culture an understanding of self, relationships, family and above all answers to the unknown such as what will happen to each of us after our life.  Each religious tradition seeks to explain and provide these social needs.  As with the social institution of religion we must use cultural relativism and objectivity in seeking to locate within each of us our common expectations; our values and norms.  For example “life has value and it should not be taken”.  The problematic is that we all realize that groups and governments make exceptions to the values and norms of their society.  So what does this mean to our current post-9/11 era and tragedies such as Chapel Hill, Ferguson MO, and on?

Let’s say that in America we have three categories of people.  The first category is the “mentally ill” who for either psychological or physiological reasons are unable to adhere to the expectations of society.  The second category are the “deviant” who fail to accept either the value or norm and consequently feel inner pressure to make adaptations to the expectations of our society in regards to the value and behavior related to human life.  The third category are the “normative” or mentally stable and well socialized.  They accept and expect the value that life has and they accept the norm that we should not kill other humans.

These three categories may be compared as follows.  The mentally ill are susceptible to being manipulated by what they experience or perceive they experience in terms of sight, hearing, and feeling.  A distorted presentation of may easily become reality and moreover an accurate experience may be perceived as something different.  For example a news report of an isolated event may become paranoia against a type of person such as described in the news report.  The deviant on the other hand have rejected some or all of the society’s social expectations.  As an example these people may simply hate some or all “others” about them.  They may be indifferent to life of others or even self.  Moreover they may even desire the experience of taking another life.  This last example is problematic since our society may desire to treat the person that simply hates as a case for mental treatment.  In some instances this may be a mistake that will prove tragic for later victims.  Regardless the analysis both the mentally ill and deviant may be similar in objective analysis, but very different in terms of subjective analysis.  Failure of the society to identify the type and then treat or segregate the type will create some level of likelihood regarding future victims of the individual’s behavior in playing out their perceived situations or their rejection of society’s values and norms.

The third type is the normative category.  These are the ones that we might proclaim “how could such a good and normal person like Jack/Jill do such an evil thing?”  These are the people that may be religious or not, they may be professional or not; they seem like the ideal construct for the society.  The commonality underlying each type is the motivation to act which is generated by an event occurring in social structure and a promoting interaction within society.

Such alignments of social structure and social interaction promote justifications for action.  Action may be analyzed as rational, irrational or non-rational.  Rational action uses logic to think through and weigh the cost and the benefit of a given act.  Irrational action is converse to logic.  Non-rational action is oblivious to considering the logic of action.  A case in point is exemplified by how media and other social institutions of structure in society align with religion, politics and government to justify a socially accepted deviance from the norm.  This is the case of war and glorification of what would otherwise be defined as “intentional taking of the life of a human being” or “intentionally and premeditatedly killing another human”.  On the one hand we would call these either homicide or and enhanced murder.  These laws are logically relate to superior norms of virtually all societies called law and they serve the universal need for order and safety.  Moreover, these types of laws function to preserve and care for the overall society.  However, we make exceptions.  Sometimes more so than other times government must align its framed argument for war with the institutions and organizations of society such as religion, education and media to promote a face for the enemy.  This demonization of the opponent is attempted in order to secure the following by the general public.  It is easier for us to hurt evil demons than if we see them as people just like us.  When war is or becomes unpopular demonizing is enhanced through films, news, caricatures such as political cartoons and other distorted depictions.  Real life events may be dramatized to create a guttural, behavioral, and emotional crowd like response that will promote mobilization.  A byproduct of this activity in this example is called patriotism.  Like behavioral responses such as fear, patriotism is often a good thing and is integral to a society’s survival.  However, these crowd like behaviors unchecked or over promoted may lead to heroism that is hegemonically translated into a new understanding of values and norms for the society.  From these we get Sgt. York, Audie Murphy, Cris Kyle and others.  Media spreads these values and norms through simulations in the form of Gary Cooper, Bradley Cooper and even Audie Murphy playing himself.

It was Emile Durkheim that concluded that deviance has at least two roles for society.  It is not only destructive in society but often plays a role in shaping the evolution of every society.  Deviance in measured and orderly quantity and regulated degree of quality of life change is often positive to both a stable and orderly society that allows it to change and function in a way to assure its survival.  The problem is that external and internal stimulations that bring deviance in relation to expected values and norms may come too fast, in too great a quantity and quality.  When this occurs the masses of society may lose their understanding of norms and values and moreover become uncertain of whom and what to believe.  The society at large comes to question what and how to evaluate in making determinations of whether their beliefs and behavior are supporting of or diverging from the societal values and norms.  We are exposed to such levels of strain that we suffer anomie or severe social wide loss in directing our lives.  The society loses the glue that creates consensus and helps us to somewhat regulate ourselves.  In our post-9/11 world we have a generation of young people approaching adulthood that has known nothing but the quote “war on Islam”.

Our media provides us a smorgasbord of military operations and perceptions of race and immigration.  Is it surprising that I overheard a young adult the other day remark that he was “ready to join the military and be a sniper so he could experience killing without fear?”  The point is; what the person said is neither illegal or out of norm if we are at the point of glorifying within an entire generation a changing concept of “value of life and norm of not killing”.  When a society evolves, its norms and values change.  Is it surprising that we have so many cases of PTSD over the past 20 years?  When these people come home many don’t receive the assistance to readjust to the norms of society.

Moreover, media presents the demonized other in the form of skin color, immigration status and religion.  This presentation combined with immense doses of this type of portrayal not only affects the values and norms of the normative type but also the mentally ill and the deviant.  Such portrayals combined with our failure to properly diagnose mental illness and treat it in isolation when needed as well as deal swiftly, surely and certainly with the criminal deviant who present a danger to human life or safety has served to justify and motivate such behavior as we have seen in Chapel Hill and perhaps in general terms Muslim lives, Black lives, immigrant lives, trafficked humans, and Palestinian lives just to name a few.

We must remember we can be patriotic to our society while not overbearing and rejecting of those about us that are seeking to be integral parts of our society.  We must remember that forces of motivation that serve the necessary military that protects us from external invaders and law enforcement that protects us from internal and increasingly external criminals must be kept in check and balanced against freedoms and human and civil rights.  These structural forces must sometimes utilize a process of skewing reports to keep society motivated and cohesive in the fight, but with all cases of skew there is a bit of distortion and failure of the data to calculate exactly.  There is always some degree of error.  The question is how much error the American and other societies will allow in order to feel safe, yet not create enduring hatred due to prejudice and discrimination.  We must begin to examine the facts before we simply buy in on the message.  A behavioral response such as demonization leads to ill consequences and requires no thought.  It is a response, neither rational nor irrational, but non-rational.

We must become logical and rational in our evaluation of what structures of society tell us we must believe.  There will most likely be a grain of truth in all messages.  Like the hungry dog, we must not automatically snatch the bait and devour it.  Sometimes there is poison in the bait.  Let’s seek the truth and logically respond as a nation of people held together by principles, values and norms.  Let’s understand that snipers have a role in war, but they should not become role models to which we aspire.  We must realize that police must be given respect and we must respond with respect if an officer believes there is reasonable suspicion to stop us.  But, they must remember that they cannot be misled by presentations of a demon culture.  They cannot use their power to try to gain the authority to stop and frisk without reasonable suspicion and certainly not abuse the force and deadly force against citizens except after announcing it and for safety of the officer, the public, or the detainee and only then if there is no other way.

Malcolm L. Rigsby J.D., Ph.D. is assistant professor of Sociology and Coordinator of Criminal Justice in the U.S.  He is a publication peer reviewer, is published in journals and news columns, is active in presentations in sociology and criminology and serves on discussion panels. His interests include social movement, religious conversion in prison, comparing Islamic and Christian conversion, and transforming sociality.  He is active in documentary film review and travels in Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle-east

Tags: American Sniper, Chapel Hill, Copenhagen, Sniper, Palestine, Ferguson, Muslim Students, Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, Muslim Lives Matter, religion and hate, religion, Islam, terrorism, terrorists, media, identity, crime

Shahnameh The Epic of the Persian Kings

January 23, 2015

I wanted to share the news. Due to my suggestion, the Huie Library at Henderson State University now has a copy of the glorious book of poetry Shahnameh The Epic of the Persian Kings, by Abolqasem Ferdiwsi (940-1020 AD) and translated by Dr. Ahmad Sadri and illustrated by (Dr., Mr. ?) Hamid Rahmanian. The copy arrived Thursday and awaits its audience. I have sent out news of its arrival to my friends and colleagues.
Following is a sample of what I have shared with my friends:

Shahnameh, the glorious essence and heart of the history, myth, and traditions of ancient Persia mesmerizes the mind and soul as the reader experiences an interwoven tale of fantasy in love and luck, dreams and demons, prowess and political intrigue. All the while Ferdowsi’s historic fantasy will not only paint many vivid emotions within your mind, but also the miniatures and illustrations will pull you into the scenes as you retrace the stories which you are reading.

Enjoy!

Free Two Year College?

January 10, 2015

I have been thinking about the proposed “free Two Year College Program” and the words that are being freely tossed about in describing it; education vs training.

There is a distinction between training and educating. Education gives knowledge to the learner. The able learner is then equipped to think & apply the knowledge creatively; to explore, critically analyze and create or modify things, processes, beliefs and the like. The educated class creates the widget or process to be produced through this creativity combined with knowledge of education and free thinking.

On the other hand, training regiments a person to follow a particular process, respond to a given stimulus and not question; these are task performers.

The educated are the platform for the middle class both white collar and partly the blue collar. These groups stabilize and grow the economy and society . The trained form the blue collar and a few make it to the white collar groups. They primarily serve a production frame and enable the designs of the educated to become part of a society wide production system.

*Sharpening Contradictions in al Qaeda’s Attack of Charlie in Paris

January 9, 2015

Juan Cole’s statement “Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.” pretty well sums up to motivational goal that promotes Al-Qaeda recruiting (Sharpening Contradictions).

A problematic of this is that most people are versed only in one religion and perhaps not well versed in it.  Most don’t care to compare other religions with their own nor explore their precepts.  And, so people are isolated and view followers of other religions as somewhat different from themselves.  Historically in the west this has been the setting, especially concerning Islam.  Since 9-11, the ignorance about the precepts of Islam has created a setting in which the media’s overwhelmingly slanted response of the followers of this religion may only solidify further a western construction of the follower of Islam as little more than a “self-virtuous murderer seeking Divine reward”.

Media often slants, skews and exploits reporting in order to draw and recruit followers to their own services. After all it is by and large a capitalistic enterprise. As a product of the goal to sell stories and capture the civilian audience a public or crowd-like frenzy may be constructed. Consequently, within such a climate of fear it takes very little truth or evidence to drive the crowd like, emotion driven behavior of the citizenry. The response may be fear, hate, love, sympathy or ambivalence to “the other“.  Hence, in our post 9-11 era non followers of Islam are swept along in a current which readies them to discredit and strike out against the other; followers of Islam. Once an other, is demonized people are desensitized in their behavior toward treatment of the other. Similarly, the follower of Islam has become the other.  The entire group of individuals are being pressed into a constructed mold where individuality is blurred into a singular identity.

One outcome of this process of demonizing and othering is polarization of the group identities.  Once polarized social institutions and organizations my victimize the groups who may move along blindly, responding to concepts such as patriotism, God, racism, phobias and the like  Both polarized groups come to see their identity turning on religion as Islam or non-Islam.  Ironically the defining concept of religion has been constructed by external forces rather than the internal precepts associated with each religion and tradition.

Now the groups are poised for exclusivity and there follows an escalating spiral that feeds fear, distrust and ultimately the potential to hate the other. This may ultimately and ironically create among a few who are being demonized a desire to join act out the externally created identity.  In short to become a terrorist, seek out a terrorist group or act alone, and become “the best at” what has been imposed upon them. This analysis is similar to criminological Defiance Theory where the ‘actor of the perceived criminal behavior’ interprets that their punishment is unjust, wrongful and inequitable treatment by the status quo.  Ultimately the unjust treatment may create within the accused a desire to fulfill the prophesy. Moreover they seek not only fulfill the externally imposed identity, but be the very best at playing out the new role assigned them. Simply put a group that is wrongfully and unjustly singled out and sanctioned for a prolonged period may create within some members of the group a desire to become what they were not; and lead to a decision to be the best at what society fears.

In closing, let me emphasize that no action taken such as that taken by the perpetrators of the killings at Charlie Hebdo can be accepted.  The perpetrators must be caught and suffer the full consequences of the legal authority, else we have chaos in society.  I extend to the family, friends and acquaintances of those murdered at Charlie Hebdo, including Stephane Charbonnier, Bernard Maris, and cartoonists Georges Wolinski Jean Cabut, aka Cabu, and Berbard Verlhac (Tignous) and all others.

*The original of this article appeared in the Weekend Edition January 9-11, 2015, CounterPunch.

Malcolm L. Rigsby J.D., Ph.D. is assistant professor of Sociology and Coordinator of Criminal Justice in the U.S.  He is a publication peer reviewer, is published in journals and news columns, is active in presentations in sociology and criminology and serves on discussion panels. His interests include social movement, religious conversion in prison, comparing Islamic and Christian conversion, and transforming sociality.  He is active in documentary film review and travels in Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle-east.

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