Bryan Noonan


BRYAN NOONAN Feb/Mar 2023 Michigan Lifers Report

Guilty! The gavel slams down on the judge’s desk. For some, it’s the end of a long fight, and a strange sense of relief almost comes with it. For others, it’s likel a in a coffin. The judge’s (or jury’s) declaration is one of status. An offender is declared guilty or not guilty, and this verdict directs the next steps for the one on trial. For some prisoners, they themselves declare the verdict through a plea agreement. The result is the same, though. One’s status changes after the verdict. Without minimizing the importance of this judicial declaration, what may be even more important is just how the person feels about the declaration made against him or her. One can certainly be guilty without FEELING guilty. One can also be guilty and feel ashamed or be guilty without feeling share. Guilt, itself, say something about a person’s behavior. It says, “I did something wrong” (violated my own values or the values of my community). Since guilt says something about a person’s behavior, it is not a permanent condition, though its consequences might be. But guilt can be resolved. That’s, in part, what the judicial system is for. Resolving one’s guilt includes: 1. Stopping the wrong behavior. 2. Analysing and correcting thinking errors that led to the behavior. 3. Making amends to the one(s) wronged (prison is a forced amends). 4. Reinforcing accepted value systems with pro-value behaviors. Shame, on the other hand, says something about who a person is. It says that I or others perceive me as flawed, either because of what I have done, because of what others have done to me, or because of factors I believe reflect poorly on me (family origins, ethnicity, behavior of others connected to me, etc.). Shame may be temporary or permanent. Much of its permanence depends on whether or not one internalizes shame messages and beliefs. All of us, at one time or another, have felt some level of shame. Shame is much more difficult to resolve than guilt. The judicial system does nothing to resolve shame, but rather perpetuates it by creating a permanent second-class citizen status. Felonies follow people for life, and some felonies even have explicit civil punishments that follow a person for life after incarceration. Nevertheless, even while making amends for one’s guilt (serving a prison sentence, for example), one can find freedom from the bondage of shame . Resolving one’s shame includes: 1. Accepting one’s imperfections as commonly human. 2. Checking oneself for feelings of superiority (humility is good, shame is bad. 3. Correcting flawed behavior (accountability), if my own behavior is to blame. Or, removing oneself from situations where others’ behavior is causing my shame (abuse, etc.). 4. Forgiving (self and others), which releases one’s sense of “brokenness”. Permanent shame comes from entrenched thinking. When one violates a value, it leads to believing one cannot change (or is now permanently flawed). This fixed thinking reinforces bad behavior or self-perceptions. It may also lead to masking in order to keep others from seeing one’s shame. Unfortunately, inauthenticity traps people in cycles of shame. Finally, then, being stuck in a shame cycle leads to resignation. Surrendering to a shame identity results in doubling down on feelings of brokenness or worthlessness, perpetuating the damaging cycle. The prison system offers no tools to address shame, but it’s critical that incarcerated people address shame and its damaging consequences. Whether one remains behind razor wire fences or not, shame is just another form of bondage. So, throw off those shackles, and be free!

Bryan Noonan

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bryan Noonan #739416 blogs about prison at Hope 0nThe, and he co- authored Insider’s Guide to Prison Li fe. Bryan was awarded a bachelors from Cal vin University in 2021. He i s housed at Parnall Correctional Facility, 1780 E . Parnall Rd . , Jackson, MI 49201.


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