I Gotta’ Be Free
Freedom is the soul’s longing in every human being. Watch any two-year-old and they will let it be known that they long to be free! Whatever limits, restricts, or corrects that small child will be met with harsh and swift opposition. The older we get, the more that we push for personal space where we can do and be what we desire.
Stress develops when our longing to be free is met with rules, policies, or procedures that make us conform to another person’s requirements. Long periods of confinement create angst in the mind and emotions. Those who are required to work or live in tight spaces (such as the crew of a nuclear submarine) have to undergo significant mental tests to make sure that they are capable of that kind of situation.
Our freedom for activity is also used for interaction with others. Isolation is destructive. Those who are incarcerated in “solitary” for long periods of time deal with various anxieties once they are free to be involved with the larger prison population.
Researchers have found little to suggest that extreme isolation is good for the psyche. In 1951 researchers at McGill University paid a group of male graduate students to stay in small chambers equipped with only a bed for an experiment on sensory deprivation. They could leave to use the bathroom, but that’s all. They wore goggles and earphones to limit their sense of sight and hearing, and gloves to limit their sense of touch. The plan was to observe students for six weeks, but not one lasted more than seven days. Nearly every student lost the ability “to think clearly about anything for any length of time,” while several others began to suffer hallucinations. “One man could see nothing but dogs,” wrote one of the study’s collaborators, “another nothing but eyeglasses of various types, and so on.”
What are the effects on prisoners? In short, not much better. Stuart Grassian, a board-certified psychiatrist and a former faculty member at Harvard Medical School, has interviewed hundreds of prisoners in solitary confinement. In one study, he found that roughly a third of solitary inmates were “actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal.” Grassian has since concluded that solitary can cause a specific psychiatric syndrome, characterized by hallucinations; panic attacks; overt paranoia; diminished impulse control; hypersensitivity to external stimuli; and difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory. Some inmates lose the ability to maintain a state of alertness, while others develop crippling obsessions.
Freedom is a gift from God. Our founders believed that concept and wrote those beliefs in our Declaration of Independence. The freedom we gain in Christ is to live for Him and to love others as He loved us. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Gal. 5:13).