David | Jun 25, 2006 min read

I watched The Shawshank Redemption tonight. Not the first time I’ve seen it - and I had read the short story before the movie came out. Both are fine works. In the movie, Morgan Freeman’s character, ‘Red’, gives this little speech about how one of the other characters has been in so long, he’s become institutionalized. In essence, it’s what happens to a person who has been in prison so long, they stop knowing how to be valuable outside the prison setting.

The speech is about what happens to a man in prison - I’m coming to believe that it may be equally applicable to the typical worker-bee in corporate America. A person works so long for a company, doing pretty much the same thing for 50 years. Retirement is like a parole from a life sentence. What do you do at that point, what do you know? In the words of Red:

Man’s been here fifty years. This place is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man, an educated man. A librarian. Out there, he’s nothing but a used-up old con with arthritis in both hands. Couldn’t even get a library card if he applied. You see what I’m saying?

These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. After long enough, you get so you depend on ’em. That’s “institutionalized.”

Try spending 50 years doing the same thing - that’s “institutionalized”. Your value, your very definition, is no longer controlled internally. Rather, your self-worth becomes tied to an external yard-stick. You are defined by the institution in which you have become embedded.


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