August 24, 2014
Federal Prison or Reality TV Show?
I’ve recently created an expectation list that I wanted to share:
  • You will be sent to a compound in a remote area to live away from society
  • You will be gone for a significant amount of time
  • You will not be allowed to leave the compound until given permission to do so
  • You will have limited-to-no contact with the people in your life
  • You will be unable to conduct business or earn money during this time
  • You will be around people that you’d likely rather not be
  • You will have extremely limited privacy
  • You will not have access to everyday items such as your car, cell phone or internet
  • You will not be in imminent danger, but this is a riskier endeavor
  • You will need to be self-reliant, independent and cautious of others
  • You will face difficulties during this journey but down the road you will reflect back on this experience with insights you will carry with you for the rest of your life

Detailed and comprehensive list, right? You probably are assuming it relates to a person who is about to go to prison, but the list has nothing to do with prison or being incarcerated. The list is actually regarding what a contestant on a new reality TV show, Utopia, would need to plan for and expect. This show involves gathering individuals, plucking them away from their friends/family and tasking them with re-establishing a new, self-sustainable community on a remote compound away from society for up to a year.

Read the list again — each and every point applies to this show. It just so happens that the list is also applicable to the federal prison camp experience. Fascinating, isn’t it?

I saw a commercial for this TV show a few days ago which is when I started doing my research on its concept. It’s actually quite amazing how similar the experiences of federal prison camp would be to this reality TV show. The big difference? People actually want to do the show and willingly sign up for it!! While there are obviously other differences between being incarcerated in a federal prison camp versus being a contestant on this reality show, I think it’s fair to say there is much more in common than not in common between the two.

This post may be a big tongue-in-cheek but the morale is an important one: perception is reality. Any person who willingly signs up for Utopia wouldn’t be somber if they were accepted. They wouldn’t mourn for all of the things they would be giving up. They wouldn’t act like their life is over because they couldn’t be in contact with their family for an extended amount of time. In short, they wouldn’t dwell on the negatives. Why? Because in their mind, they perceive the positives will outweigh the negatives which is why they are signing up to take part in this experiment in the first place. These people are willing to put their lives on hold and give up their everyday comforts for the sake of a unique journey that most people will never get to experience. How many current or soon-to-be prisoners would view prison camp through this type of lens? I can’t imagine too many, but isn’t it a similar proposition?

I believe this ‘list exercise’ highlights the importance of how we define a situation or circumstance, especially one that is thrust upon us. There are many potential benefits for those going on this silly TV show, but there are a considerable amount of drawbacks as well. And so goes, I would argue, the same for being incarcerated at a federal prison camp (although, I’m sure there are more drawbacks). However, let me make sure I’m clear — if it were up to me, I wouldn’t sign up for either experience! But just because I (or any other person) am forced to take this journey shouldn’t negate the potential benefits that can be reaped. Keeping that in mind is important.

After all, if Utopia is any indication, if the prison camp experience was slightly rebranded and repackaged, it appears that a number of people in this country would willingly volunteer to experience the journey I’m about to go on.

Brian Jorgenson


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