Published in the 1995 Fall issue of New Perspectives:
A Journal of Conscious Living
The past offers a profound resource to prove that culture, as much as individuals, moves through predictable stages of development that mirror the course of natural evolution. Drug addiction and criminality also go through a predictable developmental process. Criminalized male addicts (CMA) typically evolve, starting from the innocence of habilitated preteens, to the experimentation typical of adolescence, to the puerile behavior of adulthood, and finally into the criminal activity consistent with contemporary tricksters. An example of a trickster is Frank Abagnale Jr., portrayed by Leonardo Dicaprio in Catch Me If You Can.
Is it worth considering what we can learn about CMAs that are different from the usual theoretical and statistical studies done on this population? Can an understanding of the archetypes being personified in CMAs help us to perceive them better? Will this perspective help us to learn why they don’t respond well to treatment, and why their recidivism rates are so high? And what are the implications of them being on a spiritual quest?
Marie-Louise von Franz, a Jungian psychoanalyst and a protégé of Carl Jung, points out in The Problem of the Puer Aeternus: that "the man who is identified with the archetype of the puer aeternus remains too long in adolescent psychology; that is, all those characteristics that are normal in a youth of seventeen or eighteen are continued into later life."
In 1988, when I arrived on the prison yard, I saw a huge day-care center. Inmates were playing soccer, basketball, and throwing frisbees. They were working out on the weight pile, and playing cards on picnic tables. The tennis and handball courts were occupied, and others were cheering their favorite team while watching a softball game. In that puer country club, our clothes and linen were cleaned for us every week. They provided our meals. Every three months we could have money and material things (a package) sent to us from the outside. If we were married, we could even spend the weekend with our wives to relieve ourselves sexually.
Out of the 2.03 million inmates in this country today, according to Kipnis, drug offenders represent 60% of federal prisoners and over one-third of state and county prisoners. That doesn’t include all the inmates who are incarcerated for crimes committed while under the influence, or the ones who were committing crimes for money to finance their chemical indulgences.
The archetypal development from puer to trickster coincides with addictive and criminal development. Before continuing, we must be kept reminded that development doesn’t happen in strict conformity to pre-described phases--all addicts and criminals may not fit into this developmental process. There are those who get involved with criminal activity and never do drugs, and there are those who get involved with criminal activity prior to getting involved with drugs, and are others who through grief, trauma, and a host of other disturbances pick up a dependency on substances later in life, and never participate in criminal activity. However, the process I am describing is the most common.
After the young adult has sewn his wild oats, he is traditionally expected to be developing into a responsible adult who either continues his education, embarks on a career, and/or gets married and starts a family. This doesn’t happen with those who drink and use. Instead, he continues behaving as though he were an adolescent. Fun takes priority. The Fun Phase correlates to the Peter Pan mentality of the puer aeternus.
Once this lifestyle is entrenched, the fun phase begins to get cluttered with periodic repercussions. Despite such inconveniences as being kicked out of high school or college, being asked to leave home, getting fired from jobs, picking up a DUI or a possession charge, the flighty puer will continue going through girlfriends and jobs. This is the Between Fun and Addiction Phase.
By the time this phase is over, the high-flying puer has started his downward spiral. His legal problems increase. Often it’s prison right away. Once criminalization and full-on psychological (sometimes physical) addiction sets in, the jointster (criminalized male drug addict as trickster) has emerged.
Some authors suggest that the need to alter consciousness is innate--activities such as skydiving and water skiing, and other sports that increase adrenaline and incite endorphin activity, are consciousness-altering activities. Perhaps the internal need to release inhibitions, be devious, act crazy, fight, gamble, chase women, lie, cheat, and steal is also an innate need to alter consciousness, and serves as the impetus to personify the puer and trickster archetypes.
Andrew Weil, long before he became the guru he is thought of today, stated that "the ubiquity of drug use is so striking that it must represent a basic human appetite."
Christina Grof (1993) is one who considers addiction as a path to wholeness:
As far back into my childhood as I can remember, I was searching for something I could not name. Whatever I was looking for would help me to feel all right, at home, as though I belonged. If I could find it, I would no longer be lonely. I would be happy, fulfilled, and at peace with myself, my life, and the world. I would feel free, unfettered, expansive, and joyful.
Whereas Grof was searching for wholeness through alcoholism, perhaps criminalized male drug addicts, with all of their puerile and trickster ways, are also on a spiritual search for wholeness.
Viewing jointsters through the archetypes and the spiritual quest, can give us an understanding that frees us from judgment, and allows us to see them as a breed of humanity different from ourselves. Perhaps some people are destined to live by organizing principles that we are unaware of. Perhaps there is far more than we would like to admit that we simply don’t know. Perhaps many of our present theories are wrong.
1. von Franz, M. L. (2000). The problem of the puer aeternus. Toronto: Inner City Books, p. 7.
2. Kipnis, A. (1999). Angry young men. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 121.
3. Weil, A. (1972). The natural mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, p. 17.
4. Grof, C. (1993). The thirst for wholeness. San Francisco: Harper, p. 9.
Books by John E. Smethers, Ph.D