Andy Dufresne: I just don't understand what happened in there, that's all.
Heywood: Old man's crazy as a rat in a tin shithouse, is what.
Red: Oh Heywood, that's enough out of you!
Ernie: I heard he had you shittin' in your pants!
Heywood: Fuck you!
Red: Would you knock it off? Brooks ain't no bug. He's just... just institutionalized.
Heywood: Institutionalized, my ass.
Red: The man's been in here fifty years, Heywood. Fifty years! This is all he knows. In here, he's an important man. He's an educated man. Outside, he's nothin'! Just a used up con with arthritis in both hands. Probably couldn't get a library card if he tried! You know what I'm tryin' to say?
Floyd: Red, I do believe you're talking out of your ass.
Red: You believe whatever you want, Floyd. But I'm tellin' you these walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That's institutionalized.
Heywood: Shit. I could never get like that.
Prisoner: Oh yeah? Say that when you been here as long as Brooks has.
Red: Goddamn right. They send you here for life, and that's exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.
- The Shawshank Redemption
One of the more amazing things about people is their ability to adapt to almost any circumstance. No matter how unusual the situation people develop means of coping and new routines to accommodate the extremes that they face. Some people even move towards considering the unusual situation as the normal situation.
In "The Shawshank Redemption" the character of Brooks had been in prison for fifty years. Hearing that he was about to be paroled he snapped and attacked another inmate. He did this because he knew no other life than prison, and he wanted to stay inside. According to the character Red, Brooks had become institutionalized. Prison was normal for him.
After a century, most people in the United States have come to believe that an unbacked fiat currency is normal. People have come to expect an average of three percent inflation per year is normal. In the course of one century the dollar has lost ninety-eight percent of its value, and people have come to think of that as normal.
People have come to think of it as so normal that they have come to think of other arrangements as being completely abnormal. It is argued that a modern economy cannot grow without a constantly inflating fiat currency. They are experiencing "Prison normal".
The real miracle of the United States economy is that it has been prosperous for so long in an abnormal situation. It takes a long time to drain the wealth of a wealthy nation, which is why the abnormal situation was able to continue for long enough to become a Prison Normal situation. The steps that are necessary to return the economy to a truly normal state are considered abnormal, extremist. The average American has become institutionalized.