Having read two of the four essays I'm beginning to get a glimpse into how and why some of the sociologists in my life view mental illness in the way that they do. Goffman is great on the social but not so much on the personal, and reading his essay on the career of the inmate it is easy to overvalue that which is done to an actor in comparison to what is done by or integral to them.
Goffman's thesis is that mental patients are retroactively so defined, as in one's life story is fitted around the teleology of commitment in order to justify the position the patient finds themselves in. This is powerful and an important way of breaking the othering of those who are incarcerated but the text ignores, purposefully after an early disclaimer, the very real distress of many of those patients.
The first essay, on the general nature of a total institution was a much less ambivalent read for me, and came nicely after reading Foucault's Discipline and Power to set me up for watching Orange is the New Black, which I started this week.