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The Distance Between Solitude and Self-Reflection

Amy Ma's picture

Walls, dark color, looks like a dungeon, in a place which is a little bit isolated, there is Easter State Penitentiary. The auditory tour was saying ESP is different because it keeps each inmate alone, and let them reflect on themselves, and reform. It sounds like ESP is the saver of these souls. But walking in it, I did not find it a different prison. I would say it is a better decorated prison-it is like a dungeon from a sci-fi movie. Maybe it is better than the old prisons in the aspects of cleanliness, structure, and order. However, the dark, narrow and depressive cells may not be the best place to for penitents to contemplate or to reform.  Staying there for a couple of minutes, I thought about some random stuff. I thought about what I was going to do next, and how we got here. I thought about the voices in the auditory tour. I thought about Zadie Smith because we were going to revise the paper about NW, and about how I would feel in this cell etc. But eventually, the feeling went to bore, and all I wanted to do was go out. Not to mention imagining myself an inmate who has to be here for years without communicating with anyone. How would these inmates react?


 “Some, like David Anderson, used their shoemaking and weaving tools to help them speak with their neighbors.” (Buried Lives, 109) There are a lot of descriptions of how inmates tried to communicate with each other in “Buried Lives”. What does solitude lead the prisoners to? It only leads to the desire of getting rid of solitude. “Eastern’s Inmates routinely refused work assignments, rejected religious counseling, and took out their anger and frustration on their overseers.” (Buried Lives, 106) Moreover, the isolation seems to make them mad and frustrated. This sheer torture of minds doesn’t seem to accomplish what it should have.

“Inmates preferred to deface or eviscerate the moralistic titles stock in the prison library rather than read them.”(Buried Lives, 112) Apparently, these ways that the reformers thought can be helpful were actually not very effective. Probably they unconsciously considered these inmates as well-educated people, as themselves. What would be useful for reformers were applied to the inmates, but they are very different.


 “The picture is ideal. It is like Plato’s Republic, rather what it ought to be than what it is.”(Buried Lives, 108)


Isn’t this a too ideal idea? A place to isolate each inmate so that they can contemplate, so that they can reform. Does Solitude even necessarily result in self-reflection? I don’t think so. Some people enjoy solitude, and some people are longing for solitude. There are a lot of things happening and there are a lot of people crowed in their life, so that some solitude gives them space and time to reflect. But how about for these inmates who do not have “real life”? What can they do when there is nothing happening? What leads to their self-reflection? When the things I can think of are only in the past, when there is nothing happening in my present, this solitude may only leads to bore, and eventually madness and anger. Isn’t it better to let them not just reflect on their desperate past? Isn’t it better to add something in inmates’ life so that they can think about it before they go to bed? I recalled a sentence from a Chinese magazine, “When you are willing to be alone, solitude makes sense to you then.” Solitude doesn’t make sense to every one, and it doesn’t necessarily leads to self-reflection unless there is something they can reflect on.