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Thoughts of a locked-up

Everglade's picture

I sat on the dusted ground, cold like an outdoor bench in the chilliest winter day. The difference was I could heat the bench after ten minutes, but not these tiny square inches under my body. The huge cement monster was sucking all my warmth. I liked the silence, though. It let me feel the texture of the wall, watch the skylight’s dramatic effect on the tiny hair on my skin, and think about thoughts in my head. I wanted to sing, but it would be embarrassing with the presence of two cellmates. So I sang inside my head. The voice was not mine, but a darker and more ethereal version of the singer’s, seeping into me along with the coldness. I may have unconsciously opened my mouth and made a sound, but I couldn’t tell for sure.

The prisoners were not allowed to sing. Forbidding communication among inmates was somewhat reasonable, because it kept them from sharing criminal experiences and knowledge. But depriving them of singing, one of the most primitive and instinctive entertainments of mankind, seemed unnecessary and useless. Prisoners were clearly not convinced by the Quaker ideal of abstinence. The “forced monastery” with its church-like halls, small doors that forced the prisoners to bow, the "Eye of God" suggesting that God was always watching them, and the middle-class preachers that had nothing in common with them and didn’t understand them, couldn’t possibly evangelize them. The time of ESP’s establishment has well passed crusades and inquisitions and all the religious manias, so the founders should understand that people had the right to believe in any, or even no religion, and that it was not entrenched in human nature to be pious and decent. Isolated and immersed in their own thoughts, inmates would not automatically walk on the path towards God. They needed proper guidance. I stayed in a cell for only half an hour, and my thoughts already began to fight among themselves. A prisoner probably prayed to God earnestly, and then got furious that God didn’t help him with his misery; thanked the priest for his sacred and promising teaching, then looked around and found he was a blatant liar full of nonsense; repented of his crimes and determined to be a decent folk, then figured it would be really hard to integrate into the society again, and decided to revenge, to be feared rather than pitied; felt thankful that ESP had heating and running water, than realized that the comfortable condition could never make up for his desperate need for human contact. The tangle of his thoughts triggered all the negative emotions like anger, hate, confusion, despair, and self-denial. Charles Dickens denounced this depression:

I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye... and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear.

With such isolated conditions insanity was common. However, the prison doctors often neglected isolation as the major cause, and instead invented ridiculous and irrelevant reasons, such as excessive masturbation and defects in prisoners’ genes. They seldom face the real problem and try to solve it.

Prisoners need to feel cared for, not deserted and isolated. Isolation in the cell in someway suggests isolation in society. Perhaps a better solution would be to give prisoners patient guidance and help them adjust to real life after release. The story of Morris Bolber, a serial killer, demonstrates this importance. A dedicated volunteer, Joseph Paull, took an interest in him, and his concern deeply moved Bolber. Before his sentenced death, Bolber wrote, "...As for me, I remember his numerous, never to be forgotten, acts of kindness shown me...Therefore will I pray for him, a prayer he surely deserves for all the good he has done for me." The arduous effort of the volunteer paid off—although Bolber was to be executed, he learned to be grateful and pray for others. This was a rare exception, but I think it should be the principle.