When we first experience…

When do we first experience prison? It must be when as babies we realize that we are limited by our environment. The lines are formed early. Cribs are little cages, and the prisoner is always rattling at his. He wants out. The prisoner must realize there is a world beyond the bars, where he cannot go. His life is curtailed. He is in prison. 

A prisoner of needs

Maybe it goes back even further. Out of the undifferentiated universe of the uterus, the new person meets the cold air of our world.  From its predicament of near helplessness it realizes it is a prisoner of its needs and must depend on an agent from outside, who may or may not be there to accommodate them. It is the first experience of the pain of dependency. It also shows the person that there are various kinds, some more demoralising than others.

Caregivers as wardens, and schools…

As children we are under the rule of our caregivers, who decide our limitations. We may rail against these in shows of rebellion, but they usually hold the upper hand, indulging or punishing us for our behaviour. We will adapt to what they decide is acceptable, this forming our bars, and which provides a template for our encounter with the social contract.

School comprises a larger prison in which we learn to read and write and sit and stand and repeat in unison. We are told what is important in life. We contend with others who are in the same situation. Many thrill to the sound of the bell announcing the school day is over, or there is a recess, and we may escape for a while. Watch children in schoolyards celebrate their freedom with extreme loud defiance.

And, so, the socialization process continues, with limitation at every turn, compromise in every encounter, and as long as limits exist we are not free.

But when we sleep…

the most free we ever feel is when we sleep.

After enquiry, it is possible that freedom can be reduced to a feeling: space and non-attachment. The sky is a picture of freedom.

The body is the most constant prison of all. It is what encases us. It is us in relationship to everything else. We cannot escape our body unless we turn into a ghost.

If we suggest that we are something beyond our bodies, that something is dependent on our having a body in the first place.  It requires a body to house it.

Ideology confines thought, limiting it to its boundaries. Any thought which does not conform to the system is disallowed. Any ideology requires guards to protect it. To keep out the contradictions.

A prisoner to a system of ideas is often a willing prisoner. The world of ideas is a dangerous place, resulting in confusion. So, it is safer to buy into a system and keep it.

An actual prison can have its charms: your needs are cared for. You are not burdened with making choices. You have company. In general, however, how many people have tried to break into a prison?

Freedom, even partial freedom, seems to be a powerful need. It is a rebellious force, determined to overcome restrictions, as if restrictions were inherently the enemy of our nature. Regard your feelings while watching wild horses bolt; identify with the young child bent on overthrowing authority.

Thought is free. Anyone can at any time entertain whatever thought happens to be there. Why one thought generates itself and not another at any given moment is a great mystery. Yet, to function successfully requires organizational thought. We may organize thought any way we please, but then that pattern becomes a form of prison if we cannot at the same time not get stuck in it.  If you say you like peaches and at the same time cannot say that you do not like peaches, then you are in the prison of liking peaches.

In other words, logic is a prison as well.

Why is habit so commonplace among people in certain societies?  It must satisfy something in the mind that is pleased by repetition.  Habits are often difficult to break. If a habit cannot be broken, regardless of how beneficial it may be, it is a form of prison.  It is probable that habit is satisfying because it provides a degree of security; uncertainty often causes fear. If we could accept insecurity we would be freer for it.

People often prefer to be in prison than to be free as long as they are getting compensated in some way. The case made about one’s needs in prison being accomodated suggests that a trade-off is taking place wherein freedom is swapped for security.

It is reasonable to assert that people require freedom, and at the same time are afraid of it.

It is only when security becomes oppressive that people wish to replace it with freedom.

People who break certain laws may find themselves in a physical prison. But laws are also prisons, because we are required to act within its confines. If we break out of one type of prison, we way be put into another. 

Absolute freedom is what is required by the individual, although this is not usually a conscious need.

How is absolute freedom attainable? It probably isn’t, which is why an afterlife has been imagined. It is assumed that only there the individual may be perfectly free.

Attachment to the past is a common prison. The past has determined the present to a degree, but are these really linked? It is possible that connecting dots has no basis in reality. Perhaps all of the dots are, in fact, pristine and isolate.

Cause and effect would work as a principle if it were repeated infinitely, which hasn’t happened yet.

Accidents tell us that freedom exists. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. This tells you that anything is possible.

Of all the emotions, fear and love are the strongest; yet they are often in conflict.

*Putting a person in prison is telling the person that from this point on they will have no power.

A promise is a prison we make for ourselves.

In actual prisons…

*In an actual prison human beings degenerate, as if they were being deprived of oxygen. They revert to a more primitive life form.

Violence strikes at unknown moments. Prisoners feel that they are already dead, so that they might as well kill or wound others. It is a profound reaction to their condition. A person dies every morning in their own mind in prison.

A prisoner will need to adapt to his environment.  Eventually he may come to believe he belongs where he is, which means he has abdicated his freedom. This most unnatural state is something he must live with.

Perhaps the most unfortunate cases are ones who can only deal with confinement. These will return automatically to this environment. But if freedom is at the basis of human nature, they have become something other than human.

Imprisonment is meant as a form of punishment, which it is. But a crime and this form of punishment have no meaningful relationship to each other. The only possible positive outcome for the individual is that he determines not to go back. But will he?  If he has learned nothing about his behaviour, he will. It is often the case that you come out of the experience a worse person than when you went in.

Society must learn that treating people as less than human is not in its best interests. If a punishment is not understood as just, the prisoner will feel only resentment, which runs counter-intuitive toward that person not re-offending in the future.

Being in prison is referred to as “doing time.” If the prisoner is to benefit from this time, he should learn something about himself. Thus prisons should be educational establishments rather than pain factories.

Choices. What happens when choices are taken away? We do always have the choice of how to deal with not having choices. If done correctly, it can induce a sense of inner freedom.

Being thrust into a solitary state, the prisoner has the choice either of losing himself, or forging a new deeper self; the former leads to insanity, the latter to transcendence.

Emotions are usually our downfall. Most crimes are committed due to the control of certain emotions over the individual. Prisoners have the luxury of time to be able to understand this and to come to terms with their emotions.

Who needs more patience than a person doing time?

It is interesting how many people see offenders as different from themselves.  We perceive them as alien, degenerate, possessed. But we are just the same as them in our dreams and reveries.

*We are all prisoners of who we think we are. We are probably far from who (or what!) we think we are. But whose point of view should we see ourselves from? That is unknown and unknowable.

I think we all have a vague sense that we are living in prison most of the time, just under the veneer that we ride autonomous and in command.

I think we all know at this point that prison is a mistake.

One of the worst tortures in prison has to be the infliction of boredom, monotony to the point of causing no thought that anything will ever change. It is obviously meant to weaken the spirit of the individual.  In order for the inmate to remain sharp he must stimulate himself, which often means he turns to violence.

Boredom can be the springboard for creative activity as well. Many schemes are birthed as a result of the prisoner having little else to do.


Breaking a law is transgressive. It is crossing boundaries that have been set up. As children we always look for a line that is there to be crossed. The child looks at it with excitement, as if on the other side there is the land of enchantment. Of course, there is also fear involved. What monsters lurk? What will happen to me? The child soon finds out the price that has to be paid, and if it was worth it. This is something the criminal continues to ask himself.

Being a habitual criminal means that transgression is more satisfying than conformity. The square sides with conformity, obedience, docility. The criminal always has his eye on the next crime, the golden prize, after which he may want to retire.

Of course, he won’t; the life is just too exciting. Transgression continues to hold out its appeal.

What would it take to rehabilitate the seasoned criminal? Obviously, it would have to align with the criminal’s needs. Does he need to get beaten down in order to understand the error of his ways? No, because prison has taught him only to be more creative at doing what he does. It provides a more beguiling challenge to overcome his confinement. Just as the child seeks to triumph over his imposed conditions the criminal needs to think he can win against a world he believes is not in his best interests.

The criminal is never at peace if he continues to think he can win. Gradually, this ceases to be an illusion and depression sets in. Old cons in a prison environment is a sad picture. Age plus defeat equals devastation.

So, if the criminal is the unrepentant child who continues to transgress, perhaps it would be instructive to point out what maturity has to offer.

Maturity, it seems, is a tradeoff – the impulsiveness of the child for the solidity of the adult when reason can prevail over emotion. Can the criminal be shown the value of becoming an adult? What are these if truth be told?

Perhaps one of these is the satisfaction of self-determination. The convict lacks totally a sense of determining his life, which is at the discretion of the authorities who oversee him. Easing him into the role of adult by allocating responsibility is a good beginning. This goes beyond keeping him busy with mundane tasks; rather it is requiring him to offer his own ideas in his quest. The more we treat convicts as adults the more adult they will become if not at once, hopefully, over time.

The prevalence of violence in prison is related to a sense of helplessness on the part of the convicts. Violence creates consequences, which means that something has been attained. It matters little who the victim is or what happens to him, as long as some damage has been seen to be done. It is a game of thwarted ambition.

The type of violence practised in prison is hands-on with makeshift knives. This makes it intimate, requiring an elevated degree of emotion. It is as if a bonding ritual has been substituted by a stabbing.

To pierce a person’s flesh with a sharp object takes an intensification of hostility. Making hate the desired emotion to carry around by the convict. As long as the convict can still hate he is not yet emotionally dead.

Sex in prison must entail the element of violence. Bodies re-arranged as weapons. And sadomasochistic rituals. A fierce hierarchy presides. In this environment convicts need to know where they belong.

If the convict cannot trust anyone (at least at the beginning) he is all alone in a sea of potential sharks, and must guard against an attack. He must go into himself in order to summon the strength to survive.

Convicts in a crowded facility revert to a primitive form of bonding based on race, because it is the most obvious way to distinguish like and unlike. A shared race suggests a shared past, which is hoped may be a reason to trust. Whom to trust in a place where people are because they are not trustworthy to begin with is a hard call. The rule in prison is to trust nobody who appears different from them.

Prisons confine people who are anti-social in one place where they may be anti-social toward each other, thinking that when they are released they will no longer be anti-social toward society in general.

It is expected that most cons will return to prison. The justice system depends on it. If rehabilitation worked the system would suffer.

*Only the human animal keeps people in cages.

All organisms obey laws that make sense to them spontaneously. Nobody would think about disobeying the law to breathe, for example.

A society where everyone obeyed laws would require a lot fewer employees, so that the justice system is more of an industry than a judicial body.

It is important that bad people do not break good laws; it is also important that good people do break bad laws. (or at least change them.)

There must be a myriad of reasons people commit crimes, all of these worth investigating.

If we were to say that any crime at all is punishable by execution, would crime be eradicated?

Execution is preferable to a life sentence. There is nothing less humane than keeping someone in a cage to the day he dies.

Being an outlaw means being outside law, outside established order, be that an order laid down by men or the natural order. It is saying, “I will create my own laws and attempt to live them.” It is by experimenting that the outlaw determines what works for him. This then becomes a personal system he lives by, any part of which may be modified or changed or abandoned at will. If an outlaw joins a gang or organization he is no longer an outlaw because he must now submit to the rules of the club, rules he did not make. Being a true outlaw is a solitary experience.

Our attitude toward the outlaw is to denigrate him for not living according to a system we have been forced to adopt, and to punish him for this. On the other hand, we admire him for living by his own code, that is putting himself at risk for us so that we can still manage to imagine owning our own freedom.

Certain crimes are worth more than others, murder being at the top of the list. Killing somebody is an existential act that criminals understand makes the murderer worthy of respect in that it changes the person, making him aware of the karma he carries. Psychically he has a weight strapped to his back.

The murderer needs to pay for his crime with his own death. It is the only way he may gain relief. Unfortunately this is not often the case today in judicial rulings, in which the offender need only spend a certain number of years incarcerated. Years for murder do not equate.

In a crime of passion the killer is at the mercy of his emotions. It is worth enquiring how rage came to be part of our psychic makeup in the course of evolution. Has it served us? Has it kept our enemies at bay? Perhaps it has, but probably not. A cooler head is surely better for that. Rage appears as useless to humans as nipples on a man, and is moreover the cause of much barbaric criminal destruction in the bargain.

Because emotions play a part in human behaviour we understand a crime of passion and evaluate it as not as offensive as a crime that has been planned. It is as if you have abdicated responsibility to a part of yourself that you temporarily do not own. If someone has thought about the act beforehand he has understood its implications and has decided to proceed despite any inhibiting factors. That is the more serious crime.

Is it possible to gain freedom from our emotions? Emotions play at least as much of a role in human affairs as thought. They may cling, or pass, or recur. Nobody is ever without an emotion even if the emotion is unconscious. If we were free from emotion we would be closer to a machine. This is not to say that one mood cannot be swapped for another. This can and does happen all the time. It is possible to cause one emotion to change into another. Physical exertion often causes that. Which shows that emotion is physiological as much as psychological. As humans, we relate in emotional terms more often than any other, as in “How are you?” rather than “What are you thinking?”

Freedom is a daunting prospect. I have complete freedom to say what I wish in my next sentence. It is my choice. Let us say it makes a difference. Let us say it makes a great difference. The difficulty comes in the possibility of making the wrong choice. It could set off a chain of events that might take innumerable incarnations to overcome. The human race would be plunged into darkness. It would be my fault. Solidly on my shoulders. Obviously with freedom comes great responsibility. It is almost better to be a slave.

It is a sad fact that a high number of convicts who have been released from prison return to it. There are several factors that may contribute to this, but probably the most important reason is that the person cannot handle freedom. It is too heavy to bear after a long period of not having to think for themselves. Inside they are not burdened with freedom.

It is also a sad fact that people in general can not live with the burden of freedom, and are dependent on external forms of authority dictating their lives. Civilization has had its way. Humans can no longer even conceive of leading free lives. Leading a free life means living in isolation. It means living completely one’s personal experience. Perhaps only the insane can live entirely free lives.

The comfort of the slave comes in the form of freedom from the need to forge a destiny. His destiny at the mercy of an authority close to him, his god is physical.

Our boss is our god and that is why people work for other people.

People have a natural aversion to fat because it is flesh which keeps us confined to the prison of this world. A thinner person can more easily escape between its bars.

Skeletons don’t have problems.

Buddha says that desire is the great prison. Lack of desire can be just as limiting.

A problem is a prison. We are stuck within its confines and can see no way out. Once we see it from outside the box the problem is solved.

Freedom to curtailed by ethical standard, the standard itself a form of bondage.

The newly born first feel the prison of hunger and wonder what they are doing in there. They don’t realize yet that it is a life sentence.

Any need creates its prison. It is not just the need itself but the awareness of the need that makes one a prisoner. Even when a need has been met there is an underlying anxiety that it may not be the next time. Does the hungry baby know he will be fed every time he cries?