(What led to the ‘So It Goes’ story and photo.)
A local prison was closing down and some public tours were being run before the bulldozers arrived. Lucky enough to have never been in prison – neither incarcerated, visiting an inmate nor as a member of staff – I went along. It was just curiosity. Curiosity is common enough, human enough.
Nothing about the place was particularly surprising. TV shows robbed us all of most surprises a long time ago. Even the soul-sapping institutional grimness was depressingly predictable. As I looked around it occurred to me that there are plenty of songs about crime, one way or another*, too.
I wrote ‘So it Goes’** after pondering what had made the strongest impression on me that day.
There was one point when I was alone in a room. Stripped of content, what it had been used for wasn’t clear. The light was dull. The wing I was in was above any nearby buildings – you could only see a patch of sky. I realised that that wasn’t a glimpse of freedom. Being able to see only sky served to belittle you. It mocked you in your trapped little world.
Perhaps you could put a brave face on being in prison. Perhaps you’d opt-in to the culture there. You might latch on to and understand the symbolism of inmates’ tattoos perhaps. You might work out the hierarchies. You’d inevitably learn about the mental violence, the physical violence.
Perhaps you’d work with the system, learn to understand and accept all the realities that had led you there. Perhaps the system would be trying to help you never come back there.
And there would maybe, hopefully, be friends and family willing and able to stand by you throughout.
But there would be the times when you’re alone with your thoughts, alone in the system, alone even in a crowded prison wing, alone with yourself and with all that’s gone wrong. And you could be as fatalistic as you like and you could try to be as resigned to it all as you humanly can be, but sometimes, surely, the hopelessness would swamp everything.
That lonely hopelessness would, surely, be strong enough to drag anyone down.
That’s what anyone imprisoning anyone needs to remember. That’s what those doing the imprisoning should work to try and counter: hopeless loneliness rarely bears anything positive for anyone – prisoner or imprisoner.
* Springsteen’s “Meeting Across The River”, from way back when, has always seemed to me to be about the sad hopes underlying crime. That song was probably my first – conscious – exposure to that aspect of it all; the sadness of what will almost certainly, one way or another, be misplaced optimism.
** So It Goes