Saturday, January 28, 2012

The sameness of time

In the same New Yorker piece by Adam Gopnik on “imprisonment’, that I had linked to in my previous post, there is this passage in the beginning:

One day in the life of an American prison means much less, because the force of it is that one day typically stretches out for decades. ... It isn’t the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prisons unendurable for their inmates.The basic reality of American prisons is not that of the lock and key but that of the lock and clock.

....That’s why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia—anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded.... As a smart man once wrote after being locked up, the thing about jail is that there are bars on the windows and they won’t let you out. This simple truth governs all the others. What prisoners try to convey to the free is how the presence of time as something being done to you, instead of something you do things with, alters the mind at every moment.
While it is generally known that prison is not a desirable place to be in due to loss of one’s freedom, the full extent of the horror is not known. For someone who hasn’t been to a prison, it is perhaps difficult to imagine the tyranny of counting time. The movie, "Shawshank Redemption', with its gripping narration and acting, did a great job in bringing home this horror.

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