Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Into the silent prison

The closing gates muffle the sounds
No cries can be heard

I enter the halls
Where slippered guards pace

Led to my solitary cell
I'm invited to reflect and repent

All based on fact. The silent system was one of the bright Victorian ideas for prison reform. Instead of leaving prisoners to rot for years in hulks or on hard labour with their fellow-criminals, the silent system was supposed to reform, quickly. By keeping everyone separate and (as it says) silent. Even when taken to the exercise yard, proisoners were forced to walk a measured 5 yards from their fellows, and wear a peaked hat that obscured their face. Guards would call prisoners by number, not name, and wore slippers so as not to distract them from their self-examination. It wasn't a great success, since there were many sent insane or suicidal, but few were reformed. A bit of medieval cruelty might seem like a holiday in comparison- which goes to prove the old rule - sadists are dangerous, but zealots are worse.

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