Imprisonment and freedom aren’t as simplistic to differentiate as you might think. Initial impressions should reveal they are the antithesis of each other. As I think about it more, and indeed the more I live, it is becoming more clear they are not always to be found at a distance from one other. Paradoxically, as clarity is rising that these states are often quite close, my mind is becoming more unclear, as what originally seemed so transparent is indeed a very grey area! Murky waters indeed.
Imprisonment is a harsh term for what I am experiencing. Yet freedom it ain’t! Restricted access to the outside world, a controlled diet, rigid routine,feelings of nervousness or even fear at the thought of leaving for a time, obedient to the laws and needs of others and all the time learning a type of rehabilitation from an old life. All of these factors are existing here! Yes I have beautiful, sweet gaolers. Yes, their smiles melt my heart. I would do back to back life sentences for them. Am I free however? Is there liberation when minding small children? I believe not!
Do not think I am taking the state of imprisonment for wrong doing lightly. This is not the case. The point I am making is that being liberated from a jail is not always to be free. Responsibility is a heavy charge and a tough one to properly handle. When the prisoner is locked up, it is actually someone else’s job to ensure their health, nutrition and safety. A freed former prisoner often finds themselves at a loss when out of captivity. Institutionalisation has great power. New responsibilities and pressures. I am often overwhelmed by my job description. The lack of certainty of how a day might go is crippling to a planner. I have found my plans to do a weekly shop scuppered at a moment by a frightening temperature or a threatening gluey eye. My daydreams are of hotel rooms, spas, uninterrupted coffees and reading novels. I know however if I had this time handed to me, I would feel guilt and loneliness! I would miss my babes. I wonder if other Mothers ever imagine or dream of a guilt free hour for themselves? One that when they return to the job, nothing has changed from their routine? They don’t need to work at super speed for half an hour to catch up on their lost time as no else can see the small jobs, the bottles, the cups, the preparations, the endless, endless thinking ahead? I think they might! Oh the guilt of such thoughts! !
My ‘prison’ is a large country house. It is self designed and self decorated. It has luxuries. I have enough money to not worry about daily domestic needs. I am not rich! I just want to be honest and state that I am no struggling, as many are. The food rationing is all self inflicted for health reasons. I am not in the dire straits of the Count of Monte Cristo. Or Andy Dufresne. Instead, I relate to Al Capone. Or Charles Stuart Parnell. Both of these men were imprisoned for different reasons. Patriotism. Tax evasion! Both men however were singled out amongst their prisoner peers as they were given comforts and as pleasant a stay as possible. I have visited Kilmainham jail in Dublin and the East State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Both prisons are extraordinary to tour. Standing out however, like a single snowdrop in a February frost, are the cells designed for these men.
Their glory/infamy was celebrated/paid for. Al Capone didn’t even make much use of this particular cell. Their luxury did not mean they had freedom. Both were incarcerated from a world where they could walk the streets freely.
Maybe I can empathise! A warm, stocked, beautiful and comfortable birdcage where we must watch outdoor life through bars. Temporary? Yes. Freedom? Not quite! Would I change it? Never. Am I human? Yes! This weakness, my mere humanity makes me long for a perceived liberation. If I got it, I would probably fly immediately back to the cage. The reason being, it is within my captivity that I am the most free!
It is strange how we choose our own status in life. My years in ‘liberation’, single, mortgage free and childless were empty. Weeks living for weekends which were filled with a search for fulfillment, trips to theatres, listening to music, film watching and bar hopping. Rarely was there an occasion where I felt truly happy. Robert Frost talks about becoming ‘acquainted with the night’ and I can so clearly relate to the emptiness I think he was inspired by. My loneliest times were living in cities. I was free. Yet I was lonely. Therefore I was trapped. Again, freedom and imprisonment are entwined.
Loneliness is not part of my life now. No shackles there. I am blessed. I wanted to meet someone and marry. I did. I wanted children to love. I have them. Did I give up certain privileges? Yes. I cannot leave my house whenever I like. Yes, I cannot eat what I wish. Also, I am in a uniform of child excretion encrusted clothes and yes, I face piles of laundry,which I can liken to Laurel and Hardy’s in the marvellous comedy ‘The Flying Deuces’ and a prison- like pile of vegetables to peel on a daily basis.
Was it through my own freewill? Naturally! Just as a thief chose to steal or a fraud to cheat, I chose this life. For me, freedom and my entrapment are as one. Like the prisoner, who is to say they do not feel free at times of the pressures the outside world imposes? Freedom is still here. Just in a smaller venue. I believe we all feel stapled to houses, offices, cars. How strange it is how fond we can become of our prisons!