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March 13, 2004 -- Teen prison

I am laying in bed this morning crying. What I saw yesterday. What I heard. What I felt.

I went inside a prison. It wasn't a prison where you lock up criminals. It was a prison where you lock up teenagers that haven't committed any crimes.

It was full of expensive furniture.

One of the prisoners told me that she wanted to have a dog. But it was not allowed inside the prison. The wardens are too worried about the dog damaging the expensive furniture.

This is different kind of prison from the ones you see on TV. In this prison you are allowed to have visitors go into your cell and talk. You are allowed to have a computer, a television, a VCR.

But the visitors can only stay as long as the wardens allow. Or as long as the wardens of other prisons allow them to stay. Yesterday I saw three prisoners talking to each other inside the prison. One prisoner lived inside the prison but two other prisoners were visiting from other prisons. One's warden kept calling to check up on her.

At one point an employee of the prison came and said, "Could you do a favor and come down and have coffee?" The prisoner who lived there said yes. But after ten or fifteen minutes she still hadn't gone downstairs. So the employee came up again and said, "Miss So and So..." Then the prisoner knew it was time to go. So obediently she got up and her two visitors followed. I was expected to go also, but I did not want to. Somehow this "favor" seemed more like an obligation. I don't like people forcing me or obliging me or guilt-tripping me or threatening me or frightening me into doing things. So I did not want to go along like the rest of the sheep. I said, "No thanks. I don't like coffee. I would rather stay and work." Later though, I was pressured into going down. I was told one of the wardens wanted me to go down. I had been on the Internet. Yes, in this prison you can have the Internet. But only if you follow the prison rules. If you stop following the prison rules, all your "privileges" will quickly be taken away. It doesn't matter how much you need these things that the wardens call "privileges." In fact, the more you need them, the more likely it is that they will be taken away if you disobey. This is how the prison system works. And it works very well. The prisoners obey with very little protest. Some of them don't even realize they are in prison. The word "prison" is never used of course. This would help them realize it. It is better to cover it up with comforting sounding words like "home" and "house." It is better to call the wardens "mother" and "father."

But regardless of what words are used, it is a prison. It is a more open prison than some other prisons, but it is still a prison. Try to leave one night and see what happens. Force will be used to keep you inside. Try to leave without saying where you are going and when you will be back. You will be punished. Your life will be made miserable. It is easier to follow the prison rules. So you do. Sometimes you tell yourself it isn't that bad. Sometimes you tell yourself that the wardens love you and they are keeping you locked up because it is in your best interest and you are not intelligent enough to live without their oppressive rules.

This helps you feel a little better while you live in the prison. If you were to think about the fact that it is a prison, it might be too depressing. You might be in so much emotional pain that you would try to kill yourself. If you started really thinking about freedom and how free you feel, you might go insane. Well, really you wouldn't be going insane. You would just be responding to the pain of being in a prison and being told that it was a home where you are being loved and nurtured.

Like in a prison where they lock up criminals, you have no say in what the rules are. You have no say in what the punishment is for breaking those rules. So if one day the prison wardens decide you may no longer have visitors of the opposite sex, for example, a special person you call your boyfriend, into your cell, which they call your bedroom, then that is the new rule. There is nothing you can do about it.

This is a confusing prison. It is confusing not only because you are never told it is a prison and not only because you are constantly told that the wardens are your mother and father, and not only because you are told that you should appreciate all the things that the wardens do for you, but also because it is relatively easy to escape from the prison. You have many opportunities to escape. The problem is, where would you go? The wardens know all the other wardens, so you can't go stay at a friend's prison. And you don't have any money so you can't get your own apartment. You might not even have enough money to feed yourself. And there is no food growing on trees anywhere near the prison. You don't have a clue how to survive without your wardens.

Many many years ago a person could leave a prison like this and find enough natural food so they could survive. But now the food supply is almost all controlled by people who want to make money selling it. So if you don't have money, you don't eat. So how do you get money? A friend of mine, Kali, said that she ran away again. She says she is 15. I don't know if this is true or not, but let's just say it is. Let's say she escaped from her prison. What will she do? How will she eat? Will she steal food? If she does she can be forced into an even more oppressive prison. It will be much, much harder for her to escape.

In some countries, there are people known as police who will force a young person to go back to prison, whether it is the prison known as "home" or the prison like the ones you see on TV with bars and armed guards. It doesn't matter how happy the person was having freedom or what else they were doing. If there were lucky enough to have someplace safe to sleep and some way of eating where they weren't breaking anyone else's rules, it still doesn't matter. In some or most countries, for example, if a female under a certain age escapes from her prison and goes to live with someone she trusts and loves and feels understood and accepted by, it doesn't matter. She can still be physically forced back to the prison she has been living in for years and years. Remember, that she committed no original crime. She was simply born. By being born she finds herself in a prison. There are a few situations where she can get people with law books and guns to help her get out of the prison. But she must suffer enormously before this can happen. And there are other cases, many, many cases, where she suffers enormously and yet is never helped to escape to freedom.

Most countries where they have prisons like this claim to be "free" countries. Some of them even tell the rest of the world that they are the defenders of freedom, and they go into other countries and kill people so the people there can be just as "free" as they are. But if you are under a certain age, depending only on where you happened to be born, or where your wardens decide to live and take you with them, then you are not free. It is a bitter joke to say that you are.

S. Hein

See also file on "Teen Prisoners"

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