Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Famous Contented Prisoners
I made this list to go with my earlier one of grouchy tourists. The men on that list proved that having the range of the whole earth to roam doesn't necessarily make people happy. I intended this new one to prove the opposite, that being confined to a limited space doesn't necessarily quench a person's inner spirit. But I didn't expect my heart to be as touched as it turned out to be before I started.
Bricks and mortar may limit our physical presence, but not our souls, or our imaginations. In fact, these intangible parts of a person have been known to soar when confined within four walls. Usually I draw from works of fiction, which I expected to be the case here too. But when I brainstormed, the result surprised me. With the exception of a few down the bottom, this list is full of real, heroic folk from history, who not only bore their suffering with incredible courage, but left powerful written legacies for the rest of us, often produced from within the very walls that contained them. It took longer than several of my other lists to compile, but when I cast my eye down the names and think of the inspiration and impact these famous prisoners have made on me and many others, it's well worth it. Here they are.
I'll start off with a couple of biblical prisoners.
1) The Apostle Paul
Scholars say there's no doubt Paul was in prison when he composed his letter to the Philippians. It might have been the Roman imprisonment at the end of Acts, or even an earlier imprisonment at Caesarea. He was no stranger to custody, and this epistle has a sense of his impending death all through. That's why it's so powerful when Paul was able to write the words we love, 'I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.' Since he made the statement, he's a good one to get the ball rolling.
In the book of Genesis, this young hero was imprisoned in a dungeon for several years, for a crime he didn't commit. His employer's wife made a false accusation when he refused her advances. Joseph managed to make the best of an unfair situation. He became respected by the warden, who put him in charge of other prisoners. Joseph always tried to do whatever he could to help others, such as the baker and the cup bearer. He didn't use his time in prison sitting around and bemoaning his own fate.
Now I'll continue with other famous prisoners throughout history.
3) Sir Walter Raleigh
This famous Elizabethan gentleman politician and spy was imprisoned in the Tower of London on a couple of separate occasions. The angry Queen Bess banished him there, when he secretly married one of her ladies in waiting without her permission. (Legend has it that she fancied him herself.) Years after obtaining his release from that one, he was thrown in again after being involved in a plot against King James 1. Imprisonment was just part of life's rich tapestry for the jaunty Sir Walter, who was often seen promenading along the balcony, as dapper as ever.
4) Mary, Queen of Scots
Incarceration was a fact of life for this young Scottish monarch. When she lost the throne of Scotland and fled to throw herself on the mercy of her English cousin, Elizabeth 1, she was imprisoned instead. Cautious Elizabeth perceived her as a threat. (Yeah, she threw Sir Walter Raleigh behind bars too. That would seem one of Elizabeth's favourite ways of dealing with people she didn't want to deal with.) They were nice, elaborate prisons, being castles and manor houses, and Mary managed to keep up with her reading and handiwork. But they were prisons nonetheless, and she was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth. It must have been cooked up during her captivity. Mary was executed.
5) John Bunyan
He lived during the English Civil War, and spent twelve years in jail for refusing to stop preaching. Bunyan was a non-conformist, and when the monarchy was restored, they tried to curtail the freedom of such people, but he wouldn't be stopped. So using his time well, he did a lot of writing, including work on 'The Pilgrim's Progress', his famous allegory about the Christian life.
6) Emily Dickinson
She was a nineteenth century American poet who chose to live as a recluse in her family home, always wearing white and never coming out. It was a personal decision by an intensely private person. Some regard her lifestyle as a self-imposed prison, yet the volume and quality of the work Emily produced seems to prove that it suited her.
Next I have some more modern, twentieth century prisoners, who have been among the most heroic of all. In fact 'contented' doesn't seem like quite the right description for them, considering the atrocities and cruelty they lived through. But at the risk of diminishing their valiant lives by my word choice, I really want them on this list, and trust they'd understand my intention to honour them.
7) Viktor Frankl
He was an Austrian physician who discovered the key to survival when he was interred in a concentration camp. Those who managed to find meaning and purpose in even the harshest life were the same people most likely to remain alive the longest. Upon release, he wrote the first draft of his famous book, 'Man's Search for Meaning' in a matter of a week or two.
8) Corrie ten Boom
She was a Dutch watchmaker who helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust. When Corrie and her family were found out, they were imprisoned. Her famous book 'The Hiding Place' deals with her prison experiences and the attitude of complete love and forgiveness which helped her to survive.
9) Anne Frank
As a teenage girl, she lived hidden away with her family and some friends in a few secret rooms behind a bookcase in the building where her father worked. As Jews during the German population of Amsterdam, they were forced to conceal themselves. It was there, in the Secret Annexe, where Anne kept her famous diary. They were eventually discovered by the Gestapo and taken to concentration camps, where she died. The diary shows that Anne always retained her optimism and literary ambitions, which kept her spirits up during their enforced isolation. She was an amazing young heroine.
10) Nelson Mandela
This South African hero was imprisoned for 27 years because of his strong anti-Apartheid stance. His rise from being regarded as a dangerous menace and national threat to President makes his one of the most amazing lives of modern times. He didn't waste those years in prison, but studied by correspondence and kept abreast of the news. A worthy hero for all the people.
11) Peacock Blue (by Rosanne Hawke)
This is the first work of fiction I've referred to so far, but it's based on sad fact. It's set in Pakistan. Peacock Blue is the online name of Aster Suleiman, a teenage girl who made a mistake on a school exam that had her arrested on a charge of blasphemy. It's a powerful story, in which Aster is encouraged to cling to her love of the written word and write her own story. My review is here.
Now, just to lighten this blog post a bit, I'll finish off with a few prisoners from popular fiction who may make us smile. And on the spur of the moment, I slipped in a close-to-home example at the very end.
The heroine of Beauty and the Beast willingly volunteers to be the angry beast's captive in her father's place. He'd had been locked up for daring to pick a rose from the garden. Belle resigns herself to a long, lonely existence in the gloomy castle, but her sacrificial gesture leads to more happiness than she ever anticipated, since she finds true love.
13) Sirius Black
The poor dude. Not only was he wrongfully imprisoned in Azkaban for years, but the fake story of how he betrayed Lily and James Potter was circulating all that time. When he bravely manages to escape, he finds he's regarded as the scourge of the wizarding world. He has to convince Harry Potter that rather than being a desperate criminal, he's always been his loving god-father.
14) James Mortmain
The frustrated father of 'I Capture the Castle' has kept his family in abject poverty, nursing his writer's block for several years. So two of his children, Cassandra and Thomas, take matters in their own hands with a sneaky plan to lock him up in one of the towers. They feed him delicious meals, but decide he must show them at least 50 decent pages before they let him out. And although he blustered a lot, their plan sort of worked. You have to read it to find out how. My review is here.
Does anyone else remember the old TV sitcom about a group of jailbirds, starring Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale? I used to watch it when I was little, and looked forward to the entertainment. They really put a comical slant on being in prison, and I wouldn't mind watching the episodes over again.
16) My Quenarden Trilogy
Several years ago, I even had a go at writing a fantasy adventure series of my own, and I utilised the prison cell. The evil tyrant of the land had a range of dungeons in his filthy, hollowed-out mountain, where captives were kept. And his lackeys, who he allowed himself to call co-rulers of the land, kept a few of my lovely heroines imprisoned in their castle, for reasons that make perfect sense if you read the books.
So there we have them. Normally I'd say, 'Go and read the novels they're in,' but for most of the people on this list, I'll say instead, 'Go and read what they wrote.' Did you have a similar reaction of awe to mine? Or can you think of any other noteworthy or inspiring prisoners, or even funny ones?