Prison

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The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky
Changi became my university instead of my prison. ... Among the inmates there were experts in all walks of life — the high and the low roads. ~ James Clavell

A prison is a place in which individuals are physically confined and deprived of a range of personal freedoms.

Quotes[edit]

Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons? ~ Michel Foucault
  • At the risk of quoting Mephistopheles I repeat: Welcome to hell. A hell erected and maintained by human-governments, and blessed by black robed judges. A hell that allows you to see your loved ones, but not to touch them. A hell situated in America's boondocks, hundreds of miles away from most families. A white, rural hell, where most of the captives are black and urban. It is an American way of death.
    • Mumia Abu-Jamal, All Things Censored (2001, Seven Stories Press), pp. 55-56
  • Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?
  • Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
  • Stone walls do not a prison make,
    Nor iron bars a cage,
    Minds innocent and quiet take
    That for an hermitage.
  • Show me a prison, show me a jail
    Show me a pris'ner whose face has grown pale

    And I'll show you a young man
    With many reasons why
    There but for fortune, go you or I.
  • Over the past three decades, the number of prison inmates in the United States has increased by more than 600%, leaving it the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. During this time, incarceration has changed from a punishment reserved primarily for the most heinous offenders to a much greater range of crimes and a much larger segment of the population.
    • Devah Pager (17 March 2014), The Mark of a Criminal Record, 108, The American Journal of Sociology, pp. 937-975 
  • Doubles grilles à gros cloux,
    Triples portes, forts verroux,
    Aux âmes vraiment méchantes
    Vous représentez l'enfer:
    Mais aux âmes innocentes
    Vous n'etes que du bois, des pierres, du fer.
    • Fast closed with double grills
      And triple gates—the cell
      To wicked souls is hell;
      But to a mind that's innocent
      'Tis only iron, wood and stone.
    • Paul Pellisson, written on the walls of his cell in the Bastile (c. 1661)
  • Nor stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass,
    Nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron,
    Can be retentive to the strength of spirit;
    But life, being weary of these worldly bars,
    Never lacks power to dismiss itself.
  • I have been studying how I may compare
    This prison where I live unto the world:
    And for because the world is populous
    And here is not a creature but myself,
    I cannot do it; yet I'll hammer it out.
  • Might I but through my prison once a day
    Behold this maid: all corners else o' the earth
    Let liberty make use of; space enough
    Have I in such a prison.
  • And, for thou wast a spirit too delicate
    To act her earthy and abhorr'd commands,
    Refusing her grand hests, she did confine thee,
    By help of her more potent ministers
    And in her most unmitigable rage,
    Into a cloven pine; within which rift
    Imprison'd thou didst painfully remain
    A dozen years; within which space she died
    And left thee there; where thou didst vent thy groans
    As fast as mill-wheels strike.
  • If a captive mind is unaware of being in prison, it is living in error. If it has recognized the fact, even for the tenth of a second, and then quickly forgotten it in order to avoid suffering, it is living in falsehood. Men of the most brilliant intelligence can be born, live and die in error and falsehood. In them, intelligence is neither a good, nor even an asset. The difference between more or less intelligent men is like the difference between criminals condemned to life imprisonment in smaller or larger cells. The intelligent man who is proud of his intelligence is like a condemned man who is proud of his large cell.
    • Simone Weil, in "Human Personality" ('c. 1933), in Simone Weil : An Anthology (1986), edited by Siân Miles, p. 69

Men of the most brilliant intelligence can be born, live and die in error and falsehood. In them, intelligence is neither a good, nor even an asset. The difference between more or less intelligent men is like the difference between criminals condemned to life imprisonment in smaller or larger cells. The intelligent man who is proud of his intelligence is like a condemned man who is proud of his large cell.


  • I never saw sad men who looked
    With such a wistful eye
    Upon that little tent of blue
    We prisoners called the sky,
    And at every careless cloud that passed
    In happy freedom by.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 634.
  • In durance vile here must I wake and weep,
    And all my frowsy couch in sorrow steep.
    • Robert Burns, Epistle from Esopus to Maria in Chambers' Burns' Life and Work, Volume IV
  • Whene'er with haggard eyes I view
    This dungeon that I'm rotting in,
    I think of those companions true
    Who studied with me at the U-
    Niversity of Göttingen.
    • George Canning, song, Of One Eleven Years in Prison. Found in The Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin. Also in Burlesque Plays and Poems, edited by Henry Morley
  • Prison'd in a parlour snug and small,
    Like bottled wasps upon a southern wall.
  • As if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel.
    • Ezekiel. X. 10
  • In durance vile.
  • That which the world miscalls a jail,
    A private closet is to me.
    * * * * *
    Locks, bars, and solitude together met,
    Make me no prisoner, but an anchoret.
    • Attributed to Sir Roger L'Estrange. Also to Lord Capel. Found in the New Foundling Hospital for Wit (Ed. 1786), IV. 40, as a supplementary stanza. See Notes and Queries (April 10, 1909), p. 288

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