Metamorphosis behind iron bars — a butterfly turns into a poisson insect

The recent news from Ukraine made me mad.  Mrs. Julia Timoshenko, for whom I still felt some compassion recently, now appeared in a completely new light.  She did not denialed the validity of a You-Tube footage of a telefon conversation, in which she expressed her intention to “shoot Putin with an AK47 in the head, and eradict all Russian people from Ukraine territory by dropping an atom bomb”.  This is horrific, I have to say, and it shows a complete absence of proportionallity.  O.k., what Putin did was a bit of rowdy-like.  Not really gentleman style. But in fact he only changed gouvernmental status. Life wont change for the Crimean people a lot. They lived under a corrupt system before, and they will live under another corrupt system from now on.

But what Mrs. Timoshenko now dreams of is really killing the Russian people and their president. Thats not nice, Julia, and it shows that you turn into a lunatic. A few weeks ago, I was still feeling compassion for you, being kept in prison away from your family since 4 years. And I was wondering why the Ukrainian opposition did not demanded your immediate relaese and gathered behind you. I was even sending posts to social networks asking “Where is Julia”,  when everybody was just talking about Vitaly Klitscho and the other strong man on Kiews Maijdan square.

Now you are free again, and the first statement we heard from you is your dream of shooting Putin and dropping an atom-bomb onto all Russians.  What happened with you, these 4 years in prison ? You underwent a strange metamorphosis, did not you ?  Four years ago, you represented the human and liberal and sophisticate faction of Ukrainian politics. Now your voice turned into a militant and primitive sound.  These 4 years in prison were like a cocoon, where a benign larvea turned into a poisonous insect, armed with a sting to be used against anyone you identify as enemy.

Could it be that being held  in detention, isolated from social contacts at all, triggers a kind of metamorphosis of personality ?  I have to think of Nelson Mandela, whom they kept on the Robben Island prison for half his life. And he also changed a lot. Before this, he was part of the militant ANC fraction Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), not really on the forefront of a liberal and slow conversion of the apartheid regime in South Africa. After the fall of the Botha regime, and he was released from prison and elected new president, he felt committed to build a multi-colour country.  After beeing imprisoned by the white South African regime for half his life,  many expected him to use his new power to take revenge. But exactly the opposite took place:  Mandela was the main force behind a peaceful cohabitation of the former white elite and the coloured South African majority.  Any attempt by former ANC factions to expell the white population he opposed with the power of his popularity.  Nelson Mandela had became a messias of humanity, after being turtured for 27 years in prison.

So there seem to be something specially happening to people if they are kept in isolation, in prison.

I had the “privileg” to spend only 2 days behind iron bars in my life, when in 1989 I was careless enough to take part in the liberal movement against the communist regime in East-Germany, and in my juvenile naivity thought that making some super-8 movies of the brutal East-Berlin police force would be a cool idea. It wasn’t. But at least I experienced something each man should have seen once in his lifetime: Finding himself locked behind bars, alone or – as in my case – with a couple of other “bad guys”.

rummelsburg-KnastThese two days spend in detention changed my attitude quite a lot.  Before this, I thought that being kept in a prison might be a good way to escape the daily noise and indoctrination of daily life, and be in perfect isolation with ones own thoughts and phantasies.  But in fact, it is exactly the other way around. In prison, you can never be sure if a guard or any of the other inmates wants to humilate you. There is simply no escape. And you have no rights. An even if you would have the right to complain (maybe bacause of violations of the UN human rights standards:  What a fun), you can not simply grab a telefon, let alone writing e-mail or a blog post. Nothing of this. Being held in prison is not so much an issue of not moving around, not being allowed  to go for a walk to the park or attending a party, but in prison they try to keep you in intellectual and in social isolation. But this isolation is only one-directional: Whereas they can put a wall around you that blocks every exchange of ideas between you and outer world, at the same time they are allowed to humilate you or allow other prison inmates to humilate you.  Although in my case it was only a two-days detention in the rediculous Rummelsburg jail, I can imagine what people in the Evin prison have to go through. If you have any more questions, read “Kissing the Sword” by Shahrnush Parsipur.  To make a short story, even shorter:  Every day you spend in prison is a wasted day of your life.  If you want to find some quiet time to contemplate, book yourself a hotel in a remote place out of season. If you want to have some time to read a good book, go to a library or a large book-store where you can sit and read a whole day. If you want to write a blog post or an article, wait till late night, when the family sleeps. If you want to play some music, meet with some friends in a garage and jam the whole night through.  But don’t think that the isolation in a prison cell can turn you into a better skilled or enlightened person.

1 Responses to Metamorphosis behind iron bars — a butterfly turns into a poisson insect

  1. I was also shocked by Ms Timoshenko’s comments. Once more she has shown that she is the wrong poster woman for the Ukrainian revolution. These remarks should disqualify her from any political office.

    I agree that it is a very interesting experience to be locked up once. But in my example, it really changed me. It was only one week at Evin prison in Iran, but it was the first and only time that I had one full week of being able to think. I was in solitary confinement, no outside contact at all, no newspapers, nothing. No phone ringing, no e-mails to check, no appointments to keep, no serious plans to make. This one week was very useful for me to reflect on my life and to change it quite a bit upon my release.
    Having said that, there were of course also very terrifying elements to it, from the interrogations, to the fear, to being treated like an object rather than a human being, to hearing the screams of other prisoners, to going mad myself one night, so I would not recommend this experience or portray it in any positive light. Maybe I could have gotten the same effect out of a one-week retreat at a monastery, but then I always would have known that it would only be for a week. At Evin, I reflected deeply on my life because I didn’t know how long I would be stuck there (and after the first 2 days I expected it to last for 2 to 3 years, from the way the interrogations were going).

    I’ll really have to get to finally finish writing this whole story one day…

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