Such is the remorseless progression of human society, shedding lives and souls as it goes on its way. It is an ocean into which men sink who have been cast out by the law and consigned, with help most cruelly withheld, to moral death. The sea is the pitiless social darkness into which the penal system casts those it has condemned, an unfathomable waste of misery. The human soul, lost in those depths, may become a corpse. Who shall revive it?
—Victor Hugo (1802–85) French Novelist
Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums who find prison so soul-destroying.
—Evelyn Waugh (1903–66) British Novelist, Essayist, Biographer
In jail a man has no personality. He is a minor disposal problem and a few entries on reports. Nobody cares who loves or hates him, what he looks like, what he did with his life. Nobody reacts to him unless he gives trouble. Nobody abuses him. All that is asked of him is that he go quietly to the right cell and remain quiet when he gets there. There is nothing to fight against, nothing to be mad at. The jailers are quiet men without animosity or sadism. All this stuff you read about men yelling and screaming, beating against the bars, running spoons along them, guards rushing in with clubs—all that is for the big house. A good jail is one of the quietest places in the world. Life in jail is in suspension.
—Raymond Chandler (1888–1959) American Novelist
A fly and a flea in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the Flea, Let us fly!
Said the Fly, Let us flee!
So they fled through a flaw in the flue.
Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.
—Henry David Thoreau (1817–62) American Philosopher
In prison, those things withheld from and denied to the prisoner become precisely what he wants most of all.
—Eldridge Cleaver (1935–98) American Author, Activist
We are all serving a self-sentence in the dungeon of self.
—Cyril Connolly (1903–74) British Literary Critic, Writer
Before we can diminish our sufferings from the ill-controlled aggressive assaults of fellow citizens, we must renounce the philosophy of punishment, the obsolete, vengeful penal attitude. In its place we would seek a comprehensive, constructive social attitude – therapeutic in some instances, restraining in some instances, but preventive in its total social impact.
In the last analysis this becomes a question of personal morals and values. No matter how glorified or how piously disguised, vengeance as a human motive must be personally repudiated by each and every one of us. This is the message of old religions and new psychiatries. Unless this message is heard, unless we … can give up our delicious satisfactions in opportunities for vengeful retaliation on scapegoats, we cannot expect to preserve our peace, our public safety, or our mental health.
…But the punitive attitude persists. And just so long as the spirit of vengeance has the slightest vestige of respectability, so long as it pervades the public mind and infuses its evil upon the statute books of the law, we will make no headway toward the control of crime. We cannot assess the most appropriate and effective penalties so long as we seek to inflict retaliatory pain.
—Karl Menninger (1893–1990) American Psychiatrist
To assert in any case that a man must be absolutely cut off from society because he is absolutely evil amounts to saying that society is absolutely good, and no-one in his right mind will believe this today.
—Albert Camus (1913–60) Algerian-born French Philosopher, Dramatist, Essayist, Novelist, Author
Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.
—Mark Twain (1835–1910) American Humorist
We are all conceived in close prison; in our mothers wombs, we are close prisoners all; when we are born, we are born but to the liberty of the house; prisoners still, though within larger walls; and then all our life is but a going out to the place of execution, to death.
—John Donne (1572–1631) English Poet, Cleric
The prisoner is not the one who has committed a crime, but the one who clings to his crime and lives it over and over.
—Henry Miller (1891–1980) American Novelist
Jails and prisons are the complement of schools; so many less as you have of the latter, so many more you must have of the former.
—Horace Mann (1796–1859) American Educator, Politician, Educationalist
We who live in prison, and in whose lives there is no event but sorrow, have to measure time by throbs of pain, and the record of bitter moments.
—Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) Irish Poet, Playwright
The most anxious man in a prison is the governor.
—George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) Irish Playwright
I know not whether Laws be right or whether Laws be wrong; all that we know who live in goal is that the wall is strong; and that each day is like a year, a year whose days are long.
—Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) Irish Poet, Playwright
It was only when I lay there on the rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the fIrst stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not between states nor between social classes nor between political parties, but right through every human heart, through all human hearts. And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me, bless you, prison, for having been a part of my life.
—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) Russian Dissident Novelist
He that is taken and put into prison or chains is not conquered, though overcome; for he is still an enemy.
—Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) English Political Philosopher
A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.
—Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) Austrian-born British Philosopher
Prison continues, on those who are entrusted to it, a work begun elsewhere, which the whole of society pursues on each individual through innumerable mechanisms of discipline.
—Michel Foucault (1926–84) French Philosopher, Critic, Historian