quotations about prison

Prison quote

It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.

HOWARD ZINN, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train


Tags: Howard Zinn

How come life in prison doesn't mean life? Until it does, we're not ready to do away with the death penalty. Stop thinking in terms of "punishment" for a minute and think in terms of safeguarding innocent people from incorrigible murderers.

JESSE VENTURA, I Ain't Got Time to Bleed


Tags: Jesse Ventura

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.



Tags: Nathaniel Hawthorne

If Americans actually have the conversation about our disastrous prison policies, we'll understand the trends all move in very dangerous directions: we lock up more people, for less violent crime, at ever greater expense, breeding more dangerous criminals who often come out unemployable, violent and isolated.

DAHLIA LITHWICK, Newsweek, June 15, 2009


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The most important step is to demand for the prisoner the right to work while in prison, with some monetary recompense that would enable him to lay aside a little for the day of his release, the beginning of a new life.

EMMA GOLDMAN, "Prisons: A Social Crime and Failure", Anarchism and Other Essays


Tags: Emma Goldman

You can tell a lot about a civilization by the quality of the people found in its jails.

DAVID GERROLD, Under the Eye of God


Tags: David Gerrold

Year after year the gates of prison hells return to the world an emaciated, deformed, willless, ship-wrecked crew of humanity, with the Cain mark on their foreheads, their hopes crushed, all their natural inclinations thwarted. With nothing but hunger and inhumanity to greet them, these victims soon sink back into crime as the only possibility of existence. It is not at all an unusual thing to find men and women who have spent half their lives--nay, almost their entire existence--in prison.

EMMA GOLDMAN, "Prisons: A Social Crime and Failure", Anarchism and Other Essays


Tags: Emma Goldman

Prison always has been a good place for writers, killing, as it does, the twin demons of mobility and diversion.



Tags: Dan Simmons

To live in prison is to live without mirrors. To live without mirrors is to live without the self.

MARGARET ATWOOD, "Marrying the Hangman", Selected Poems


Tags: Margaret Atwood

The cliché about prison life is that I am actually integrated into it, ruined by it, when my accommodation to it is so overwhelming that I can no longer stand or even imagine freedom, life outside prison, so that my release brings about a total psychic breakdown, or at least gives rise to a longing for the lost safety of prison life. The actual dialectic of prison life, however, is somewhat more refined. Prison in effect destroys me, attains a total hold over me, precisely when I do not fully consent to the fact that I am in prison but maintain a kind of inner distance towards it, stick to the illusion that "real life is elsewhere" and indulge all the time in daydreaming about life outside, about nice things that are waiting for me after my release or escape. I thereby get caught in the vicious cycle of fantasy, so that when, eventually, I am released, the grotesque discord between fantasy and reality breaks me down. The only true solution is therefore fully to accept the rules of prison life and then, within the universe governed by these rules, to work out a way to beat them. In short, inner distance and daydreaming about Life Elsewhere in effect enchain me to prison, whereas full acceptance of the fact that I am really there, bound by prison rules, opens up a space for true hope.

SLAVOJ ZIZEK, The Fragile Absolute: Or, why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?


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Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

BIBLE, Hebrews 13:3


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No prison can shut out God.

J. F. LA HARPE, attributed, Day's Collacon


The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that's why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness


Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Discipline & Punish


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Jails and state prisons are the complement of schools: so many less as you have of the latter, so many more must you have of the former.



Tags: Horace Mann

Oh, the inmates and the prisoners
I found they were my kind
And it was there inside the bars
I found my peace of mind
But the jails they were too crowded
Institutions overflowed
So they turned me loose to walk upon
Life's hurried tangled road

BOB DYLAN, "Ballad of Donald White"


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It had long been true, and prisoners knew this better than anyone, that the poorer you were the more likely you were to end up in jail. This was not just because the poor committed more crimes. In fact, they did. The rich did not have to commit crimes to get what they wanted; the laws were on their side. But when the rich did commit crimes, they often were not prosecuted, and if they were they could get out on bail, hire clever lawyers, get better treatment from judges. Somehow, the jails ended up full of poor black people.

HOWARD ZINN, A People's History of the United States


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How feeble is all language to describe the horrors we inflict upon these wretches, whom we mason up in the cells of our prisons, and condemn to perpetual solitude in the very heart of our population.



Tags: Herman Melville

The first prison I ever saw had inscribed on it CEASE TO DO EVIL: LEARN TO DO WELL; but as the inscription was on the outside, the prisoners could not read it.

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, preface, Imprisonment


Tags: George Bernard Shaw

No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.

NELSON MANDELA, Long Walk to Freedom


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