Recently, I had the amazing privilege to spend some time with the director of one of the biggest prison in Thailand. The woman is in charge of facilities housing 4,000 female prisoners. It is the common size of a village in Switzerland! We discussed about the differences between male and female prisoners. About the challenges of running such kind of establishment. The prison even offers vocational and meditation courses, grows fruits and vegetables and sell handicraft.
I started wondering. What is a good prison? Is it a prison where the prisoners feel good? If so, does it remain a punishment? Or is it a place of suffering, in which case why would we criticize prisons with poor living conditions? The answer I was given is that prisons are places where freedom is removed, and where respect of the rules and discipline towards authority are taught. And almost no prisoner goes through this without suffering, otherwise they would not be there. There is no need to bring additional suffering. There may not be any other purpose for imprisonment.
I was wondering more: These places are so well organized. Prisoners are given tasks for the community. Everyone has a roof, friends, food and work. Even meditation courses. Like a small village. Better than a small village? I was thinking, isn’t it similar to a monastery, except that in a monastery, the integration in the community is chosen voluntarily? Jean-Paul Sartre was saying that freedom of choice brings suffering. What if we offered alternative villages where people voluntarily choose to serve any task that is given to them, force themself to work a certain amount of time in exchange of food and accommodation, and peace of mind. Peace of the absence of responsibility. Volunteer total subordination.
Now I am thinking: This “alternative village” pretty much looks like our society. Except that we have freedom of choice, which is good, but not everyone has a roof, nor food, nor work, which is pretty bad. So in a sense, we sacrificed the potential for great peace for the sake of freedom.
But who really is free in this world? What does freedom mean? What more should it bring, that worth the sacrifice of a comfortable life in prison? And do we get it?
Maybe I am thinking too much.