Prison Commentary: Crime & Punishment - Week 1

Course: HNRS 302: Extreme Punishments: Life, Death, & Solitary Confinement
Written: January 14, 2014 

Published: February 13, 2017
© All Rights Reserved

Written during Destiny's junior year of college, Destiny poignantly provides commentary and reflection on readings for the week for a University Honors course titled "Extreme Punishments." Each reading required the illumination of the following 4 structure components: takeway(s), a free-write, a quotation(s) of interest, and a question(s). 

I. Last Supper

Takeaways

  • Death is inevitable, whether you are as revered as Jesus or as "contemned" as a criminal, you will have a “Last Supper” one day

  • In a matter of seconds, a human life can be taken away

  • The poem reflects the view of legality versus ethics


Free Write

The author tells the story of an inmate, who has been sentenced to the death penalty. The author shows the contrast between the last supper of an inmate and the last supper of Jesus. The title of the poem “Last Supper” is a historical biblical reference to Jesus’s Last Supper. In contrast, while Jesus shared his last supper with 12 apostles before his crucifixion, the inmate was in solitude before his death. Repeated references are throughout the poem. There is a repeated reference to the word “condemned” throughout the poem. One can see this in the opening description. The word “condemned is also repeated in paragraphs 3 and 7. The author opens and closes the poem by differentiating the Last Supper of Jesus and the Last Supper of a convicted felon.

It’s important to highlight that “condemned” can change depending on the subject. Often times the author begins a stanza in the middle of a sentence. I think the author wants to present a realistic interpretation rather than a fanciful one. The mood and the tone seem to be introspective. The poem’s language is simple, while the context is complex. The author uses personification when he contrasts a human body to diced steak.This theme is consistent throughout the poem. The time period covers the before, during, and after of an inmate's last meal. The author uses similes throughout the poem. Most notably, he compares a top sheet and a sail(para. 2). Additionally, the author used a simile when comparing words and mouths (para. 3). This helped to provide visual imagery of what the scene looked like. Conclusively, perhaps the author was inspired by the biblical depiction of Jesus’s Last Supper and Leonardo Da Vinci’s artistic depiction of Jesus’s Last Supper.


Quotation

"He eats alone with a plastic fork no knives for the condemned."

It provides visuals imagery in my mind."


Question

  • Had the inmate been a celebrity, would his last meal have been different?

  • What access did the inmate have to legal representation?

  • Does the author believe the inmate is condemned or is he speaking on behalf of the society?

  • How many people were in the room with the author?

II. A Gun to The Head

Takeaways

  • This poem discusses the brevity of life

  • Life is short and can change in a moment’s notice.

  • At the same time, the language is simple, the poem metaphorically shows the implications of how fear can cripple one’s mind (victim or robber)


Free write

The author describes two points of view that appear to be contrasting. But, they actually form a connection. The first point of view represents a robber who doesn’t have the rationality to understand the consequences of his actions--”putting a gun to the head” (paragraph 2). The second point of view represents a victim who fears for his life. Because the victim fears for his life, he doesn’t have the rationality to run or attack the robber(paragraph 5). The connection comes because they both are operating out of fear. The robber is still fearful because if he was really “bold”, one could infer, “Why would you need to cover your face? The victim’s fearfulness is removing his own rationality because, all he has to do is run or fight back. On the other hand, one could say the robber is the victim because he is a product of his own environment. The words in italics reference personal dialogue. So, I began to read the poem with dominant rhythm. Even without pictures, the author creates intellectual visual imagery. For example, although the author didn’t explicitly write who was speaking, the reader can still “feel” the rhythm of the personal dialogue in italics paragraph 7). The author also uses similes to evoke imagery(paragraph 5).  The mood of the poem is somber sometimes.  However, at other times the mood causes the reader to be introspective (para. 9). The author plays on both literal and metaphorical devices, to evoke the reader’s attention.


Quotation

  • “Robbers in black, heads hooded, guns drawn, make collection”


Question

  • What inspired the author to write this poem, was it a personal memory?

III. Dreamscape

Takeaways

  • Connections and contrasts between meat and human life

  • Humans tend to appreciate their freedom more when they are denied the right to be free

  • Main complexities of the poem relate to the idiom “you don’t miss it until it’s gone”

  • A free citizen may never understand the benefits of freedom until they are placed in confinement

  • Perceived freedom between a citizen and an inmate



Free write

The title “Dreamscape” is a contrast to the assumptions the reader can make about life as a free citizen vs. life as a prisoner. The prisoner isn’t in the reality of a free citizen. At the same time, the free citizen isn’t in the reality of an inmate. Dreaming is a form of escaping. Because it’s a dream/perception, both the inmate and the citizen are out of touch of each other realities.

The title seems as though the poem only relates to the positive side of the American Dream. However, the context of the poem shows that whether we are “labeled” as an inmate or a citizen, we are all citizens. The author showcases the complexities of living in an uncertain environment. The main point of reasoning the poem addresses is that while prisoners are physically caged and deprived of freedom of movement, humans can still cage themselves psychologically, although they are “free”. The author uses repetition to highlight this reasoning (para. 5). Or put in another way, the poet draws attention to this stanza to form an impression of thought.

Whether someone is a prisoner or not, they still deal with life-threatening situations. However, because a prisoner deals with life-threatening situations on a daily basis, they would appreciate having the luxury of the “citizens” life. The mood of the poem is neutral. The poem’s voice is universal--sometimes it speaks from the viewpoint of  a victim. Other times, the poem speaks from the viewpoint of criminal. The author evokes more pathos by leaving the “who” open for interpretation. While the language is simple, the essential concepts are complex. Although there’s no details to specify the time, the narrative appears to be in the present yet timeless (para. 2).


Quotation

  • “The rest of us are bruised daily, by the firm walls of convention.”

Questions

  • Does the “intersection of civilization and chaos” refer to U.S. prison placement?

  • How do you think society determines what is just or unjust?

IV. Still Life on Gurney

Takeaways

  • The poems reflects on the emotional complexities of the death penalty

  • The reader can interpret the legal complexities of the death penalty

  • The reader can interpret the ethical complexities of the death penalty


Free write

This narrative describes the similarities and differences of dead life and simply being alive. Although the poem is short, the subject matter is mighty. The title of the poem compares two contrasting, yet similar things. The first contrast the poem shows is a picture that is lacking movement, but still represents an image that contains living organisms, a still photo. The second contrast the title implies is a stark image of a person lacking movement (dead), yet a person who contains living organisms. In this way, the author uses personification to compare and contrast a still photo and a dead man. In contrast to the poem, “Last Supper” the author doesn’t shift scenes. Instead, he provides a consistent theme. The author doesn’t state an exact passage of time. However, the author’s words do form a visual aspect of time. In deeper analysis, the poem infers the reality of “mundane” life, as noted in the poem “A Gun to the Head.” The picture accompanied by the poem helps to add visual imagery. The picture taken by the illustrator increases pathos. The image in itself is contrasting in the sense that at first glance it looks like a dead man. But on a closer inspection, one could imply that the man can’t simply be dead because he is praying. This imagery connects to the simile of comparing still life art and a dead man. The mood of the tone can be somber if one focuses on the “on the surface” analysis that death is justice. However, the mood can also be retrospective. In conclusion, the reflective poem allows the reader to be retrospective of life and death.


Quotation

  • “The naked eye like a camera shows so much but reveals so little.”

Questions

  • Is it cruel to kill someone as an act of justice?
  • Is it socially incorrect to compare a citizen's "free" life to an inmate's "caged" life?

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