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Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose (Part one)

Suddenly there is a flash of bright lights and brazen shouting. STAND FOR COUNT! GET UP FOR BREAKFAST! WHETHER YOU WANT IT OR NOT! A wave of desolate terror sweeps over me as another day of dread begins. The smell of urine from the drunks and vomit from the junkies assails my nose, as a hot burning wave of fear crawls along my skin. Busted again! After so many years! And I wonder if this claustrophobic jail horror will go on for the rest of my life...

Perhaps few of you understand the difference between jail and prison. Jails are places for temporary incarceration while the authorities sort out whether or not they've arrested the right person or, if they have, whether they feel they want to allocate the resources necessary to obtain a conviction. Of paramount importance is the question of bail. Nowadays in most important cases bail is denied or granted only for what must be considered ransom.

Conditions in the jails are abominable. One tolerates it by hoping for bail and trying to remain as calm as possible in the meantime. The guards are abusive, exercise and fresh air often nonexistent. Conditions are extremely overcrowded, with a typical space of 25 feet by 40 feet having around thirty men with 3 toilets and 1 shower. And steel tables and benches for eating. At peak times on weekends the population can rise to 40 or 45, which happens by putting mattresses between the bunks and on the tables until there is almost no room to walk, and even little air to breathe. Since bottom bunks go to people who have been in the unit for a while the top bunks go to the newly arrived many of whom are junkies and in instant withdrawal, unless they have smuggled in some heroin. As a result of being deathly ill and therefore immobilised when undergoing extreme nausea, they often can't make it to the toilet. Those on the floor or bottom bunks may be subjected to cascades of vomit. This is not an infrequent occurence. The food is horrible, the TV on for almost 24 hours a day, loud and blaring, and everyone is in a terrible headspace, yelling over the din of the TV.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, with no conceivable relief in sight. I became hopelessly depressed. Gone was my home, gone were my loved ones, gone was my ability to move myself physically from a worse place to a better one. I was trapped physically, socially and emotionally. In every direction that I turned I saw despair. My money was gone, my beautiful laboratory was gone, stolen and auctioned to a motorcycle gang for a song. I was reduced to a plastic jumpsuit on a thin mattress in a small dark corner, surrounded by hostile demons. An incessant din and nothing to do but think, and think, and think. The inexorable horror that this could be forever was looking more and more certain as the months crept by. The only anchor I had was my beloved Usha who waited patiently and loyally for the five long years we were to be separated.

As the time went by I became despairing and depressed. I became very overweight eating the greasy food, and not getting exercise and fresh air was also to blame. When I noticed that I could not go up a flight of stairs without wheezing I became seriously alarmed. I realised that during these months in jail I had done little but read trashy novels and go over in my head all the errors and mistakes which had lead to my arrest and incarceration. I repeatedly fell into the would I? should I? could I? syndrome as I futilely recreated the past in a vain attempt to extricate myself from the frustrating self-blame I was experiencing. Around and around and around as I wound myself up into greater and greater degrees of despair. This was indeed a dark night of the soul.

I realised that I had to do something to break out of this self destructive cycle...

 Pravasi

(Extracted from a talk given by Pravasi on his release from prison. The second part, in which he describes the spiritual understanding prison produced in him, will follow next month.)

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