Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

AS we all know, mankind's most precious gift is liberty, but when, exactly, is a man free? I recall the days when, as a mere stripling, I had nothing, not a penny to my name, and thought myself imprisoned by poverty. Nowadays, I am weighed down by possessions, which act upon me as a ball and chain; but instead of concluding, as any sane man would, that I should divest myself of them, I go on accumulating them. That glorious freedom, which as a child I thought all adults enjoyed, has so far eluded me.

It certainly isn't true that everyone wants to be free, at least if freedom entails responsibility. Yesterday, for example, I was talking to a prisoner who was explaining why he needed a cell to himself.

`I've never got on with people, doctor. Not since I was a child. They've always taken advantage of me.'

I'm sure it was true. And in prison that would mean no tobacco. For most prisoners, tobacco is the meaning of life: there is no other.

We got to talking. I asked him how ong he was serving.

`Four years.'

`Is this going to be your last sentence?'

'I hope not.'

I was taken aback.

`You mean you want to come back here?'

`I've only been outside prison one out of the last ten years, doctor.'

`You prefer it here?'

'I do, really.'

'Why?'

`Out there I have to do things for myself. Here everything's done for me.'

`But what about freedom?'

`The last time I was out they put me in a flat on my own. The front door wouldn't shut properly, so when I was sitting in the flat I was worried the burglars would come, and I wished I was back in prison because, once they shut the iron doors behind me, I'm safe. …

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