Sunday, March 18, 2007
Humanity Behind Bars
"Necessity is the mother of invention" Plato was absolutely right. I found myself stuck in a small town near Cologne on a Sunday morning with one cigarette in hand, and no lighter. What to do, what to do? I had to have the cigarette... so giving up wasn't an option. Lacking resources, everything is closed here on the weekend, I pulled out inventive my designerly skills and did what I had to. I used the electric stovetop. Heated it up, put the cigarette on the burner and took a drag.
It helped me to sympathise with a book I recently found called Prisoners' Inventions. How do you react do people do when only their most basic needs (food and heat) are provided for? What about the less than basic needs? Lighting up a cigarette, privacy, tattoos? They are not necessary for life, but in a way they are necessary to feel normal. These little bits of the outside world are helping to make such a restricted life bearable.
On noticing all of the ingenious inventions that his prisoner friends were making a prisoner called Angelo began compiling drawings and explanations of these inventions, which later turned into the book "Prisoner Inventions".
In his words "The prison environment is designed and administered for the purpose of suppressing such inventiveness." Prisoner inventions are all subject to confiscation by prison police, and are often gone within days of they're creation. That only makes the prisoners more creative, they constantly have to remake, and therewith rework the basic designs.
The basic idea of prison is to make the prisoners feel less human, and they are responding by creating things that simulate freedom, reviving their humanity. It's like an Ayn Rand novel behind bars. The "Prime Mover" fighting against authority not with words or weapons, but with inventiveness.
by Lou Smith
Temporary Services, Prisoner Inventions Website
University of Chicago Press Website