12 August 2012
This is a cell.
Not a prison cell, but a hermitage.
It's on the Dingle Peninsula in southwest Ireland. You'll find all sorts of them if you search for "beehive hermitage" on the Internet.
These little places are not on the heavily-traveled tourist route, but I have found myself going back there these days as I think about the jail and the people who live there and try to survive the life they find there.
Life in isolation is not easy. Most people in jail aren't in a one-person cell. (Where I work, those spots are on the upper floors and reserved for people who are in maximum custody, either for their own safety or the safety of others.) At the King County Jail, most people live in a dorm with 19 other people.
It's noisy. It's never dark. The conversations often don't make sense. If there's a TV, you can bet that Jerry Springer is on. What books may circulate often have the last chapter torn out. That's maddening if you're reading a mystery, although I had to laugh when someone complained that the last chapter of Revelation was torn out of the bible. "It ends with a blessing and Amen," I told the man. "It ends well." Then I got him another bible.
But while most people at the jail live in a dorm, they all live in some kind of isolation: away from regular life, whatever it may have been. Did you know most people don't have phone numbers memorized anymore? It's all in the cell phone--which is locked up in the Property Room. Make a phone call on the pay phone? Only if you have money on your books. How do you get money on your books? Usually someone has to put it there. Which means you need to contact someone to ask if they'd do that for you, but wait, the phone number is in the cell phone which is locked up, just like you are.
The beehive hermitages make me think of the thousands of people who, over the centuries, have chosen to live apart. Some went for a lifetime. Others just for a while. When I talk with someone who is climbing the walls for being in jail, I call to mind those hermits and ask them to pray. Many of them lived without books, without family, without good weather. They might have a few things to teach us.