Ending 2017, I am ruminating on the heavy feeling(s) I have. Has gravity increased? A rock seems to have inserted itself into my back; I feel an uncanny jolt from past to present, with the future flowing from a source of nothingness. Out of the anterior nothingness called ‘the past’ the subject finds itself coherent, cogitating, aware and here presently in a future-yet-to-be. We are presently occupied with both future and past, a sort of meeting point between and betwixt disparate, interconnected entities of ‘was’ and ‘not yet.’ New Year’s Eve, the abstracted and conceptual punctuation of discrete events from the past ‘inter-penetrating’ the present (Bergson’s concept of time), recoils the ‘what if’ and the ‘why.’ In other words, each New Year’s Eve is a rounding and a rupture, a time for philosophical inquiry into the multiplicities of exigencies (real or imagined), moments, connections, revelations, organizations, and being-in-times experienced or not; the absences of experiences, tools, minds, and resources are potently present ghosts haunting the present.
This time last year I was in prison. I also completely stopped writing. Throughout my time in prison, up until that point, I had made attempts at daily diary documentation. As the time wore on, the writing became more sporadic. And my last entry is dated the 30th of December 2016. Writing endlessly about how the guards ‘bent someone up’ or how another person had their skull cracked open, I found the diary to become, like prison, repetitious. A tedious reminder of being there. Settling into my job in the library, as the New Year approached, I bid my time. Holding onto any semblance of sanity was difficult, for the period between December 23rd and January 3rd is without work, and one must remain on the wing, isolated with 120 or so other inmates. Nothing literally happens, leading one to experience “radical boredom.” Heidegger’s description of radical boredom in Being and Time is apt. Radical boredom is no longer attached to an object; the subject is no longer simply bored ‘by something.’ Rather the subject becomes voided, a hollowed out being, a void itself, gasping while gaping into a void.
That last entry revealed a breakdown, a breakthrough, a teetering on the edge of a madness and a revelation. Rejoicing at everything, the sentences can be read as inversions, antithetical to their overt meanings. Even the lines of poem are antithetical to their predecessors. “Rejoice the Dead” is followed by “Rejoice the Living;” “Rejoice Sadness” followed by “Rejoice Joy.” Binary opposites, or what seem to be opposites, show a consciousness teetering on itself, oscillating and gathering a series of moods. Affixing seemingly irreconcilable states (living/death) into a poetic structure, I can see now an attempt to work something out (and in). As the year turned, flowing out of itself, prison staff would cheerfully remind me “you haven’t got long!” Yes, I did feel like death itself was approaching, and it always is, yet it felt palpable. Prison is a place of social and physical entropy; prison is a place-toward-death. Of course, what they meant in the aforementioned statement was something joyful, in that I would be released in April of 2017; however, it seemed at the time a foreboding of death to come (“you haven’t gone to long to go!”). Four months, to these guards who act like you are simply waiting for a bus, is extremely long in prison; yet when one’s release date begins being counted in weeks (12 weeks!), and those weeks turn into single digits, a sort of melancholic door opens.
That door is more of a hatch, an upper opening whereby the prisoner can momentarily transcend itself, suspend itself in time, and see the future. A sort of euphoria, a queer euphoria I haven’t experienced on the outside, flows through, shivering fleshthoughts. Using ‘itself’ instead of ‘themselves,’ I am implicitly pointing out that the prisoner is still a thing; legally speaking, I was property of the State. Existentially, I felt my body to not be my own. Yet this shiver, while also not my own, came not from the State but from a space beyond dichotomies of here and now, this and that, mine and yours; emanating not from myself or the State, this shiver of jouissance could properly be called an inter-space. Flowing motionless through the core of being, when the shiver would come over me, usually while laying in bed, I would feel the greatest plenitude behind the great wheel of steel, concrete and bars. A great mass of cellular grey, insular regularity of routine, grinding away, curving space-time towards insanity would give way to the shiver of ultimate pleasure. A pleasure that comes from isolation; a pleasure that comes from finding oneself traversing the void as a void; a pleasure that comes from terror.
Releasing me in April of this year, the State apparatus didn’t gently let go; one is processed – from the prison’s ‘reception’ into an immigration transit van. A long journey, not using ‘regular routes,’ to the immigration detention facility, a place I wouldn’t wish the worst war criminal housed in, where I would find ‘people’ in various stages of madness. Reducing being to the basest forms of survival in the coarsest of environments, upon my arrival to the wing, I was offered drugs by a young, attractive but injured Egyptian. He wasn’t injured in the typical sense, yet his skin, oily and pockmarked, smudged and drained, represented what a good third of the ‘detainees’ looked like. Dark circles surrounded his ocular apertures; gazing out at me, sensing for survival, he asked me to buy him something. I declined, these situations are complicated in prison, and it is best to avoid any financial dealings. He moved on. An Afghani refugee, 23 years old, a former medical student fleeing war, told me of his walk across Asia Minor, the boat from Turkey, more walking through the Balkans, eventual arrival in Norway, deportation to family in the UK, and then arrest. Arrested for being. Arrested because he had the temerity to ‘be’ in a space he wasn’t permitted. Never-mind that the UK played a major role in destroying his country; he would now spend a hellish month, perhaps more or less (depending on family connections), in a place he said was ‘worse than Afghanistan.’ Make it hard on refugees, make it so hard it’s better to return home (he was considering accepting the deal, saying ‘this place will destroy my mind’), this seems to be the not stated, yet fully implemented, policy of most European nations. The immigration detention center held horrors far worse than anything I had seen, even at the notorious category B, HMP Bedford.
As I end this year, I am reminded of that flight from Heathrow to JFK. Then finally receiving my passport at JFK, after a nervous Virgin flight attendant who had never dealt with a deportee, took me to US border control. Of course, US border control didn’t particularly care that I’d been deported. I was asked several questions, given my passport, and released. I stood, looking around, still not feeling or knowing what feeling free meant. I had another journey to take, a flight back across the Atlantic to Berlin then to Warsaw. Arriving in Warsaw some 70 hours after being released from prison in London, with a layover at JFK, I felt the cold mist on my face as I crossed the tarmac. April 22nd, I knew Alexander would be waiting for me. We hadn’t been able to talk for several days, I didn’t have a mobile phone. I crossed through the Schengen travel zone at the airport, as I had already been cleared for EU travel during my layover in Germany, and I saw Alexander. A great wave of happiness, sadness, joy and pain all came over me. Unusually timorous, I demurred against any wish to make a decision; my husband kept me alive in prison, and he continues to keep me alive today. As I write, I am transformed. As I love, I am transformed. As I remember, I am transformed. Writing, loving and remembering: on this New Year’s Eve let us remember to engage, question and demur against the flattened space-time of social media, distraction and perhaps find that hatch to spaces otherwise than this now.
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