Pondering Voluntary Imprisonment

Lately, I’ve had an overwhelming urge to drop out of society, to escape the stressful demands of daily living and the incessant white noise of the modern world — for several months, at least. No job. No television. No internet. No phone.

I thought about doing it Thoreau-style and going deep into the woods, but I’ve never been very good at hunting or fishing or starting a fire (nor can I afford to rent a fully equipped remote cabin for an extended period). Another way to go would be to get committed to a government-funded mental institution, but I haven’t been able to consistently demonstrate the level of instability required to obtain such a scholarship. At any rate, neither of the aforementioned options would likely involve access to any free-weights or decent exercise equipment, and I hate to miss a workout.

But there is another viable option. A place where I could shirk all occupational, social and domestic responsibilities, have plenty of time to think and write, free myself from nearly all technology, and still be able to work my arms, legs and core on a regular basis.


Most people associate imprisonment with only negative things — extreme confinement, starchy food, non-consensual sodomy, small beds, bad lighting — but I see things in a more promising and positive light. I guess you could say I see the jail cell as half full. While I realize that life in the pen wouldn’t be all wine and roses, I can’t resist smiling at the thought of getting three square meals a day without ever having to grocery shop or cook. I can’t help but sigh longingly over the prospect of never having to answer my phone, respond to texts, clear my spam, upgrade my software, pay my bills, toss my junk mail, meet my deadlines, verify my sources, choose my wardrobe, wash my car, or wait on line at Red Box. Instead of swearing at Skype for its poor sound and video quality, I’ll just shoot the sh-t in “the yard” with the guys from my cellblock. Rather than wage a daily war with Wi-Fi, I’ll just chill on my cot with a good book or write with a pen and pad. Where today I am overwhelmed — nay, paralyzed — by infinite options when choosing what cereal to buy, haircut to get, music to download, vodka to drink, and profile pic to post, in the clink those difficult decisions either won’t apply or will be made for me, thus freeing my mind to focus on much more creative and useful pursuits, like how to avoid getting tried in the showers or shanked in my sleep.

Of course, the challenge is how to get in. With the economy being what it is, the state isn’t taking just anyone looking for free room and board. The days of voluntary imprisonment without committing a crime are over; actually, they never existed, but never mind that. The point is, if I’m to successfully escape into prison and stay there long enough to experience the true benefits of incarceration, I’ll have to seriously break the law. I can’t be too conservative with my crime, otherwise I’ll just end up having to pay a fine or wasting time fulfilling hours of community service. That said, I want don’t want go too big with my crime and end up bunking with a serial rapist or a cannibal or a former child star. The key will be finding a happy medium between minor misdemeanor and pre-meditated murder — something that will get me around six months to a year behind bars, preferably with a cellmate I can easily take in both a fistfight and in Trivial Pursuit.

I’ve thought about committing a white-collar crime to ensure I don’t get sent any place too dangerous, but I’m a semi-struggling writer who works from home in his underpants or less, and thus have virtually no opportunities for embezzlement or the like. Besides, prisons for white-collar criminals are likely to allow cell phones, provide internet access and show Glee marathons — the very types of mind-numbing distractions I endeavor to escape.

Now you may ask, “Wouldn’t you miss your friends and family?” Sure, but most prisons have daily visiting hours, and the U.S. Postal Service still delivers letters if you can remember how to write them. In fact, I find the level of discourse and intimacy in letters to be far more engaging and fulfilling than that exhibited in a typical live conversation, where neither party is really listening but rather waiting to interrupt with something about themselves or waiting to break away so they can check Facebook or a sports score or see what’s available on Hulu.

I don’t have it all figured out just yet, but I know I’m on to something here. I’m not sure how much more of the white noise and the pollution and the consumerism and the rate increases and the transaction fees and the deductibles and the co-pays and the latest releases and the security breaches and the password changes and the lack of parking I can take. Self-inflicted imprisonment — if carefully planned and effectively carried out — could very well be my ticket to freedom.  TC Mark

image – Shutterstock

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  • Maja

    Brilliant idea! :)))

  • http://www.senior1938voice-mylife.com Nicasio Martinez

    ‘A fool’s dream…’ ‘A bored arm chair advocate!’ I’d like to help you think your way into prison life- why not plan on a one year stay.

    Why not be upfront. Get the best of two worlds so to speak. Talk to a governor and penal commissoner at the same time, and tell them you’d really like to study what prison life is really like. Tell them you want to be housed in a cell, eat, sleep, work along side the inmates and maybe have the weekends in ‘solitary confinement.’ Win the confidence of a few inmates.

    To those of us in the know, those of us who have visited prison in several states, those of us who have worked with inmate support groups, on the surface, your’s look like a fool’s dream. Another idea may be to do a contract enlistment with no special privileges except you could cry uncle when you’ve had more than you could endure. Perhaps some combinations of what is suggested here and maybe your own genius. Perhaps others would be interested in helping you with your great escape into hell on earth…

    On a positive note, one of the best prison systems I witnessed first had because I was dating a social worker at the time, was Butner Federal Prison in NC. On the downside, the correction officers wanted to errode the positive aspects of the 1980s system. A system that reduced inmates attacks on fellow inmates and guards alike….. carry on with your dreams and intents…

  • anonymouse

    is this some kind of fucked up satire? i hope it’s some kind of fucked up satire.

  • http://gravatar.com/mseijas Matias

    Instead of going to prison, check this out: http://www.dhamma.org/
    Free, crime-free retreat! It’s the best!

  • http://twitter.com/kn8 Nate Jones (@kn8)

    If you want to know what privilege looks like, just read this article!

    • http://www.facebook.com/arbiebaguios Arbie Baguios


      Thought Catalog, I love you, but this is by far your most privileged article yet. You should have at least acknowledged it!

  • AAAA

    I think your idea of prison may be very different from reality. Your idea of prison is actually similar to that of Glenn Gould. I guarantee this article will remove all the your romantic myths of prison: http://walrusmagazine.com/articles/2011.04-essay-on-the-margins-of-freedom/

  • http://www.facebook.com/brandonwhumphries Brandon Humphries

    This could only have been written by a white guy.

  • Allison

    Your article is interesting. I must admit I have had similar thoughts. But involuntary imprisonment did not at all occur to me. Have you considered retreating to nature? How about staying in a shaolin temple in China, or traveling to a faraway desert?

  • http://gravatar.com/lilalilypad Sooz

    People! he’s joking about wanting to go to prison. duh.

    • http://gravatar.com/mclevin Greg Levin

      Ding ding ding. Finally, we have a winner.

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