Sunday, 15 February 2009

A Huriedly Published Contributed Treatise on Victorian Discipline

A contributor, who for the moment must remain anonymous, has sent in this lovely little vignette on blameless incarceration and discipline. Although not directly related to any of the plot lines I have developed for the INSTITUTIONALISED series so far - and the development I have planned for the future - nevertheless it has to be said that it successfully captures something of the essence of the work. This is a quite, quite brilliant little outline. A gorgeous little treatise on discipline...words fail me. I found it far to exciting not to share it with you all without delay and I'm sure it'll inspire many of you in one way or another (hopefully to contribute some ideas / writing of your own...and I wasn't even going to make a blog entry today - I should be off to the gym right now, then off down the pub straight after. Well that had been my plan but something will have to be sacrificed - and I fear it will be the gym! Mind you, I will be working on those last few finishing touches for vol 2...and one or two ideas for the further development of vol 3. If you fancy a chat and a pint and you are in north London, I will be in the Spaniard's Inn, Hampstead and then, in the early evening, The Turnpike (Weatherspoons) at Turnpike Lane. Think Long curly hair and scribbling and you won't be far wrong.
Now read on...


The length of the sentence of a female prison reformer who requests incarceration in order to gain greater insight into her work may seem simple. But once servitude begins even the clearest case of "voluntary" incarceration can quickly dissolve into a morass of ambiguity and legal confusion.

At first glance it would appear that since the woman has committed no crime she should be permitted to leave the reformatory whenever she wishes. Indeed, why should her egress from the prison be any more restricted than it was during her numerous previous visits, when she visited the institution not as a prisoner, but as a lady, and a guest?

However upon due consideration prudence demands that a sentence of some sort be set. Forms must be filled out and papers filed. Upon admission personal property must be surrendered and boxed, and a medical exam must be conducted for the safety of all. Procedures require schedules, and schedules require dates and times. It is clear that some sort of minimum sentence, even if it is only for a few days, is essential.

The paradox lies in the fact that while such a sentence may specify a MINIMUM, it does not conversely guarantee a MAXIMUM. Once ensconced inside the prison the young lady in question will be subject to the same rules as the other inmates. Upon her admission her clothing and personal belongings will be confiscated and boxed. She will be sheared, searched, and disinfected as if she were the lowliest of guttersnipes. This is as it must be, for discipline must be maintained, and the law is the law.

In her new role as prisoner our society lady will be subject to corporal punishment for the tinniest infraction. What "crimes" would warrant punishment? Did she clean her plate at dinner? Did she look askance at one of her betters? Did she object to the presence of the warden and his leering, smiling friends (several of whom she had once rejected as suitors) laughing and joking as she was searched, showered, and "processed?"

No matter! Any misdemeanor, no matter how trivial, will undoubtedly lead to an increase in the prisoner's sentence. And since such sentences will be administrative rather than judicial, they will be imposed summarily without trial, legal representation, or any possibility of appeal.

Even if her conduct is exemplary and her manner docile and submissive a much longer stay may, sadly, prove to be inevitable. It is the warden's solemn duty to keep all prisoners incarcerated until he is fully satisfied as to the appropriateness of their conduct and the completeness of their correction. Such a thoughtful deliberation may require weeks, months, or even years.
As for the matter of correction, would it be just to release any miscreant before she has felt a single stripe from the strap or the cane across her naughty bottom? Can any young woman claim to truly understand the Victorian reformatory system before she has tasted the bit between her teeth, and been strapped down over the whipping bench, with her bottom raised bare and high for discipline? Although she has admittedly committed no crime, should she be denied the benefits of a just and wholesome correction because of a mere legal technicality?

Fortunately, this is one quandary that can be easily solved. If we accept that the lady cannot be released until she has experienced a truly bracing punishment then the warden must postpone her release until some minuscule infraction of the rules makes such a correction necessary. However, if a punishment is necessary to effect a release while the infraction that would lead to the punishment triggers a lengthy increase in sentence (or cause an indefinite postponement) one can sense the dilemma the young lady faces.

It is of no great concern. Such paradoxes are amusing trifles, best left to trained legal minds. It is best for the young lady to concentrate on the salutatory effects of her just correction, and minding the commands of her betters. After all, she may find herself there a very long time.

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