Letter to Breivik

My Dear Breivik,

My imprisonment, isn’t news worthy like yours,

Because my cell is a shadow away from public access;

You don’t know me because my country is hard to trace on the globe;

You don’t know me but our electronic zoos have their own story to tell.

But before I start, I would like to ask how cushy is Skien prison?

Because I learn that your gallows vie for the title of the world’s “nicest” or “most humane” prison;

How cushy are they, when inmates at Bastoey are free to walk around in a village-style setting, tend to farm animals, ski, cook, play tennis, and play cards;

They have their own beach, and even run the ferry taking people to and from the island.

And in the afternoon when most prison staff go home, only a handful of guards are left to watch the 115 prisoners?

Breivik, I wish I could have the rusty beach at Sanyang all by me for a second;

Or to ferry Kanilai across the bank of Barra for a minute;

Or cook Penda Mbye all by myself,

I would add bale leaves, bitter tomatoes, cabbage and a big catfish head

And will prepare Roselle flower juice as my after meal.

Your cells I heard have steel cutlery in the kitchen; well-equipped workshop with saws, pliers and metal files; music studios with guitars, keyboards, drums and a mixing deck.

Breivik, our cell, our kitchen, has nothing to celebrate

Other than the squeaking mice and stinking roaches;

The rattling of the wooden batons on our nakedness; the brambles of the gong for our daily stale meals;

And the buzzing mosquitoes to suffice the music for our day.

Breivik, I learn that you have your world:

Three cells – for sleeping, studying, and exercising, plus daily access to exercise yard;

You can play video games, watch TV and read newspapers;

Has a computer; and

Can prepare your own food and do your own washing;

Has phone conversations with a “female friend”;

Contact with prison staff, lawyers, a priest, and health professionals;

And has declined to play chess with volunteers,

But built a gingerbread house as part of a prison competition.

Yet you argue that the utopia violates your human rights:

That you were held in isolation since arrest;

Been prevented from sending letters to the Aryan Brotherhood and a jailed Russian neo-Nazi;

Not allowed to receive letters from sympathizers;

Subjected to numerous strip searches;

Frequently handcuffed;

And separated from visitors by glass screen – except your mother, before her death.

Breivik, my Dear, how cushy are your gallows?

Our cells have their own stories to share:

We get dipped and incarcerated in human waste;

We get imprisoned for crimes not committed;

And convictions are only obtained after blatant mistrials;

We have open faces, lean physiques and become old and infirm before our time;

We crumple through lack of human contact; brutal forced labor, sexual slavery and the daily turmoil of battering;

We become potted plants with no will to live anymore;

We become shells of our former selves;

And we sing nothing but gobbledygook from our pungent mouths;

Others, when talking slip sometimes and their ears are hard like rock;

The hourly beatings, the 23 hours a day-solitary confinements with an hour to walk along the cells’ tier become excessive;

The tortures: lack of exercise with restrictions on personal property, reading materials, access to legal resources, work, and visitation rights, harden us;

We live in a box, a cell not much bigger than a king-sized bed;

But we manage to weather them, we never allow prison to get in us

We live in pain; agony; but sometimes, we appear to be somewhat more resilient;

Because we know, we are assured that this is where we belong.

Daily, we become increasingly depressed, enveloped by a sense of hopelessness.

And self-harming is a common practice;

Mates with no pre-existing mental illness develop them in isolation;

The lack of physical activity, interaction with the natural world, sunlight, other human beings, visual stimulation, touching other beings, all dramatically change our brains

The emptiness and idleness that pervade our units are profound and enveloping.

Some hurt themselves; they use a makeshift needle and thread from pillowcases to sew their mouth completely shut;

Remaining mute is preferred to the brute of the onerous incarceration.

Our reeking cells, are dry, and razor-sharp;

A place of banishment were punctuated by a period as a leper colony.

There was no end and no beginning to our stay here;

There is only one’s own mind, which can begin to play tricks but our lives, after knowing its worth, settles into a pattern.

Our life is a routine: each day like the one before; each week like the one before it, so that the months and years blend into each other.

My Dear Breivik, at least you are known by the world

But no one knows that we are here, we are nothing but zero.

Our rooms have no bed or a toilet.

The sole feature are small, high windows to let a wan light through.

Long days are passed in complete silence meted by the wailing of fellow prisoners being tortured; a sound that provides some comfort,

Since it was a confirmation of a world being shared with other people.

We spend our times staring at the steel doors and the rouged concrete walls;

Or to scrape filth to one end and designate the downhill corners for our pee to run.

We pick our nails with our own nails;

We scrape the rough and broken ends on the walls;

We put in every effort to try and retrieve our identity;

Our nights are spent talking or singing to ourselves to recapture a sense of physical presence;

Or we pick fights with guards;

It may be brutal, but at least it renders us human contact.

They cajole us into learned helplessness.

They break us by repeated searching, at least fifteen times a day.

But my Dear Breivik, going to the extremes is never an alternative;

We cannot be either very happy or distressed;

We try to smile and be happy,

We try not to be afraid of anybody,

For we have to keep ourselves in one piece.

If I had had a charcoal and a match box by me, I would construct haiku poems, at least three lines to perfectly capture my memory.

Or to become a priest.

But we, all we have is to get through the crude days,

Days that are never boring but full of surprises, tortures: physical wounds inflicted,

But they would not conquer our minds.

My Dear Breivik, you murdered 77 innocent souls,

Yet you said the state has tried to kill you through:

Your use of plastic cups and paper plates;

Having to eat microwaved meals, cold coffee;

And your penal system considered your plight against the state.

But do you know that can even be an offense if only we dream about it

Talk less of suing the brutal authorities for our human rights

Do you know that we have rusty tin plates to eat from?

With faded plastic jugs for our muddy waters;

And our ultra-controlled prisons are overcrowded;

And our convictions were only because we demanded our constitutional rights to demonstrate

Yet we can’t complain to any but to  bath in daily parades between our cells and the rouged courts;

And to embrace the handcuffs, shackles and the institutionalized brutality.


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