I remember as a youth hearing of tramps of the district that had no particular fear of prison. Indeed there were a few could better cope with incarceration than freedom and who would deliberately commit some minor offence to guarantee their return to their preferred lifestyle. Like many of my age I could – but will not – name a few. There are probably still a number of people in the same position. Just how far have we failed as a society for such a situation to prevail?
Patrick MacGill of Donegal was a talented writer and the author of a number of books. Like a long-gone relative of my own, gambling was his downfall (as indeed it was of my favourite all-time novelist Dostoyevsky!).
‘I tramped through the country despised by everyone and hating all men. I was angry at my plight. A few gave me food, some cursed me from their doors and a great number mocked me as I passed.’
He found it extremely difficult to escape from this lifestyle and return to normal society. Where does one begin, with no home, job or money and just ragged clothes? He told of Moleskin Joe:
‘My name’s Moleskin Joe. I don’t mind havin’ seen my father or mother. (‘I have no memory of ..’) and I was bred in a workhouse. I’m forty years of age, more or less, and I started work when I was seven.
I’ve been in a workhouse, a reformatory, prison and church.
When times were bad and I couldn’t get a mouthful of food outside, I went to prison of my own free will.
But it was always against my will that I went to church’.
Who has made society – and especially churches – less palatable than prison? Is the political philosophy of the ‘short, sharp shock’ always the right answer?