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The price of “freedom”

Sean Hodgson sits in his room in the hostel where they are doing their best to help him recover from the past twenty seven years. Before he was sentenced for a murder which, it was eventually conceded, he did not commit, he stood a robust six feet tall and weighed in at 13 stone. Since then the years of “treatment” for a turmoil of conditions – angina, prostate cancer , schizophrenia  as well as the global, persistent, untreatable stress of being locked up although innocent - have rendered him into this fragile, bewildered man . An unhappy man whose experiences tell a lot about this social system, how it responds to its characteristic tensions and does not easily contemplate the possibility that it has got anything so barbarously wrong.

“Freedom? It's lonely” headlined a recent article about him. He misses the congestion on the prison wings and he is disorientated by the abrupt absence of the repressive demands – so essential to an orderly prison – of going to bed, or wherever, when he is told and for all his actions to be conditioned with the same hostility. If he now wanted, he could spend all night on the streets. Except that all he can manage emotionally is a trip to the nearby 24 hour shop, or an unplanned visit to his solicitor. His symptoms are typical – like the man who on release went to live with his girl friend but spent most of his time in the one bedroom which for its size and shape most closely resembled a prison cell.

If Sean Hodgson ever recovers in the sense of conforming to the life style commonly required of employment (which is doubtful – he says that his previous behaviour was such that “If I hadn't gone to prison  I'd have been dead now, from the drugs”) he will find that the disciplines he conforms to voluntarily are as demanding and arduous as many he contended with behind the prison walls. And, as the evidence of the emotional deprivations of everyday working life attests, being a “free” employee does not imply any access to a gregariously fulfilling lifestyle. There are tragically many people who live and work in  the busiest of cities and are desperately lonely.

One type of company now available to Sean Hodgson which he is not grateful for was the attention of the tabloid press. His conviction, for raping and murdering a woman, was very  media-attractive. With DNA sampling he should have been released eleven years earlier but the records which could have been used in this were mislaid and it took a lot of work by his solicitor to unearth them. Which is probably why a reporter has been following Sean Hodgson around, talking to other people about him, trying to get a story – or make one up if need be. This, Sean said, made him feel “rotten“. But he will have to learn, in his new “freedom”, that the media is as motivated to sell its products profitably as is any other business, no matter what the cost of human suffering.

Sean Hodgson's time in prison was a comparatively placid interlude in a tumultuous life of addiction, crime and vagrancy. One who has been involved in many discharged prisoners with similar problems gives a gloomy prognosis: “...they all follow a pattern. I haven't known any who haven't either been suicidal or wanted to go into jail after a year”. A great deal of capitalism's resources have been expended, over a very long time, to moderating such problems through what is called the criminal justice system. Sean Hodgson is only the latest example of the obdurate failure within that assumption.