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.  

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