Quotations about   prison

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We cannot do without it, and yet we disgrace and vilify the same. It may be compared to a cage, the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair to get out.

[Il en advient ce qui se veiod aux cages: les oyseaux qui en sont dehors, desperent d’y entrer: et d’un pareil soing en sortir, ceuix qui sont au dedans.]

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
“Upon Some Verses of Virgil,” Essays (1580-88)

On marriage. For more discussion of others who have used this metaphor, see here.

Alt. trans.: "We cannot live without it, and yet we do nothing but decry it. It happens, as with cages, the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair of getting out." [tr. Cotton (1877)]

Alt. trans.: "Though we cannot live without it, yet we do nothing but decry it. We see the same with birdcages: the birds outside despair to get in, and those within despair to get out. [Autobiography, ch. 6 "This Discreet Business of Marriage," tr. Lowenthal (1935)]

Added on 14-Nov-18 | Last updated 14-Nov-18
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To conceive that compulsion and punishment are the proper means of reformation, is the sentiment of a barbarian; civilisation and science are calculated to explode so ferocious an idea. It was once universally admitted and approved; it is now necessarily upon the decline. Punishment must either ultimately succeed in imposing the sentiments it is employed to inculcate, upon the mind of the sufferer, or it must forcibly alienate him against them. The last of these can never be the intention of its employer, or have a tendency to justify its application. […] Yet to alienate the mind of the sufferer, from the individual that punishes, and from the sentiments he entertains, is perhaps the most common effect of punishment.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Vol. 2, bk. 7, ch. 5 (1793)
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Added on 30-Oct-17 | Last updated 30-Oct-17
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Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.

Richard Lovelace (1617-1657) English poet
“To Althea, from Prison,” l. 25 (1649)
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Added on 19-Jun-17 | Last updated 19-Jun-17
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As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave all the anger, hatred, and bitterness behind, that I would still be in prison.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) South African revolutionary, politician, statesman
(Attributed)

On his release from 27 years behind bars. Quoted by Hillary Clinton from a conversation she had with him.
Added on 16-May-17 | Last updated 23-May-17
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To reform man was a tedious and uncertain labor: now hanging was the sure work of a minute.

Douglas William Jerrold (1803-1857) English playwright and humorist
The History of St. Giles and St. James, ch. 15 (1845)
Added on 22-Sep-16 | Last updated 22-Sep-16
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Throw a few chairmen of the board in jail for polluting the air and water, and you’ll see the pollution disappear quite rapidly. … You would also probably see some pretty drastic prison reform.

Other Authors and Sources
Pete Stark, Jr., in “Tumult & Shouting,” San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle (2 Jan 1972)
Added on 13-Apr-16 | Last updated 13-Apr-16
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External objects produce decided effects upon the brain. A man shut up between four walls soon loses the power to associate words and ideas together. How many prisoners in solitary confinement become idiots, if not mad, for want of exercise for the thinking faculty!

[Les objets extérieurs ont une action réelle sur le cerveau. Qui s’enferme entre quatre murs finit par perdre la faculté d’associer les idées et les mots. Que de prisonniers cellulaires devenus imbéciles, sinon fous, par le défaut d’exercice des facultés pensantes.]

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
Journey to the Center of the Earth, ch. 26 (1864) [tr. Malleson (1877)]
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Added on 26-Feb-16 | Last updated 26-Feb-16
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I shall stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.

John Bunyan (1628–1688) English Christian writer, preacher
(Attributed)

Quoted in M. L. King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" (16 Apr 1963).
Added on 25-Mar-15 | Last updated 25-Mar-15
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The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) Russian novelist
The House of the Dead (1862) [tr. Garnett (1957)]
Added on 9-Feb-11 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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