Jail has taught me a lot. But it’s not what the government hoped.
During the 17 years I practised civil engineering I wrote a steady stream of reports and journal papers, alongside occasional industry magazine articles. All of that was dry compared to most things, especially to the issues raised by civil resistance and the climate and ecological emergency. In civil engineering, the outcome always felt predetermined; in civil resistance, the words are alive with potential for influencing real people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, and touching our shared faith.
Since I’ve been incarcerated, it has been fascinating and validating to read other writers who have experienced similar magic, which the eco-philosopher Joanna Macy expresses in these lines:
When you act on behalf
of something greater than yourself,
to feel it acting through you
with a power that is greater than your own.
This is grace.
Today, as we take risks
for the sake of something greater
than our separate, individual lives,
we are feeling graced
by other beings and by earth itself.
Those with whom and on whose behalf we act
give us strength
and staying power
we didn’t know we had.
In prison I have felt all of this and feel grateful for it every day, as a profound source of hope: imagine what a group of us are capable of when acting together in this grace. Often I feel fortunate that I was able to take the risk to be in this position. I know my imprisonment will end, but what I’ve created and learned, I’ll carry with me forever.
I wouldn’t advocate for anyone to seek out punishment for political purposes. That’s muddled and backwards thinking. However, if you are called to take action and prison is a consequence, then the environment of a cell is conducive to writing. For me, it’s both a means to further the cause and a boost to my mental health; it is my continuing act of defiance. Through writing, I can demonstrate that the worst punishment the UK government can throw at me will not break my spirit. In fact, it offers an unmatched opportunity for intellectual and spiritual growth.
Inspiration under incarceration is all well and good, but what about the practical side? Text can be emailed in to you, where it will be printed and delivered to your cell. There are some terrible modern prisons in which emails are displayed on computer terminals; if you can, avoid these monstrous institutions like the plague.
Printed emails are a godsend for all kinds of information that can be copy-pasted as text. All images can be printed with each email, but they come out small, grayscale, and grainy. Anything graphical needs to be posted in. Post will be photocopied, and you’ll receive the copy, in case the original was laced with drugs. I usually post out my writing or, if I’m in a hurry, dictate it down the phone to a recorder. You can write by hand on the email reply sheet, however, I have found post more reliable and often faster, bizarrely.
Thankfully, speed is rarely a concern for me here. The most delicious aspect is the luxurious expanse of time to play with. For days on end, you have no practical concerns or distractions beyond collecting your meals or having a shower. When in life can you get so happily lost in such a reverie of contemplation?
Having all this time to dream and reflect reminds me that I’m here because, throughout my life, I’ve been graced with the time and space to imagine, to scratch the surface of the vast cosmos of possibilities, both beautiful and terrible. So many of our existential problems stem from a failure of imagination, from many layers of limiting beliefs and collectively held fictions – which bind us into patterns of real self-destructive action — real pain, real extinction. Has there ever been a more urgent time to reimagine our world and ourselves? Or as Macy might put it: to reimagine our world as self.
Where better to see things than from the ragged edge of society?
Where better to write it all down than in the solitude of darkness?
As our world becomes a prison camp, someone needs to put the writing on the wall. These walls are made of paper: your pen can tear them down.
Morgan Trowland was raised and educated on the South Island of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and has lived in Canada, India and most recently the UK. As a structural engineer he has worked on the design of bridges, most notably the Atal Setu in India. As a human he has taken part in the Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil campaigns.Last year he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment after suspending himself and a Just Stop Oil banner over the Dartford Crossing of the M25 motorway, prompting the police to close the road for 41 hours. His co-defendant Marcus Decker was sentenced to two years and seven months.
Call to action: From October 29th JSO supporters will be engaging in a peaceful slow march in London on an unprecedented scale to demand no new oil, gas or coal. As the disruptions grow, will the Government concede to our demand, or crack down and arrest us all? Join up here: https://juststopoil.org/