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Kaya'a mother sends her a letter, updating her on how her friends are doing and sending her Em's reply to Kaya's first letter:

Look what came for you—a letter from your new friend in America. I am doing as you suggested and sending it along with my note to you.

She also talks a little about the fact that the government is billing Kaya's imprisonment as an honor:

As for the government’s story regarding your “elevation,” most people recognize it as mockery, just another insult that must be borne. There are some, though, who really seem to think the government is sincere, and take this as proof, somehow, of your connection to the Lady! I don’t know whether to laugh or groan. I wish I could inhabit their pleasant reality.

Is this person a criminal? Or are they something else?

In the United States, lots of people with mental illness can't access care--mental illness leads to poverty leads to no-healthcare leads to untreated illness leads to crime--and then they end up in jail. So they get labeled criminal, when really what they were/are is ill.1 On the other hand, some regimes label dissent as mental illness and imprison dissidents in mental institutions.

Whether or not a person gets labeled a political prisoner depends what country the person doing the labeling is in: political prisoners are much easier to recognize in distant lands than in one's own. In the home country, people who oppose the state are more likely called terrorists, insurrectionists, mentally ill (see above), or simply criminals.

Criminals are kept away from the rest of society to protect society and to punish (or reform, or both) the criminals. Further isolation--keeping a person in solitary confinement--is meted out when someone is judged to be a threat to other prisoners or to prison personnel, but solitary confinement can also be used for people on suicide watch, a severe irony given that solitary confinement can lead to suicidal thoughts and is considered by many to be a form of torture.2


Do political prisoners receive mail? Surprisingly, in lots of cases, the answer is yes. I've written to one, and I've read accounts by several others. Not always, of course--denying mail is one way to punish or attempt coercion--but that's not universally the situation.

1According to Human Rights Watch (2006), "The rate of reported mental health disorders in the state prison population is five times greater (56.2 percent) than in the general adult population (11 percent)."(Source) The National Institute of Mental Health, using data from 2002 and 2004, put that number as high a 66 percent (Source) in local jails.
2The Center for Constitutional Rights has a page on the topic here.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 20th, 2014 05:44 pm (UTC)
I wonder how many countries have chosen to ignore mental illness like the United States?

When I was young, I do remember that mental illness was taken seriously and there were hospitals in Nashville, devoted strictly to the care of patients with mental illness. Of course, I've heard horror stories (not from the hospital in Nashville) that some of those hospitals were horrible places, so I don't know whether they did any good or not.
Jul. 20th, 2014 08:38 pm (UTC)
I wonder too, and I don't know.

Mental illness is something humanity hasn't got a very good history of dealing with. It's easy to see why: it's scary to see someone behaving in an incomprehensible way for no good reason. It's easy to see why people got labeled possessed, or witches, or other bad things. I think probably, overall, people have kept on striving to do better and better when it comes to handling mental illness--it's just that we start at such a low point, we're still not very far along.
Jul. 20th, 2014 06:22 pm (UTC)
I love the visuals in these--even the small ones, like today's.
Jul. 20th, 2014 08:35 pm (UTC)
It's definitely an element of what I enjoy in putting these together--I think it's part of the overall enjoyment of blogging, for me. --And thanks.
Jul. 20th, 2014 07:04 pm (UTC)
This is a wonderful series; I hope you can collect it as a concordance somehow. That picture is expressive of everything you discuss.
Jul. 20th, 2014 08:34 pm (UTC)
I'm thinking about it--after seeing so many people do Kickstarters, I'm thinking maybe I could do it as a Kickstarter.
Jul. 21st, 2014 09:51 am (UTC)
On writing to political prisoners from my limited experience people often claim that it's impossible especially among locals I infer guilt as people believe they should act justly but few wish to pay any price. In that vein perhaps it's not surprising but many who do write to political prisoners foget to include their return address. So often she has names but no other contact details. And sometimes when people leave her cards she assumes they were being supportive but she has no real support. If I follow up the most common response is my visit was it I am a highly twained professional etc and they don't want to get involved farther. The last chap who published some photos I had met before. he was very slippery about how he managed to stay in Imphal without being hassled. It turns out he worked for one of the NGOs cited as freelancing for foreign multi-nationals. No one is perfect but human rights is as much a business as Jimmy Choos and with respect to those who blog here. Part of it is bored middle class white women who need another interesting topic for dinner parties. Then again my favourite saint is the little flower whom my favourite non-saint at the end of his life offered his apologies to (tommy merton). He had always dismissed her as a prim narcissistic spoilt teenage brat hot housed on habitual piety a petit bourgeoise abortion who did all the work justifying aggressive atheistic communism. His apology was if God could transform someone as insipid as that so quietly into a rock hard adamantine marvel then God might be able to help him too. So all the best with the kickstart not sure if I want to know what that is. We got little Doc Mart'n and Tommy they can handle things from here on.
Jul. 22nd, 2014 01:26 am (UTC)
The nursery school my older daughter went to was part of a parochial school called Little Flower--that was my first exposure to the saint. What I loved about that school was that the older kids all looked after the younger kids--the fifth graders called out to my daughter by name. She was just there that one year--maybe not even a whole year--but it was nice.
Jul. 26th, 2014 09:21 am (UTC)
First thing I do when I invent the time machine is go to a train station just for a chat with the little saint. And in my defence she is over sixteen I think just and if I wait any longer she'll be cloistered or dead. So all I was going to do was have a chat I dunno what do you say or do with a 16 yr old saint before she's actually a saint and still in the prissy I was born to save the universe gig. Anyway thing is slip of a girl and maybe time travel makes you stronger so as I recall though I haven't built the machine yet, all I was doing was picking her up out of the carriage so we could have a tete-a-tete and then all hel breaks loose. Her sisters are screaming I am a rapist. All I was doing was picking her up and hauling her onto the platform so I could you know, chat to the saint. Anyway that was a balls-up. She's a saint. Doc Martin as she is affectionately known. If I am clever enough to invent a time machine would I really be that stupid to try well even I were I didn't. And to add to your point. I had Sharmi sponsor a Little Flower Montesorri school in Perumalmalai nr Kodaikanal where we may spend some of our honeymoon. And yeah for an Indian primary school for dalits and the poor they are really gentle no corporal punishment plus they get fed properly. When the Westerners pull out as they always do it will become a fine expensive money maker for local businesses. But you're right she is a hard ass saint. Nobody messes with the Little Flower. She earned her reputation in the trenches in WWI. You smell flowers it's either her or big mama. Either way cease and desist. That's my advice you do what you like. Who knows maybe I'll get an apology from the saint. Well that's a consolation if I don't make the cut.
Jul. 21st, 2014 11:08 am (UTC)
Thanks for this - yes, government don't call their own political prisoners, political prisoners -- because pressure from their own citizens would be the most difficult to combat, I suppose. And, yes, too, re solitary confinement.
Jul. 22nd, 2014 01:29 am (UTC)
Usually political prisoners *have* broken some law or other--which is why it's easy enough for the government to say, "Oh, this person is just a common criminal."
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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