FEBRUARY 2 2010 17:53h
What better way for Ante Gotovina to respond to the transparent manipulators of history than to pick up a paint brush and respond with art?
In these tough economic times, even swanky Beverly Hills finds itself strapped for cash. As a result, their local police department recently devised a novel plan to supplement the county budget: “Pay to Stay at the Beverly Hills Jail.”
It operates like a hybrid between a college application and an airline upgrade: those arrested for non-violent crimes such as drunk driving, theft, or forgery, can secure more luxurious prison surroundings for a mere 110 dollars a day. The procedure involves the completion of a long questionnaire, and proof that the prisoner has no history of violence, drug or sex abuse, or health and safety issues that might endanger other prisoners or staff members.
Once accepted into the program, the prisoner has the unrestricted use of wide screen television and telephones (which might actually keep him alive longer, since fights over the TV and telephone in a real prison are one of the main causes of prisoner on prisoner murder). There are three “time” programs to choose from as well, straight time with no outside releases so that the sentence can be completed more quickly, weekends only spent in prison, and work release during the day, with nights spent in the prison.
In addition, the Beverly Hills jail residents are allowed to use their own pillows and bedding, wear their own clothes – be it fur coats or Gucci jogging suits – and even bring in their own food instead of being forced to consume day in and day out the tasteless, gluey gruel of the less fortunate. Dining on boeuf bourguignon with mushroom sauce while talking on the phone to one’s stockbroker beats eating mush with a big plastic spoon from a paper plate and conversing only with the frantic voices in one’s head, so there is never a shortage of wealthy applicants.
But while the coffers of Beverly Hills might be reaping huge benefits from these upscale clients, are the clients benefiting from the Beverly Hills “Pay as You Stay”? After all, shouldn’t prisoners, even those unjustly imprisoned, use the experience to learn from their incarceration? Reflect, repent, atone for possible transgressions, improve their characters, and enlighten their souls through suffering? After all, the condition of confinement, involuntary abstinence, and surrender to external powers have always been conducive to clear thinking and internal control. This “therapeutic” aspect has been the raison d’etre, with varying emphasis throughout the years on either punishment or rehabilitation, for the very existence of places of confinement. Otherwise, they serve no logical purpose.
However, perhaps there is an even greater benefit from confinement under harsh, inhuman conditions: it can result in the discovery of a deep wellspring of creativity which would otherwise have remained stagnant. Let us consider, for example, the number of literary masterpieces of which humanity would have been deprived if the authors had been coddled in prison instead of being forced to fight for survival, both physical and spiritual. Oscar Wilde would not have written, in “De Profundis”: “the silence, the solitude, the shame - each and all of these things I have to transform into a spiritual experience. There is not a single degradation of the body which I must not try and make into a spiritualizing of the soul.”
And if Solzhenitsyn had been in the “Pay as you Stay” program, watching wide screen TV while munching on filet mignon, instead of starving and freezing in Siberia, would we have the “Gulag Archipelago” or “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich? The same goes for Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground”, not to mention the works of Ezra Pound, Arthur Koestler, Malcolm X, Jean Genet, or Nelson Mandela, to name only a few.
According to recent media reports, even General Ante Gotovina, as he languishes in the Hague for alleged crimes committed while defending his country from a genocidal aggressor, has reaped the creative benefits of profound suffering through a newly discovered passion and talent for painting. As the great Goethe observed: “A great artist... must be shaken by the naked truths that will not be comforted. This divine discontent, this disequilibrium, this state of inner tension is the source of artistic energy.”
So what better way for Ante Gotovina to respond to the transparent manipulators of history and defilers of the suffering soul than to pick up a paint brush and, with each fresh lie, each truth that cannot be comforted, create a new stroke. One lie, one stroke, another lie, another bright stroke - of color, or form, or movement - until all the lies are transformed forever by the artistic triumph of the human spirit over the greatest crime of all: denying a victorious nation the right to its heroes.