Give Up

Every day,

the jailer
turns the key
to the prison cell,

locked in, lights out.

Every day

the prisoner
turns the handle
and feels the resistance,
the lock holds,

the lights are out.

Every day,

the jailer
turns the key
to the prison cell,

locked in, lights out.

Some days,

the prisoner
turns the handle
and feels the resistance,
the lock holds,

the lights are out.

Every day,

the jailer
turns the key
to the prison cell,

locked in, lights out.

Most days,

the prisoner
stares at prison walls,
goes to sleep,
handle untouched.

One day,

the jailer
throws away the keys,
turns the lights out.

The prisoner
stares at prison walls
goes to sleep,

locked in, lights out.

19 thoughts on “Give Up

  1. Note – β€˜Learned helplessness, as a technical term in animal psychology and related human psychology, means a condition of a human being or an animal in which it has learned to behave helplessly, even when the opportunity is restored for it to help itself by avoiding an unpleasant or harmful circumstance to which it has been subjected. Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.’ definition from wikipedia

  2. It’s a funny thing about being in a prison Gabrielle, it makes it all so immediate. Life and death have much different meaning there in that place of hopelessness and despair. In a way the unknown we call death is fascinating and has an allure while the fear of mortality evaporates. I’m not certain if this is something that eventually breaks the spell of the learned helplessness you mention or if it deepens the resolve in some. The psychological locked door is far more isolating than any constructed of the strongest steel. I’ve probably gone off down another train track entirely here but of course you know I know what this is like. Thank you for writing it so perfectly, it feels just this way and your repetition with emphasis on the words “locked in, lights out” only show your ability to inhabit an experience and then translate it for others to feel. Hugs.

    1. You’re completely on the right track Val – this is as much about a psychological prison as a prison with bars – and if we think there is no hope of escaping, then we won’t, even if one day the opportunity arises. If you don’t try to open the locked door, you will never know whether it is locked or not (though opening the door can be very dangerous, as you know)!

    2. I have never been in prison but I understand what you mean about immediacy, as well as fear of mortality evaporating when the place you’re in is rock-bottom. Very interesting poem and discussion

  3. I watched ‘Changeling’ not long ago, Graham, and it really affected me. I couldn’t believe it. It’s shocking that it actually happened.

    This poem is so sad, Gabrielle. To be locked away must be unbearable at times. Surely there must be a better way….

  4. This poem reflects the helplessness and hopelessness felt by a prisoner, to the extent that he becomes zombie-like in his acceptance… I can’t imagine living years like this. What hell! Talk about brain-washing…

  5. Learned helplessness is a fascinating concept.
    Your poem is incredible Gabrielle … so powerful and so stifling in the atmosphere it builds – wonderful!

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