An essay written by Bobby Sands in 1979 while protesting against the criminalisation of republican prisoners. Because protesting prisoners were not allowed books or writing materials, this essay was composed on a square of toilet paper and smuggled out of the prison.
My grandfather once said that the imprisonment of the lark is a crime of the greatest cruelty because the lark is one of the greatest symbols of freedom and happiness. He often spoke of the spirit of the lark relating to a story of a man who incarcerated one of his loved friends in a small cage.
The lark, having suffered the loss of her liberty, no longer sung her little heart out, she no longer had anything to be happy about. The man who had committed the atrocity, as my grandfather called it, demanded that the lark should do as he wished: that was to sing her heart out, to comply to his wishes and change herself to suit his pleasure or benefit.
The lark refused, and the man became angry and violent. He began to pressurise the lark to sing, but inevitably he received no result. so, he took more drastic steps. He covered the cage with a black cloth, depriving the bird of sunlight. He starved it and left it to rot in a dirty cage, but the bird still refused to yield. The man murdered it.
As my grandfather rightly stated, the lark had spirit – the spirit of freedom and resistance. It longed to be free, and died before it would conform to the tyrant who tried to change it with torture and imprisonment. I feel I have something in common with that bird and her torture, imprisonment and final murder. She had a spirit which is not commonly found, even among us so-called superior beings, humans.
Take an ordinary prisoner. His main aim is to make his period of imprisonment as easy and as comfortable as possible. The ordinary prisoner will in no way jeopardise a single day of his remission. Some will even grovel, crawl and inform on other prisoners to safeguard themselves or to speed up their release. They will comply to the wishes of their captors, and unlike the lark, they will sing when told to and jump high when told to move.
Although the ordinary prisoner has lost his liberty he is not prepared to go to extremes to regain it, nor to protect his humanity. He settles for a short date of release. Eventually, if incarcerated long enough, he becomes institutionalised, becoming a type of machine, not thinking for himself, his captors dominating and controlling him. That was the intended fate of the lark in my grandfather’s story; but the lark needed no changing, nor did it wish to change, and died making that point.
This brings me directly back to my own situation: I feel something in common with that poor bird. My position is in total contrast to that of an ordinary conforming prisoner: I too am a political prisoner, a freedom fighter. Like the lark, I too have fought for my freedom, not only in captivity, where I now languish, but also while on the outside, where my country is held captive. I have been captured and imprisoned, but, like the lark, I too have seen the outside of the wire cage.
I am now in H-Block, where I refuse to change to suit the people who oppress, torture and imprison me, and who wish to dehumanise me. Like the lark I need no changing. It is my political ideology and principles that my captors wish to change. They have suppressed my body and attacked my dignity. If I were an ordinary prisoner they would pay little, if any, attention to me, knowing that I would conform to their insitutional whims.
I have lost over two years’ remission. I care not. I have been stripped of my clothes and locked in a dirty, empty cell, where I have been starved, beaten, and tortured, and like the lark I fear I may eventually be murdered. But, dare I say it, similar to my little friend, I have the spirit of freedom that cannot be quenched by even the most horrendous treatment. Of course I can be murdered, but while I remain alive, I remain what I am, a political prisoner of war, and no one can change that.
Haven’t we plenty of larks to prove that? Our history is heart-breakingly littered with them: the MacSwineys, the Gaughans, and the Staggs. Will there be more in H-Block?
I dare not conclude without finishing my grandfather’s story. I once asked him whatever happened to the wicked man who imprisoned, tortured and murdered the lark?
‘Son,” he said, ‘one day he caught himself on one of his own traps, and no one would assist him to get free. His own people scorned him, and turned their backs on him. He grew weaker and weaker, and finally topled over to die upon the land which he had marred with such blood. The birds came and extracted their revenge by picking his eyes out, and the larks sang like they never sang before.’
‘Grandfather,’ I said, ‘could that man’s name have been John Bull?’