and the Freedom Fighter
By Bobby Sands, MP
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 dehumanize 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 firend, 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
Source: Originally published
in An Phoblacht/Republican News, Feburary 3rd, 1979, page 2. Contributed to
this website by "Patrizia" from Italy. Patrizia can be contacted through this
Written by Bobby Sands, MP, while on the blanket protest in the
H-Blocks,Long Kesh, Northern Ireland. 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.
Bobby Sands embarked on a hunger strike on March 1st, 1981 and
dies 66 days later on May 5th, 1981. He was protesting the "criminal" status
imposed on Republican prisoners from 1976 onward, and was fighting to regain
the right to wear his own clothes, have free association with other prisoners,
and other rights given to political prisoners.
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