In Edinburgh Prison, the most famous British novelist of the early 19th century, Walter Scott described what happened to two sisters in a faithful Scottish Presbyterian family. Sister Effie is imprisoned and will be hanged. Sister Jenny overcame many difficulties and came to London from Edinburgh to ask for a pardon from the Queen of England. There is a portrayal of the prison in the novel: this ancient prison stands in the middle of the main street, and the gothic main entrance faces the ancient cathedral on the south side of the narrow alley. For some reason, our ancestors wedged the prison into the city’s main street. Butler, the character of the novel, faced the prison gate and recited in a low voice after his request to visit the prison was rejected:
”The wide gate stands majestically, and the column of solid stone reaches
the sky; Seeing like a nest?! The steel fortress is solemn and noble.” Whenever we think of prison, many negative words will flood into our minds: vicious, brutal, gloomy, terrifying… Since we entered the age of civilization, we have had The state and the law, and the prison, as a state apparatus, performs the functions of regulating human behavior and stabilizing the social order. The specific function of the prison determines its specific situation and behavioral paradigm. Both guards and prisoners dance in shackles—everything they do is annotated to the particular stage of the prison. Even a gentleman of gentle nature and gentle nature inevitably becomes a brutal jailer or a broken prisoner here. Just like God’s favorite angel Lucifer, he did incredible things without knowing it and fell into the devil.
Prison conditions in Britain have been notoriously poor and notorious for many centuries. But the actual experience of prisoners is often linked to their financial ability: money can naturally prevent disasters. The Tower of London – where high-ranking political prisoners are held, often means that the next step might be to go to the Green Tower to carry out the execution is extremely frightening. Authorities used the Tower of London torture—especially physical torture—as a powerful weapon to deter criminals. Associated with ordinary prisoners are the filthy, overcrowded, disease-riddled prisons, where prisoners await transfer or execution. Historically, there have been many calls for prison reform, with little success.
By the end of the 15th century, with the end of the Red and White Rose Wars, the old feudal order began to disintegrate. Economic chaos, political crisis, and the ensuing Reformation led to a growing crime problem. Many farmers lost their land and were forced to leave their homeland and enter towns. However, these farmers lack the knowledge and skills needed to survive in the towns. The Tudor Dynasty designed a very severe punishment system for these “strong beggars”. The unemployed were treated like criminals, beaten and humiliated and placed in correctional institutions. The term Bridewells comes from Bridewells Palace in London. Bradwell Palace is an ancient palace that was converted into a “corrective institution” in 1557 to rescue the homeless and petty criminals by giving opportunities for honest and hard work. Since then, the British government has ordered every county to establish a correctional home.
There were several prisons in 16th century England, designed for several different types of criminals: debtors, churchmen, common criminals. The Tower of London, the national prison for important political figures, was the site of the death of many Catholics during Queen Elizabeth’s time. The White Tower in the middle of the Tower of London has four turrets and was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, mainly as a fort during the siege. From its initial construction until World War II, subsequent monarchs added two curtain walls and a moat. Some prisoners are held here for a few weeks, others for life. A few criminals were killed upon arrival, such as Henry VI, Duke of Clarence, and his two princes. More than a hundred prisoners were executed here, usually by beheading on Tower Hill. Most are released after a period of detention if there is no particular reason.
In the Middle Ages, most prisoners arrived by water, often reluctantly landing at the water gates by the river. Day after day, year after year, this gate became famous and was called “the gate of traitors”. It was through this gate that Thomas, Sir More and John Fisher entered the Tower of London in 1534, setting foot on the ranks of martyrs and Catholic saints. Once inside the tower, the prisoners are arranged according to their level: the royal family members have their own separate rooms, and others have to settle in small remote towers near the curtain wall. As in prisons elsewhere, special benefits are available as long as inmates are willing to pay. Sir Waltrae enjoys meeting his wife; Thomas, Sir More and Bishop Fisher exchange food – oranges for a plate of cream cake, despite this, Bishop Fisher is so weak that he has to Execution in a chair. Of course, indoor freedom is also essential. The lower-ranking prisoners were locked up in dungeons, subject to strict restrictions, torture and all kinds of inhuman treatment.
The Tower of London is synonymous with horrific torture in the minds of many people. In fact, this is deliberately exaggerated by many propagandists with ulterior motives. Torture is not even legal here: it can only be carried out with the authorization of the king or a Privy Council officer based on royal prerogative, and this authorization occurs only in rare cases. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, torture was mainly aimed at Catholics. At the same time, the perpetrators believe that the reason for their violence against criminals is not their religious beliefs, but their treason. Edmund, Camping was tortured in 1581: “He fell from the rack and fell on his knees, begging God for forgiveness.” His companion John Girard recounted in 1597 The experience of tying his hands and hanging on the dungeon wall in the White Tower until he fainted. But the man who abused Gillard gave up the idea of having him put on the upper limb after seeing that he couldn’t speak. The warden of the Tower of London even quit the job after a few months because of disgust. He shares the same opinion as the public: torture is unacceptable and should not be part of the Tower of London.
Torture also came to an end under the warden’s successor. In 1605 Guy, Fox was taken to the Tower of London after a failed gunpowder plot against James I and Parliament. The participants in the Gunpowder Plot were a group of wealthy Catholics who had hoped for James I’s accession and hoped that the new monarch would change the bad treatment they had received under Queen Elizabeth. Robert, Cecil, the chief advisor of James I, had detected their conspiracy from the very beginning, but instead of provoking it, he secretly promoted their activities, providing them with explosives and other conveniences. The rebels rented a basement in the House of Lords, and transported 36 barrels of explosives into the basement, waiting to act on the opening day of Parliament, killing the king and all the MPs. However, just one day before the opening of the parliament, Robert, Cecil, who had been ignoring all the time, took action and arrested Guy and Fox, who remained in the basement of the House of Lords. Fox refused to name his co-conspirators, and King James I signed an order authorizing a forced interrogation, stipulating that “slightly milder torture may be used first against him.” Fox was then thrown into the so-called “Dungeon of Disquiet”, where he could neither stand nor lie down, but crouched silently in the endless darkness until the jailers released him. When the sentence lapsed, the guards took him to a bridle — the only corpse in the UK — and dragged him until his bones began to shatter. After such torture, Fox couldn’t take it anymore, and he collapsed the next day, confessing everything he knew. However, he was the last person to be tortured in England. After that, the absolute power of the king was restricted, and the implementation of torture lost its institutional guarantee and political foundation.
Sheriff John Howard of Batford, England, made an in-depth investigation of prisons in the 1770s, noting that prisons were a society dominated by anarchism, and he was concerned about rising crime rates and the corruption of social order. Horrified, he advocated for prison reform. He opposes the authorities’ simple practice of using violence to control violence, and believes that the indiscriminate application of the death penalty and corporal punishment will not only fail to deter crimes, but will damage the respect of the law by members of society. He suggested replacing the death penalty and corporal punishment with imprisonment. It would be better to build a new kind of institution: a reform and punishment institution to replace the old prison. The impetus for the prison reform movement came from religious idealism. Quakers and evangelicals who advocate prison reform believe that humans are 100% perfect, and we need to straighten the crooked. But the results of prison reform were disappointing: solitary, conceived as a humane atonement and punishment, turned into a horrific “hole” in the process – Charles Dickens said, “more than any kind of I don’t know how much worse the torture is.”