prison, or trapped within a chain-link fence

Some prisons are made of physical constraints: walls, iron bars, and barbed fences. The prisoner sees and imagines the lights and shadows beyond, but cannot move the physical body past the barrier.

Other prisons are made of social constraints: dictates by others about what one must or must not do. The socially constrained person is obliged to be not just an anarchic spirit of free will, but a life partner, a child, a parent, a friend, a business partner, an employee, a boss, a citizen.

Still other prisons are made of internal constraints. Unlike prison walls, these tend to be weaknesses, not strengths. And unlike a prisoner, the internally constrained person often cannot see or imagine the lights and shadows beyond.

Who among us has not been imprisoned?

As the protagonist of Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment experiences imprisonment in all three ways, we are left to reflect on its horrors. Yet we also start to wonder, is imprisonment always bad? Can any good come of it, after all?

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