The trouble with prisoners


“Revenge is something else than satisfaction. Satisfaction means you get the feeling and the trust back which was taken from you at the time of the crime. And trust me, for that you’ll need more than just putting your offender behind bars.” (Börge Hellström, In Each of us There’s a Beast hiding, Weekend Knack n. 33, p. 22)

This quote comes from one of Sweden’s most famous writers, Börge Hellström (the guy on the right). Together with his friend Anders Roslund, Hellström has written five very successful thrillers with an emphasis on social criticism.

Now Hellström knows the life of a criminal all too well. He has been imprisoned for drugs, fraud and burglary and after he left jail he worked with young criminals to help them with their reintegration into society.

It explains why Hellström is so compassionate when it comes to talking about criminals and victims. In the interview mentioned above he makes it very clear that no matter what, you still need to see these people as people. Therein lies the key to solving lots of social issues and conflicts.

I recognize this in almost every fight or conflict I’ve had so far. Looking at myself and my ‘opponent’ as a person almost always made it easier to sort things out. Not that it solved things as such but it provided a good starting point to work towards a solution. It avoided escalation and further damage.

Unfortunately this doesn’t work all the time and I do find myself shouting sometimes to the people I love. I do end up in a battle of emotions trying to settle things the wrong way, trying to take revenge and put other people’s feelings behind bars.

It’s then that I realize again how important it is to take care of myself, to walk away, catch my breath, get in touch with all my senses and – as a newborn kid – get in touch with who I am and what I feel, with what surrounds me and who’s in front of me.

It’s then that I realize also how powerful it can be to invite someone to help you take care of you, explain why you need some space first, explain perhaps that you don’t know what you want but that you’d love to figure it out, explain also what needs you may have which put you in a tough position.

I’m not really familiar with counseling for victims, but from what I understand from Hellström’s words is that the first step towards satisfying recovery, towards a satisfying and better future is compassion: the ability to look at yourself as a valuable person and finally, to do the same towards others.

To stay with the prison metaphor: the best way to protect yourself is not by putting people behind bars. It’s by building both inner and strength, confidence and abilities to show compassion, to see ourselves as human at all times and to pay tribute to that – whatever emotion this may give us. In other words, by being superbly human.

“When The Beast was published in Spain, it gave rise to intense debates among journalists. A child murderer was about to be released after serving fifteen years in prison. Now, as a kid I’ve been molested and abused myself, so I have every reason to hate childmolesters and rapists. Still I do wonder: is there no other solution than locking these people up for the rest of their lives?”

“So I said to these Spanish journalists: ‘Fifteen years ago you all yelled: “Punish him, put him away!” Shouldn’t you have insisted on him getting psychiatric assistance as well? If you had, chances that he’d start murdering again would be much smaller than they are right now.'” (Börge Hellström, In Each of us There’s a Beast hiding, Weekend Knack n. 33, p. 22)

Weekend Knack (in Dutch)

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3 thoughts on “The trouble with prisoners

  1. Meri Walker says:

    This is a quietly but deeply courageous adventure you’re taking here with this blog. I’m listening … and considering… and making good use of what shows up in the deeper layers of the psyche as I reflect on what you’re sharing from your deepest truth. This seems to me to be one of the highest purposes of blogs like yours – to pull up fish from the deep and share them with others who need the nourishment.

    I thank you for your generosity.

  2. Dear Meri,

    You’ve given me a precious gift. You’ve allowed my words to inspire you. I’m very grateful for that. What you’re writing here gives me the energy to continu listening and writing.

    I hope you and your partner can discover new paths to compassion through your conflict which may bring you both the solution you were looking for.

    Kind regards,


  3. Meri Walker says:

    I found you today because of the clarity and tenderness of your comment at mindmapinspiration. I see there’s a whole stream of that tenderness and clarity here. How wonderful. Thank you for taking time to share it.

    This post helps me think about a conflict I’m in right now with my partner in a whole new way. Namaste!

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