An essay originally written by Bobby Sands in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh in 1979
When one spends each day naked and crouched in the corner of a cell resembling a pigsty, staring at such eye-sores as piles of putrifying rubbish infested with maggots and flies, a disease-ridden chamber pot, or a black, disgustingly-scarred wall, it is to the rescue of one’s sanity to be able to rise and gaze out of a window at the world.
My cell window, fortified by thick concrete slabs which serve as bars, affords me with a view of nothingness, unless a barbed wire jungle and rows of blank faceless tin timbers offer an artistical appreciation unknown to me. It’s what passes by, lingers, or materialises, in front of my humble little window that saves me, that can dampen depression, allow me to contemplate, serve as an enjoyable distraction from my surroundings, and provide me with a once unknown pleasure.
On a dreary, dull, wet, morale-attacking November afternoon, when one’s stomach is empty, and when the monotony begins to depress and demoralise, it is soothing in many respects to spend a half-an-hour with one’s head pressed against the concrete slabs, gazing in wonder, and taking in the antics of a dozen or so young starlings bickering over a few stale crusts of bread. Circling, swooping, sizing up and daring an extra nibble, continually on their guard, and all their tiny nerves on end, the young starlings feud among themselves, the greedy one continually trying to dominate and always wanting the whole haul to himself, fighting with his comrades whilst the sparrow sneaks in to nibble at the spoils.
But the ruler of the kingdom of my little twenty-yard arched view of the outside world, is the seagull, who dominates, steals, pecks, and denies the smaller birds their share. The seagull takes it all. In fact, his appetite seems insatiable. He goes to any length to gorge himself. Thus I dislike the seagull, and I often wonder why the starlings do not direct their attention to the predator, rather than each other. Perhaps this applies to more than birds.
During the summer months, finches were abundant, and the music of the lark a constant symphony of sound and a reminder of life. The various crows, the odd magpie, and the little wagtails are still to be seen and heard from dawn to dusk.
In the late evening, when most of the prisoners of war are sleeping, when a hush descends, amplifying the gentle sound of a breeze, one can gaze upon the ocean of sky arid the multitude of stars that seem embedded and ablaze. In that black root of nothingness that not even the moon in all her beaming regalia can penetrate, and one can dream a thousand dreams of yesterday, of childhood and happiness, of love and joy, and escape through make-believe and fantasy. The evils that engulf each day, forgotten about, and tomorrow as far away as the unreachable stars.
On many a summer evening and cold winter night I stand with only my old shabby blanket wrapped tightly around me, my breath pouring out into the blackness, in ghost-like clouds, just dreaming. Many a day in the eternal hours, I stand watching the birds and listening to the lark, trying to discover its whereabouts in that stagnant blue ocean above me that represents the outside world, and I long for the liberty of the lark.
I suppose, to many, a few birds, the sound of a lark, a blue sky, or full moon, are there, but unnoticed most of the time. But, to me, they mean existence, peacefulness, comfort, entertainment, and something to view, to help forget the tortures, brutalities, indignities and evils that surround and attack my everyday life.
Today, the screws began blocking up all the windows with sheets of steel. To me this represents and signifies the further torture of the tortured, blocking out the very essence of life: nature!
A few words I once read came echoing back to me today: ‘No-one can take away from a person his or her ability to contemplate. Throw them into prison, give them hard labour, unimaginative work to do, but you can never take away from them the ability to find the poetry and music in life: And I also realised that, here, my torturers have long ago started, and still endeavour, to block up the window of my mind.