by Peter Collins (with deference to William Shakespeare)
They have disgraced me, and robbed me,
laughed at my losses, mocked my gains,
scorned my ambitions, thwarted my agreements,
cooled my friends, heated my enemies-
and what is their reason? I am a prisoner.
Has not a prisoner eyes?
Has not a prisoner hands, organs, limbs, flesh,
senses, feelings, affections, passions?
Fed with the same food,
hurt with the same weapons,
subject to the same diseases,
healed by the same means?
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?
If cruellest calamity befall our mother, father,
brother, sister, daughter or son,
does it not pain us?
If the love of our life take ill, will we not ache?
And worse still, for being the more unthinkable,
if our love be taken from life,
will we not grieve with inconsolable grief as deep
as yours, as full of torment, as anguished?
And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If you spit upon us, kick us, cast us out,
call us scum, loser, incorrigible, antisocial,
criminal, psychopath and condemn us defective,
immoral, delinquent, villainous, duplicitous and
contemptible as filthy wretched contaminant of
noblest purest society-and still, for all that, as
weak and overfull of cowardice, what
consideration shall we entail?
If you sneer at us, chant at us,
burn holes in our flesh, torment us,
call us scum to others when we can hear,
swarm us, hold us down, choke us,
shoot tasers into our screaming flesh,
beat us nigh unto death in clumsy, official
frenzied blood-lust and fury, gas us, shoot us
and after all that neglect us medical ministration,
what shall we countenance?
If we are like you in the rest,
shall we resemble you in that?
If a prisoner wrongs you, what is the witness?
Revenge! Punishment! Judgment!
Imprisonment. Persecution. Pain.
Endless maltreatment punctuated in death.
If prisoner be wronged,
What their sufferance should be by example?
The villainy you teach, by example, will be
repudiated, and it shall go hard, but
I will better the instruction in virtue and love.
Even as you do not, I will forgo cruelty;
I will shut my eye to hateful demeanour, ignorant
vengeance- and defy your hellfire on earth.
For only Omniscience can next judge thee,
and yet give me still resilience and resolve
to survive – nay to triumph!-
and strength to forgive thy cardinal sin,
to dwell in forbearance, in compassion, in
humility – unlike you can never know,
On earth, or in another place.