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Life in Prison in 1ad

Life in Prison in 1ad

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Published by Simon Apablaza
The sufferings of St Paul in prison are understood. This document speaks about the conditions of the 1st century AD. This applies to the early martyrs and confessors.
The sufferings of St Paul in prison are understood. This document speaks about the conditions of the 1st century AD. This applies to the early martyrs and confessors.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Simon Apablaza on Apr 18, 2009
Copyright:Public Domain

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06/02/2013

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Simón Apablaza
Conditions of Prisons in the FirstCentury
Paul in Roman Custody.
Conditions of life in prison
Summary:
Prison in the days of Paul, were not as we may know in a country likeAustralia, with our human rights mentality so deeply embedded in ourheads. Prisons in the days of Paul were not pleasant or healthy. In the mindof the people, prison was equal to death, despair, sickness of mind andbody, and humiliation. This short article looks at four features of prison:physical constraints, chains, hygiene, and distress and mortality. Anexample of Paul’s experience in prison would be at the end of this article.We will take as an example the passage of Acts 16:16-38.
1. The physical constraints in imprisonment.a) Overcrowding and lack of basic necessities.
 There are no indications left for us to study about the amount of prisoners that a prison could hold or what constituted overcrowding.However, there are some things that we do know, for example, certainevents such as war, civil disturbance, enforcement of condemnatory edicts,etc., could pack prisons beyond capacity. The consequences of these isunbearable heat and dehydration of prisoners. Plus, the need of securityresulted in inadequate ventilation (no windows), and the lack of air arrivedsometimes to serious dangerous levels.We can be quite sure that comfort for sleep, were nonexistent.Prisoners, had the floor to make themselves comfortable, or if they werelucky, a rough sleeping pallet near the floor. The only mention obedclothes, is that sometimes prisoners or their helpers (families) wouldbring something. Prisoners outer cloak was essential clothing under normalcircumstances. They wore it over their back during the day and at night itbecame a part of one’s bedding, keeping out the cold of the night.
b) Darkness and Light
Prisons generally were devoid of light. Apparently even in the freeprison at Rome (for upper class prisoners), was a place of darkness. In themore secure cells there was no natural light at all. During the night, therewas absolute darkness, and after nightfall in some places light was notpermitted. The darkest places were normally the more secure, but theywere also the unhealthiest. But far worse was the psychological impact of 
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Simón Apablaza
total darkness on the prisoners.
2.- Chains
 The principal objective of chains is to restrict mobility and preventescape. The manner in which prisoners wore chains was varied: they couldbe fettered by one or both legs; wearing manacles on one or both wrists;chained from the neck; they could be chained in pairs; sometimes at nightall prisoners could be chained together, etc. The chains were made of rough iron, that would eventually rust withthe perspiration of the prisoners, causing untold pain, saying nothing of theweight of the chains, normally around 7 kg. The chains weight would bedebilitating and the potential for the chain to render the limbs useless wasincreased when the prisoner was deprived of sufficient nourishment.Finally, chains were noisy, and the creaking of chains caused scantsleep of prisoners.
3.- Diet and Hygienea.) Food and Drink 
Neglect and abuse was known in the matter of diet and hygiene.Securing adequate nourishment fell on the shoulders of the prisoners(family and friends); poor prisoners often were neglected and suffer greatmisery. To depend on the ration of the prison was actually to put their lifeat risk, because its lack of variety, quantity and quality. In fact the food of prisoners was about half the amount of food given to slaves. The foodbarely sustained life, and they could be turned easily into a weapon of punishment, torture or even execution when withheld by guards. The onlygenerosity in official provision for many was the last meal before execution.Lastly, for a Jew, prison signifies a place of profound uncleanness,especially a gentile prison. The matters of Jewish commensality and foodpurity regulations, was impossible to follow, unless outside benefactorsreally helped.
b.) Clothing and Personal Toilette
Prisoners were often unclean and lacking in good hygiene. Elsewhereis written about the stench that emanated from prisons, and officers werecomplete oblivious of the hygiene of the prisoners. Baths could be provided(even once a day), but that was only to very high standards prisoners(princes and the like), the same is the case of haircuts. Poorer prisoners hadto endure without baths.Barbers knives were a danger to security; therefore prisoners had toput up with long unkempt and matted hair, and full o lice. The clothes wornin the filth of the prison, on bodies that were seldom washed or bathed,
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Simón Apablaza
became absolutely soiled and deteriorated rapidly as it was used as workclothes and night wear.With little space, especially when prisons were overcrowded, prisonershad to do “everything” in the same place. Moreover, the dead (those whodied of lack of air, or illness, or changes of temperature) were piled in acorner to be taken away latter.
4.- Stress, Distress and Mortalitya.) General Debility and sickness
Prisons were associated with death, and this was further solidify bythe constant physical and psychological distress brought by life in custody.Prisons were not healthy places. The prisoners were normally weak, thisbrought about by the scarcity of good nourishment, lack of hygiene,confinement, darkness, torture. And being weak, they caught sicknesseasier than in normal circumstances.
b.) Suicide
Many of the deaths in prisons, we can be sure, were due to the prisonconditions. Many times death was an escape sought by the prisoners.Romans often chose death to prison for the simple reason that if they weresent to prison, they would be stripped of their properties and that wouldleave their families with nothing. This was actually contemplated in theRoman law.But generally suicide was a response to the misery of the life in prison,especially if the prospects of release were remote. However, once incustody, suicide was not easy. Guards were always on the alert for prisonerstrying it. This only intensified the suffering of the prisoners, who in turnrefuse to take food, but even then, they would be force fed.It is easy to see that once the sentence had finished, the prisonersemerged from confinement broken in body and spirit.
4.- Paul’s experience of prison in Acts
Paul at Philippi: The experience of Paul at Philippi was certainly the worse (Acts 16:16-40). After being beaten, Paul and Silas were thrown in the inner cell. Mostprobably, his whole stay in there was in total darkness. The other prisonerswere probably in the same cell. It makes sense because it would be moresecure and it explains as well how the prisoners were listening to Paul andSilas, and later Paul says “we are all here”. This account tells us something about the clothing in prison. Paul andSilas were striped to be then flogged. The despoiling would have been with
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Tania Pollner Runyan added this note
Hi Simon, I am finding this article very helpful for some research I'm doing on Paul for a poetry collection. Thank you for sharing! Do you know the author for the book you mention at the end, Acts of the Apostles? It would probably be very helpful for me. Thank you! Tania

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