Choose one of the following passages to comment on its context in the larger work, in particular its role in the author’s representation of criminality and authority.
Henry David Thoreau, “On Civil Disobedience”
Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. […]
I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering the walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked up. […] I saw that, if there was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or break through before they could get to be as free as I was. I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had paid my tax. […] In every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder; for they thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of that stone wall. I could not but smile to see how industriously they locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out again without let or hindrance, and they were really all that was dangerous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved to punish my body; just as boys, if they cannot come at some person against whom they have a spite, will abuse his dog.
Frederick Douglass, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time [Douglass’s third and final autobiograpy]. 1881. pp. 198-201
I had one friend–a sailor–who owned a sailor’s protection, which answered somewhat the purpose of free papers– describing his person, and certifying to the fact that he was a free American sailor. The instrument had at its head the American eagle, which gave it the appearance at once of an authorized document. This protection did not, when in my hands, describe its bearer very accurately. Indeed, it called for a man much darker than myself, and close examination of it would have caused my arrest at the start. […] In choosing this plan upon which to act, I […] relied upon my skill and address in playing the sailor as described in my protection, to do the rest […] for I knew a ship from stern to stern, and from keelson to cross-trees, and could talk sailor like an “old salt.” On sped the train, and I was well on the way, to Havre de Grace before the conductor came into the negro car to collect tickets and examine the papers of his black passengers. This was a critical moment in the drama. My whole future depended upon the decision of this conductor. […] He said to me […] “I suppose you have your free papers?” To which I answered: “No, sir; I never carry my free papers to sea with me.” “But you have something to show that you area free man, have you not?” “Yes, sir,” I answered; “I have a paper with the American eagle on it, and that will carry me round the world.” With this I drew from my deep sailor’s pocket my seaman’s protection, as before described. The merest glance at the paper satisfied him, and he took my fare and went on about his business. This moment of time was one of the most anxious I ever experienced. […] Though I was not a murderer fleeing from justice I felt perhaps quite as miserable as such a criminal. […] The border lines between slavery and freedom were the dangerous ones, for the fugitives. The heart of no fox or deer, with hungry hounds on his trail, in full chase, could have beaten more anxiously or noisily than did mine, from the time I left Baltimore till I reached Philadelphia.
Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Chapter 9
I want to say before I go on that I have never previously told anyone my sordid past in detail. I haven’t done it now to sound as though I might be proud of how bad, how evil, I was. But people are always speculating — why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth, must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient. Today, when everything that I do has an urgency, I would not spend one hour in the preparation of a book which had the ambition to perhaps titillate some readers. But I am spending many hours because the full story is the best way that I know to have it seen, and understood, that I had sunk to the very bottom of the American white man’s society when — soon now, in prison — I found Allah and the religion of Islam and it completely transformed my life.
Martin Luther King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. […]
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
Jim Carroll, The Basketball Diaries, p. 83:
I have this strange feeling that creeps up on me fairly often in classrooms, especially in my first class in the morning, English. But this time it just happened in study hall up in the auditorium. It’s just that I get this complete urge to suddenly take a machine gun and start firing like mad toward my right side. Not at anyone or anything unless they got in the way but that wouldn0t matter much because I would aim fairly high. Just to do that a few seconds, like one whole round and that’s it. I don’t know why, dig, but I guess it would just release some tension or shit. Funny thing.
Part II, Essay. Write on one of the three aspects described below of criminality and how it is represented that we discussed in class over the course of the semester. In your essay, be sure to refer to specific course materials, including at least two readings, and at least one non-textual element (which could come from the class playlist, other students’ panel presentation [not your own, though], movies or TV we chose for discussion, or other videos, such as Michael Moore or the documentary Breaking the Cycle). Again, choose one of these three:
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