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to manage the darkness

to manage the darkness - Blackgate Prison*
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Although we often associate it with other unpleasantness like pain or misfortune, there are actually some inherently enjoyable aspects to fear. It heightens our senses and makes us alert and aware of the world around us in a way we rarely are when we are comfortable. There is a sense of awe that can often come with it, of realizing the scale of the world around us and how small and fragile we are in comparison. If you manage to keep your wits about you, the aftermath brings pride and relief. If we separate it from actual traumatic life events, as we do in haunted houses or horror movies or even roller coasters, it becomes a popular form of entertainment. We like to safe spaces to confront our fears, perhaps to steel ourselves for the inevitable occasions where courage is required for survival.

This prison housed the criminally insane, and this was the entrance from the D Block into the enclosed courtyard prisoners spent much of their time in. The people that were in this place when it was active, the things that undoubtedly happened within the prison's confines, the crimes that lead to confinement, even the concept of the necessity of incarceration: these are all things that I would consider legitimately frightening. In a manner of speaking, I got to stare these awful realities in the face, but in such a way that I was nevertheless shielded from them by the passage of time. Not only are there monsters out there, there are places and things that can in a second shred the safety and stability we spend our whole lives building, and wells of sorrow that can pry apart sanity if one stares into them too long.

For some reason I was drawn here nevertheless. I was grateful for the opportunity to see the prison, even though it is designed to make you feel small and alone. I can't say it made me happy or affirmed my faith in the overall justice of the universe, but it made me appreciate my freedom to leave and that I had a world to go back to when I was done. I stared into the well for a day and the things I saw were amazing. You do your best to manage the darkness and rejoice when you are able to leave it behind.

Image and text by Matthew Christopher
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