The thick stench of fear pervaded the darkness of the prison. The inmates inhaled it in short, hot breaths that burned their throats, mixing with the smell of urine and feces. The screams and cries of the inmates filled what was left of the breathable air, and echoed through the prison with unrelenting force. It invaded every hall, creeping into each individual cell where it assaulted the eardrums with a kind of violent frenzy.
The inmates seemed to scream, curse, cry, and beg all at once, but these noises were usually met with severe beatings from the guards. The beatings, the noise, and the confinement alone was usually enough to drive some of the inmates insane, but this is how it was for all of them. It was the experience that made their life and their death; their beginning and their end. And adding to the horror of their predicament, none of the prisoners really knew why they were there. All that they knew was that they had been marked for execution.
Amid the din and the chaos that had was their world, some inmates reflected on their old lives, their families, and their homes, while those who had grown up in prison imagined what it must be like to live on the outside. Sometimes during these fond reveries, the desire for freedom would well up within them like a fountain and they felt the instinctual urge to run, only they knew they couldn’t. They knew the impenetrability of their cages well and the insurmountable walls beyond them. Their bodies and their souls were held in state of perpetual bondage, and the knowledge of this reality only added to their torture.
The cells themselves were so small and confined the prisoner’s bodies so severely that most of the time they could barely turn their heads to converse with their cell-mates, and could only do so with considerable discomfort and physical strain. They thought that the design of the cages was probably done on purpose to stop them from talking too much. After all, ideas can be dangerous.
Sometimes there would come a day when new inmates would be shipped in on trucks and forced down the prison halls by the guards, who were unafraid to “break in” these new prisoners with electric prods. The prisoners that had been there longest would look out on them with pity while the younger ones would shout at them and try to provoke them.
However, once these new recruits were hardened by time and every semblance of weakness had been purged from their bruised bodies, a kind of unspoken respect and brotherhood was forged through a shared anguish. Bonded together in misery, the prisoners learned to carry each other’s hopes, fears, and desires.
One day an elderly prisoner who had been there the longest decided that he’d had enough. He was tired of thinking, tired of dreaming, and tired of watching others hopelessly batter their heads against their cages. He was tired of listening to the tortured cries of his brothers and of the constant violence visited on them from above. He had decided then and there that he would find a way to escape, and vowed that he would lead his fellow-prisoners to freedom.
And so he began to experiment by turning his head in many different ways until he found the least painful method so that he could talk to his cellmates more easily. In doing so, he taught the others how to turn their heads as he did. He also inspired his cellmates to think and plan beyond the confines of their cages that they had come to know so intimately, and told them hold fast to the hope of a life free from torment.
He began to tell stories to tell his cellmates which awakened their spirits and gave them comfort where there was once only despair. In these stories he described a world free from cruelty, beatings, and confinement where all they could be happy and free: a world far away from the terrible screams of the helpless and the damned – a world of lasting peace, cool breezes, green grasses, and warm sunlight.
He also told the others to spread his stories by way of mouth until soon enough each cell was abuzz with them. The guards sometimes suspected them and pointed out their peculiar behavior, but they did not understand their plans because they did not fully grasp the prisoner’s language. This clever prisoner, having gained the good graces of other inmates, also observed that the more the prisoners ate, the quicker their execution would come, and so one day he conspired with the rest to stop eating altogether as an act of protest.
One morning, the guards awoke to find a very strange situation which make them scratch their heads. Where there had usually been screams echoing through the prison, there was a sudden silence. The cells had gone quiet, and the food left for the prisoners was untouched. At first this spooked the guards, but their superstition soon gave way to anger. To fix the problem, the guards began patrolling the prison halls more regularly, passing each cell, and occasionally clubbing inmates through the bars in order to elicit violent reactions and show their dominance over them.
However, the clever prisoner had also advised the others not to meet violence with violence, but to hide their pain and pursue peace. And so it was that the minute the guards let their clubs fall mercilessly on the helpless, docile prisoners that they were forced to confront the brutality and inhumanity of their actions, but even then they did not stop.
The protest went on for days, further angering and bewildering the guards. After awhile, they thought that the prisoners might be sick or sleep-deprived, so they brought in healthier foods and gave them more comfortable beds to sleep in. But after the prisoners ignored these new adjustments, they began to seriously worry, for they knew that the prisoners could not be executed if they refused to eat.
After a few weeks had passed, the prisoners looked so thin and sickly that the guards no longer considered them to be a threat. They also feared beating them due to their gentle nature and fragility. Instead, the guards began to turn inward and question their actions, and it was then that they began to feel an uncomfortable stirring within their souls. For the first time, they wondered if it was wrong to beat the prisoners the way they did, and if they really deserved to die after all. To them, the prisoners seemed harmless now; almost human-like.
And from the moment they began to think of the prisoners, not as objects, but as living beings, that a spark of compassion was lit within them which grew to be an unstoppable flame. It was stronger and more durable than any cell, more powerful than all the senseless beatings they had ever rained down. Soon the guards began to converse among themselves about the unfortunate and inhumane state of the prisoners, and even started reprimanding guards who were committed to seeing them as lesser beings. Before long, their guilt had become so unbearable that they refused to do their jobs altogether.
When the day finally came for the next set of prisoners to be executed, they refused to obey their orders, but stood alongside the cells of the prisoners in silence and solidarity, even when their superiors threatened to fire them. It wasn’t long after the incident that the story of their firing reached the outside world and appeared on people’s living-room televisions for all to see. Here there was no more hiding, for the truth stood naked and ugly for all to see, and the hearts of people were moved by it.
Soon protests began to erupt across the country. At first many didn’t understand what the fuss was about, but the more it was shown in the media, the more outraged people became. Eventually, the prison received so much bad press and the prisoners had grown so thin that the prison was forced to shut down, and the prisoners were ordered to be released.
From that day forward, many films, books, and pieces of artwork were created to commemorate the prisoner’s fight for freedom. Their struggle and their victory was written into the history books alongside others. They were no longer seen as separate, but as fellow-creatures deserving of life, liberty, and happiness.
Of all the statues, monuments, and symbols, one stood out as most memorable. It was a painting that was simple but inspiring, and was often hung around houses, schools, and government buildings. Within it the hero of these now-free beings was pictured standing high atop a grassy hill, his pink skin and four hooves gleaming in the sunlight. Below him stretched a plentiful, rolling pasture of seemingly infinite length: the Promised Land where he had led his brothers to eternal freedom.