Another Penal Colony Dream

Last night, I had another penal colony dream.

By "another", I recollect that a few years ago I had had one: it took place in what looked like a typical Midwestern small-to-medium-size city. I remember almost nothing of the story itself, but in one striking scene, I looked towards the horizon and saw the land curve upwards to a coastline, and off the coast was a large spaceport, and through the water I could see a great ship docked outside. I realized then that I was on an artificial planetoid, and later in the dream I also realized that I was in a penal colony, although visitors could freely come and go.

Before I get to last nightís dream, Iíd like to mention that Iíve been seriously thinking about going on an Alaska cruise in the next couple of years. Also, Iíve been reading Moll Flanders, and last night had reached the part where sheís in Newgate prison, fearing the gallows, but finally receives orders for transportation. One other possible inspiration may have been Paolo Soleriís "Arcology" concept. And, of course, one must not forget China Miťville's The Scar.

This dream opens with a hillside view of the docks, allowing an excellent view of the ship itself, which is quite massive: at least the size of two Queen Mary 2 ships side-by-side. The sides are lined with myriad windows, though it turns out later that those are not staterooms, but windowed corridors. The crowds at the gangplank are massive and intense, though surprisingly smooth flowing. I carry nothing on my person save a key and some token of entry; once on board, I notice another carrying a guitar, and hope to myself that I had remembered to pack my instruments in my luggage. However, the notion of being a tourist is quickly dispelled once I reach my stateroom: it is actually a small prison cell, which, albeit bright and clean, has barely room for two bunks.

At this point, it will take me far more time to write down the various impressions I received in this dream, than it took me actually to receive them. First of all, although my sleeping compartment is obviously some sort of cell, at no time am I confined there, nor is it ever locked, and the key I had in my hand when I came aboard must have been for a small storage locker, which never subsequently appears. The prison is co-ed, and indeed the next cell belongs to two good-looking girls, with whom my cell-mate and I almost immediately start chatting.

Again, I emphasize that we are never actually confined to the cells. Indeed, we are expected only to sleep in them, and otherwise have the freedom of nearly the entire ship. No guards are present, and the only other sign that this is indeed some sort of prison is that I have an implant in my chest which acts as a sort of pager. The first time it starts buzzing, Iím naturally in the menís shower and need to dry off, get dressed, and head towards the nearest available terminal. The buzzing stops as soon as I log in to check for messages.

[I must add here that I consider telephones, or pretty much any such type of attention-getting signal, to be extremely intrusive. Thus, "Star Trek" connotations aside, it seems natural that I would associate such a device with prison life.]

There are no tablets or cell phones on board: rather, there are terminals scattered throughout the ship, which are freely available for accessing email or a speakerphone service similar to Skype. As I said before, there are no visible guards, and indeed there appears to be no concern about attempts to escape or sabotage the operation. There is, however, some sort of guidance counselor, and apparently, except for an initial orientation session, the only time my pager buzzes is when itís time to meet with him.

Initially, I spend my time exploring the ship, though itís obvious that at some point Iím expected to apply myself to something. And this is where I want to record some of my overall impressions of the ship, of its ambience and the mood of the occupants. The cells may be tiny, true, but the corridors and staircases are quite spacious, as if in some large shopping mall. Never, after I am on board, am I conscious of any crowding. The atmosphere is tranquil, and seems totally natural. At one point, I say aloud to another fellow: "I love this place!" And he replies: "So do I!"

This is where I begin to realize that this is not merely a prison, but something meant to be permanent. Perhaps something is slipped in our water, but as time passes, we most definitely feel both at peace and at home.

There are some other details I can still recall. When first boarding, I recall seeing various businesses at which, it seems, we eventually will work. (Including, anachronistically, a print shop.) There is a dining hall on our deck, open at all times, with no set times for meals. The second time I visit it, I come in through the kitchens, in a scene reminiscent of "Goodfellas". Obviously, certain staff had to be in place already before the bulk of us came aboard. Surprisingly, there is no night shift, or only a skeleton one. By and large, the ship is kept dark and minimally staffed at night.

During the dream, I see no pets or children. Our next door cell neighbors have pictures of their dogs, so evidently they were left behind. I recall thinking about sick wards, libraries, nurseries, and so forth, but donít find the time to look into them.

In the final scene, apparently I work in the gardens, and am showing around a couple of visitors. I point out how the outdoor gardens are irrigated from below deck. There are also a number of indoor gardens and greenhouses. As we enter a greenhouse, I point out the heating system for cold weather. One of the visitors asks if we could not simply sail south for the winter. I do not entirely know the answer, though I do know that we are restricted as to where we can sail. We must stay roughly 200 miles off the coast, though it occurs to me that, being off the coast of Washington or Oregon, we could conceivably sail to southern California.

Right about there, the dream ends.

December 30, 2012

The Circular File