Monastic Precedent for Communicative Suppression

face of a prisoner

Systemically suppressing prisoners’ communication was not a U.S. policy innovation. At least by the twelfth century, punishment of monks sometimes took an extreme form called vade in pace (“go in peace”). This meant life imprisonment in harsh isolation, such as “a subterranean cave in the form of a grave.” In the fourteenth century, the king of France, horrified by such punishment, ordered:

priors and superiors to visit {imprisoned monks} twice a month and to give, in addition, their permission to two monks of their choice to visit them twice a month; that is, he ordered that they be visited at least once a week…. holding with reason that it was inhuman and barbarian to deprive poor wretches, overwhelmed by sorrow and pain, of all consolation.^

This description of the king’s order focuses on the frequency of visits. The indicated visitors, “two monks of their choice,” seems to refer to persons that priors and superiors designate. Monks built their communities upon expansive appreciation for brotherhood and sought to follow Abraham in knowing God intimately as a friend. Nonetheless, monastic concern for communication with imprisoned monks remained within the bounds of persons having an authorized relationship to the prisoner.

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