Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane – Etheridge Knight
Short Story finished: 13th February
‘Hard Rock Returns to prison from the hospital for the criminally insane’ written by Etheridge Knight is a poem based on a long-term African American prisoner called Hard Rock. Hard Rock has suffered frequent physical injury and punishment during his time in prison as he has a bad reputation and the personality of someone who you cannot break. Hard Rock represents to the reader, a tough and rebellious African-American man who is ‘known not to take no shit from nobody’. Through the poem, we see Hard Rock’s character develop from his old self after a lobotomy is forced on him.
Throughout the poem, Etheridge Knight shows many different key ideas to the reader. One of these ideas is slavery. This idea is described to the reader through different quotes and stories about Hard Rock. The poem is concluded with this line: “The fears of years, like a biting whip, had cut deep bloody grooves, across our backs.” This quote gives the reader a sense of sorrow for the prisoners as it describes the endless, gruelling years of slavery that the prisoners have gone through and how these years will continue as the fear stays with them. Before his lobotomy, Hard Rock represented the prisoners in a way that they were too scared to do for themselves and when Hard Rock undergoes his surgical procedure, they are left almost hopeless as the procedure represents the loss of possibility as they realise that he is gone and will never return to his old self. “And we turned away, our eyes on the ground. Crushed. He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things we dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do…” Hard Rock acted as an advocate for the prisoners and for slavery in the United States, he stood up to the guards and people in charge and demanded justice through ways of his own – violence. Through this quote, it seems as if the speaker is giving a sense of warning to himself and fellow inmates against the dangers of stepping up as the big hero due to the consequences they are now aware of.
Another aspect of slavery that is portrayed throughout the poem, is how the prison system was structured and how the inmates were treated during this time. Hard Rock is shown as a violent and reckless prisoner, it is described that he is got in many fights and was punished for this in many harsh ways. “Hard Rock was known not to take no shit from nobody, and he had the scars to prove it: split purple lips, lumped ears, welts above his yellow eyes and one long scar that cut across his temple and plowed through a thick canopy of kinky hair.” However, to receive a lobotomy treatment, a form of psychosurgery, where part of his brain is cut out and electricity is shot through the rest was an extremely cruel way to treat prisoners, and one that is no longer used at all today. This represents only a small part of a cruel and very extreme structured prison system during times of slavery that was developed by people with authority to overcome and shut down those who tried to rise against it.
I would recommend ‘Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane’ to students because I believe it shows certain aspects of society and slavery that many people will not be aware of. The idea of psychosurgery procedures and punishments is very different from anything in our own prison systems here in New Zealand and is not very often brought up in pieces of writing and movies we are shown at school. The poem also shows a side of prisoners that are not represented through stereotypes that we know of. The inmates in prison with Hard Rock came across as a lot more timid than him and were always too afraid to act out against the system and it’s workers.