55. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Panopticon, 1995
by Shane Granger
I did something stupid to wind up in The Panopticon. One of the soldiers who ‘served under sentence’ with me would take his own life. He did three months. He was a champion bloke who would show the new guys the ropes (so to speak). To the Lost.
The funny thing is, The Panopticon had the opposite effect on me. Sure, it was bad but it straightened me out and I became, if only briefly, the best soldier I was going to be.
It is winter, 1995. I am scrubbing a shitter. To be honest, it is pretty clean. The only people who clean the toilets are ‘soldiers under sentence’. Always think about the soldier behind you.
In The Panopticon the only voices you hear are orders. Screamed orders, barked orders, neutral orders, cold orders, orders via hidden speakers. At anytime. Microphones so that you can reply to indirect orders. Unless you are responding to an order you can only speak at certain times a day.
All controlled at the central point. Glass windows. Someone always watching. The Panopticon sees all.
If you make it to Sunday you might get a game of volleyball where you can talk almost normally. MPs will be watching, might even be playing. You are outside of the wall though. I wonder if they had CCTV back then. I’m sure they do now.
Otherwise, The Panopticon is filled with silence. Which is good. If you have landed here you need to reflect on your life choices. I certainly did.
I was determined to get through the last couple of days and become the soldier I always wanted to be.
Back to scrubbing that shitter…
I don’t know exactly where the music came from but I suspect it was just over on the otherside of the wall. Perhaps two MPs listening quietly to their wireless while having a smoke break.
“Turn it up”, I hear. I can hear music. I haven’t heard music in weeks. After monastic silence and orders, order, orders the sound of music in The Panopticon is like the voice of God.
Music is not allowed in The Panopticon.
I am on hands and knees already so I monkey crawl over to the door. The MPs turn up the music and I can hear it clearly. The Panopticon might just be able to see me but I’m aware of where they are so I try not to profile myself. I can just see the sun. I shut my eyes.
In my other workplace at the time we played a game. Music would play as we typed. Name the singer, song and year. Bonus points for cheesy facts like what movie it was in, who they were married too.
Today the singer is Celine Dion, The Power of Love, 1993.
I let the moment soak in. Pure bliss…
It is a long song. According to Spotify it goes for 5 minutes and 42 seconds. As the song fades out I hear an order coming from the CPO who really ran The Panopticon.
“Turn that fucking shit off. If I can hear it, they can too”.
“Sorry, Sir”. Two different voices.
The music cuts off immediately.
I have my moment. Something they do not know. Something to get me through. I will treasure it. I might even smile at the MP who parades us in the early dawn on the next day. I’m first in line. I break the ice in the container so the Condies crystals soak into my freezing feet. We take turns to break the ice. Always think about the soldier behind you.
I made three commitments that day.
- I will get out of The Panopticon;
- I will never come back to this hell-site;
- I will be the best soldier I can be from now on.
All three will become true.
Some soldiers are broken from their experience, some will use adversity to drive them.
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