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Words Not Deeds
August 15, 1903
I doubt anyone will end up reading this--I’m almost positive the guard outside will throw it on the fire as soon as I leave, but on the off-chance someone does see it…
My name is Anna Dolloway. As I sit here writing this, I occupy a cell in Holloway Prison in North London. I was arrested a few weeks ago at a Suffrage Protest by police.
The energy around me was electric. I looked around and saw people shouting, women holding up signs.
Ahead of us, down the street, lay the London Prime Minister’s office. It was a grand building, with gorgeous architecture, tall double doors and black spires along the brick lining the roof.
I was surrounded by hundreds of women, all standing in the streets in protest. The streets were crowded with people, but more than that, they were filled with passion, ideas, and rage.
That rage filled my senses too, I was angry. Angry at the government, angry at history, angry at myself. For the majority of my life, I had fallen victim to this rhetoric, the ideas of servitude and being lesser than. I had cooked, I had cleaned, I had groveled at the feet of bosses and my husband. Memories filled my head of every time I’d kept my mouth shut in a conversation, everytime I’d heard the words “Get me some tea” or “Go away, darling, the men want to talk.”
Scotland Yard police created a barrier not far ahead, blocking our procession from the grounds of the office building.
I pushed through the crowd. A park lay ahead and to my right, with two raised statue stands flaking the entrance gate. I got onto the sidewalk and looked up at the statue. The golden man held his hand out, gesturing people towards the entrance to the park. I reached up, grabbed his hand and used it to hoist myself onto the stand.
Slightly shaky and still trying to find my balance, I let go of the man’s painted hand and looked out into the crowd. Quite a few of the women below had turned to look up at me expectantly.
The cell I’m in is dark and boring. 3 walls and some bars, a small window, a bed, a sink, a toilet. All crammed together in a tiny room. It wasn’t as bad as you might be imagining. The room was dry and organized, I can socialize a little with some other detainees, and was given permission to write.
My prison diary, a recount of what happened to me. I can see it now--years in the future, a young girl, a historian, a teacher, reading my words. I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’ve been here a week. I can’t really remember being arrested, but the sizable bruise on the side of my head and the throbbing headache that just won’t go away give me a pretty good idea.
I woke up in the back of a van, both my hands and feet handcuffed. My hand hurt. My head hurt. Everything hurt. No blindfold, but my vision swam with every bump in the road. The drive is super blurry, I bet I went in and out of consciousness.
I regained my senses as we arrived at the jail. The building was made of sandy bricks in a castellated style, with two huge griffins flanking the entrance with keys in their claws. Minimal security, but packed full of arrested protestors and minor offense criminals.
A week living here and I already don’t feel like myself. Being detained in jail really takes it out of you. I’ve maybe spoken 3 times in the past few days.
On top of that, I hear stories about other protesters being beat up, sold off as indentures, even raped and killed by guards and police. It’s definitely enough to make me hold my tongue.
I stood on top of the statue, leaning slightly against the metal man behind me for balance. People were staring at me now, both protestors and police included. I saw a Scotland Yard officer close his hand around the pistol at his hip.
I cleared my throat, thinking of something to say. I looked out confidently over the crows, making eye contact with several women looking up at me.
What was that phrase I had been hearing around? Those words--the brand new motto of the movement.
I don’t know where it came from, but confidence filled my body--creating a warm golden glow around me. I raised my right hand in a fist up to the blue sky above, and yelled the phrase:
“DEEDS NOT WORDS” as loudly as I could.
The protest noise had died down slightly in anticipation, but as soon as those words left my lips, a powerful cheer erupted from the crowds in the street. More fists went up into the air, signs were hoisted upwards, yells of defiance filled my ears.
A broad smile spread across my face, enjoying the power that I held in the moment, surveying the effect I had on these people.
It was short-lived. 2 Scotland Yard officers had rushed over to the statue stand and were poking their guns at my shins.
“Get down, ma’am,” one of them said, gesturing with his gun.
I put my hand back in the statue’s and stepped down to the sidewalk. I’d never had a gun pointed at me before. The officer who spoke stepped in line behind me and poked his gun in the small of my back, way harder than he needed to and leaving a small bruise on my spine.
Riding an ego-high, I could still feel a huge range of emotions--giddy excitement paired with boiling rage and the warm-glow of confidence. The rage of all the women on the street around me started to fill my body, starting in a deep pit in my stomach and making it’s way up into my arms and hands.
I whirled around on my heel, driving my fist in a wide circle. I watched it collide roughly with the officer’s jaw.
Prison food is inedible. It tastes like snails and looks like grey-green soup. The other detainees are ok--most of them are also suffragettes. One was arrested for picketing, another for setting fire to abandoned buildings. Graffiti, brawling with police--you name it, someone in here has done it.
I get the distinct impression they all ignore me--punching a police officer is fairly low on the crazy-scale. Well, that lack of crazy is what’s going to get me out of here faster.
I thought about escaping a few times. The prison is minimum security and I’m sure I could do it with a little effort. I started paying attention to the guard’s and their schedules. I looked everywhere I could for an easy exit. The easiest thing to do would be to scale the fence. Every 6 hours, the guard patrolling the fence switches, right at dusk as everyone heads inside for curfew.
In my head, I pictured myself hiding in the courtyard, using the setting sun to my advantage, taking off for the fence, climbing it before the switching guards could catch up and bolting.
But even so, where would I go? The prison was surrounded by empty warehouses and factories. I can’t run back to London, and I kind of doubt the factory workers could be persuaded to help a convict.
So, I’ll stay. I’ll keep my head down and wait out my month-long sentence.
The days are all the same--get up early, breakfast, 6 hours of working (I was assigned to laundry), courtyard time, then dinner and bed. All to get up and do it again the next day.
Have you ever done laundry for 6 hours straight--7 days a week? It’s like painfully, peel-your-own-skin-off boring.
Using a small, sharp rock, I counted the days with notches in the cell wall. 20 more, 18 more, all leading to the day a guard came to let me out.
I was lying on my bed, writing when a guard came and banged on the bars of my cell. “Get up,” he growled. I did. “Get your things.” Excitement filled my body--he was a day early according to my count.
My body felt alive for the first time in weeks. I wanted to jump around and scream but I pushed down the urge and started to collect my things. My singular thing, I suppose--the notebook I had been writing in. I picked it up from the bed.
The guard turned. “Come,” he said. I stepped out of the cell and in front of the guard so he could watch me.
We walked through the halls of the prison, through different cell blocks and the cafeteria. With every step, my excitement grew. I didn’t want to hold out hope that I was being let go a day early, but couldn’t help that growing feeling of hope in my chest.
We passed the front lobby area, and the guard took a bag of my things. “You’ll get them back when you’re dropped off.
I was handcuffed again, and loaded into the back of a van with one other girl I didn't recognize and a few guards.
The drive was really long, but it only felt like a few minutes with my mind racing the way it was. I was imagining all the things I was going to do when I got out, starting first with a scream of excitement and followed by a quick run around the block.
The van dropped us off at a bus station on the edges of town. They unshackled us, handed us our sacks of belongings and drove away without another word. The other girl and I looked at each other for a second and quickly turned away and started ruffling through our bags. I pulled my wallet out and ran inside to buy a ticket.
The journey back to my house was long and to the other side of town. Even still, I had this strange feeling, like the back when you were a teenager and your parents let you go places by yourself for the first time. I was independent and myself again.
I went inside my house and filled a scorching hot bath. I lowered myself into it and sighed happily. ‘Maybe I’ll go to another protest tomorrow,’ I thought to myself.