No. 9: imprisonism ISMISM New concepts for the Nineties

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The Independent Online
Prison n 1. place of confinement, where those jailed see careers and reputations destroyed, eg Oscar Wilde, writer in residence Reading Gaol, hence denied recognition in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey for a century until 1995. OFr prisun ModFr le slammer (below). 2. mod usage a launching pad for fresh career developments, place where opprobrium of the authorities can quickly be overcome, leading to considerable personal success. Orig: mid C20; first applied to political leaders, eg Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela. Meaning extended late C20 to financial criminals, eg Ernest Saunders, former Guinness chairman: after having served 10 months of five- year sentence achieved medical miracle by recovering from pre-senile dementia, returned to successful business career and respectability. Now considered by European Commission on Human Rights to have been oppressed victim.

Hence imprisonism n practice of individuals being jailed for offending society but emerging as heroes, usually gaining great financial reward. Orig: E Cantona, footballer and philosopher. Failed to avoid jail sentence for extending French handshake to supporter. Yet conviction on charge of common assault elicited wave of public sympathy, particularly among the young, who saw him as a martyr. Subject of popular chant, Le Ballad du Stretford End, chorus "Ooh aah, Cantona, ooh aah Cantona". Cantona continued to earn well from sponsorship deals as conviction served to confirm his money-spinning bad-boy image. New Cantona away strip, with "Swag" emblazoned on back, became hip expression of prison chic. White skull cap also mark of imprisonist fashion, following jailing of M Tyson, boxer, for raping beauty queen.

Tyson a classic case of imprisonism. When he committed crime in 1991 he was washed up, having lost world heavyweight championship in 1990 and frittered $100m fortune. Upon release in 1995 was offered championship bout, expected to raise $150m, as public interest in his boxing savagery was only enhanced by the rape charge.

Feature of imprisonism is that beneficiaries should preferably not apologise or, at worst, do so only grudgingly. Tyson made no amends to victim, while Cantona, after conviction, said only that he deeply regretted jumping up and kicking at the man's chest. Prominent imprisonists tend to philosophy, eg Quinze Jours Dans Le Slammer (above) by E Cantona; Tyson's interest in the Koran, Machiavelli and Voltaire's Candide. Pangloss, character in Candide, is chief inspiration. As they face condemnation but await lucrative long-term outcome, they comfort themselves with Panglossian optimism: "In this best of possible worlds ... all is for the best."

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