The Chance to Escape


Mr. Shorock is a speech major in his junior year at Ottawa University in Kansas.

When a person leaves the normal environment of our culture to serve a prison sentence, he ex­periences many changes. Impor­tant among these is the exchange of freedom for security. The pris­oner no longer has a wide range of alternatives in his actions, but is limited to a certain extent in what he may do. He is less free, but more secure, being reasonably certain of what is coming next. The prisoner is a classic example of the man who receives security through the planning of others.

The involuntary security, being contrary to the prisoner’s desire for freedom, is met by various re­actions, including the attempt to escape. The Bureau of Prisons of the United States Department of Justice has tabulated the attempts to escape from the Seagoville (Texas) Correctional Institution. A definite pattern can be seen in the 102 escape attempts between June 25, 1945 and January 1, 1960. Of these attempts, 16 were made by inmates who had served less than 30 days; 24 of the attempts were by inmates in the second month of a sentence; 20 were in their third month; 11 in their fourth; and 5 each in the fifth and sixth. In contrast with those 81 attempts in the first six months, only 14 were made in the second six months of sentences. And only seven attempts were made after the first year.

The urge to escape appears to decline significantly after the sec­ond month. The exchange of free­dom for security, while undesir­able and rejected at first, becomes tolerated. As can be seen in the cases of prisoners who purposely try to be recommitted to prison life, the exchange can become ac­cepted.

When you stop to think of it, the systems offered by the various types of government intervention­ists (be they fascist, communist, welfare-statist, or what have you) all make much the same offer: the exchange of freedom for security. Under any interventionist pro­gram, you give up some alter­natives in your choice of actions. In exchange, you are promised security. Government interven­tionism is like prison.

If we carry the analogy further, we see that there is a lesson to be learned from the declining pro­pensity to escape. The loss of free­dom eventually becomes tolerated and even accepted. The likelihood that people will want to try to escape from interventionism de­clines as time goes by.

Persons with no desire for self-control, anxious for the security of lives planned and controlled for them by others, may view with patient resignation the prevailing trend away from freedom in the United States and in most other lands. Things are going their way.

But anyone who views with alarm the growing intervention­ism will want to plan his escape soon. By tomorrow, or next month, or next year, he might have lost the will—and the capacity—to be free. The escape route, the path to freedom, lies in self-help, self-control, self-responsibility, self-reliance, self-improvement. And slow starters are unlikely to make it.



An Empty Title

The same liberal construction which is required for the protection of life and liberty, in all particulars in which life and liberty are of any value, should be applied to the protection of private property. If the legislature of a State, under pretense of providing for the public good, or for any other reason, can determine, against the consent of the owner, the uses to which private property shall be devoted, or the prices which the owner shall receive for its uses, it can deprive him of the property as completely as by a special act for its confiscation or destruction. If, for instance, the owner is prohibited from using his building for the purposes for which it was designed, it is of little con­sequence that he is permitted to retain the title and possession.

Justice Stephen J. Field’s dissenting opinion in Munn vs. Illinois, 94 U.S., 113, (1877)


June 1965

comments powered by Disqus


* indicates required


December 2014

Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
Download Free PDF




Essential Works from FEE

Economics in One Lesson (full text)


The full text of Hazlitt's famed primer on economic principles: read this first!


Frederic Bastiat's timeless defense of liberty for all. Once read and understood, nothing ever looks the same.


There can be little doubt that man owes some of his greatest suc­cesses in the past to the fact that he has not been able to control so­cial life.


Leonard Read took the lessons of entrepreneurship with him when he started his ideological venture.


No one knows how to make a pencil: Leonard Read's classic (Audio, HTML, and PDF)