In December of 1849, 28-year old Fyodor Dostoevsky was sentenced to four years in exile at a labor camp in western Siberia for reading works of radical Russian literary critic Belinsky. During his time at the camp, Dostoevksy's perspective on life drastically changed. His four years of experience in exile, as well as an additional six years for continuing his questionable literary journey, Dostoevsky returned to Petersburg a sickly pale man and wrote the auto-biographical novel The House of the Dead.
In this novel he recapped the brutal and horrifying experiences he witnessed. Atrocities were committed by both the guards and inmates alike, and as the sensitive man he was this shook him to his core. So much so that it resulted in life-long seizures, one of which would result in a slew of hemmorages that would later claim his life in 1881. He was a religious man, though struggled to maintain his faith in the good Lord during his stay at the camp. And in a way, the novel served as a way to vent his closed off fears and frustration.
I first picked up the book in 3th grade as I was skimming the local libary's shelves. Though I didn't understand it much at the age of 8, it always brought about a sort of nostalgia whenever I returned to it. The main character Aleksandr offers a more gentle insight on an otherwise horrible place that many people don't bother to think about. His admiration for the inmate's courage and ingenuity shows that humanity and moral values exists even when corporal punishment is a constant.
This novel kickstarted my own admiration for people who overcome their preconceptions and repulsion for the convicted. And what does a child do when their inspired? They express it through any means necessary. In my case, it was through creating my own characters set in prison and exhibiting their varying degrees of humanity (though it has taken on a more comical nature and is nowhere near as serious nor mature as it used to be).
Attached below are just a few of the characters I made (carrd included: Wrecked Laws).
Wrecked Laws Story:
Heigi, a teenage boy in Reed Falls, has been working at his father's restaurant his entire life. Unknown to him, an inmate escapes from a far off reform school. This inmate bears a strinkingly sharp resemblance to Heigi, and when the police come knocking, Heigi is taken away from all he knows. After being the sole passenger on a long drive, he arrives at the Rorretville Reform School. Unfortunately the first person he meets is Arsen, a curious and oddly polite boy with questionable intentions. Arsen can tell right away that Heigi is not the inmate who had previously escaped, but he advises Heigi to play into that role. Arsen guides Heigi for the rest of the day and encourages him to start a club at the school if he hopes to have any shred of freedom. Heigi decides to propose a club to the school's council with the focus being the only thing he's good at: cooking. He is immediately shut down, much to Arsen's delight. In response, Heigi begins the club despite lacking the permission, equipment, and members.
Arsen lets Heigi know that clubs at the school need six members to be officially recognized. He proposes to Heigi that if he can find four other members, he'll join as the final sixth one. It takes Heigi a while to find members for his ideal "restaurant staff", though they only join for selfish reasons and/or out of fear. With all six members in check (Heigi, Arsen, Waylon, Mallory, Carter, and Gore), Heigi begins to train them into shape, claiming that for the school to function properly, every inmate must be treated with respect. He claims the goal of the club is to keep everyone well fed. This confuses his club members, and although they are hesitant at first, they eventually comply as Heigi breaks through to them.
Throughout the course of WL, Heigi and his club face on many difficult challenges involving the school's council, supernatural entities, the living and breathing school itself, the staff, other inmates, a 50 year old demonic curse cast by the warden wrought to claim the lives of all those present in the school, and of course... keeping the damn kitchen clean.