I have three new stories in the most recent issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review. You can grab the issue here.
You can also read one of the stories below, which is about the controversial subject of moon prisons.
Yours in the regolith,
Prisoners on the Moon
When the initial steps were taken, most of the plan’s organizers were focused on the simple practicality of the decision. With the success of the newer space stations farther out, the moon was no longer being put to much use as a transportation hub. The hundreds of dormitories that once housed the staff needed to operate the moon’s electromagnetic freight cannons and launch compounds were now mostly empty. And while the colony’s public administrators would have been happy to sell the place off to commercial developers of condominiums and resorts, the idea seemed laughable. After all, who would want to go to the moon?
Enough generations had brought back reports to Earth of what a grim, undesirable place it was: one’s waking hours confined to industrial facilities overlooking pale deserts of regolith interrupted only by desolate-looking craters, the view obscured by the persistent layer of corrosive dust that accumulated on every porthole and window.
A man slumped forward on his barstool is asked what it was like to live there for eleven years. He shrugs. “They run your piss through algae, and then you drink it.”
So the idea to turn the place into a prison seemed like the only way to make sure that the moon’s existing infrastructure would not go to waste, though the public initially resisted the notion. Not because it seemed cruel to banish prisoners from the planet. After all, these were violent offenders with no possibility of parole. But because the moon had still managed to maintain a symbolic resonance in most people’s imaginations. Even if it was an uninviting place to visit, the moon as it appeared in the night sky was still a sight that filled people with inarticulate longings and a somber type of hopefulness.
A similar attitude had been a hurdle for those who had first wanted to turn the moon into a center for shipping and transportation. All initiatives for that project first had to be ratified by an international committee, whose firm consensus had been that “any facilities established on the moon should be camouflaged so as to imitate its surface and thus not diminish its natural beauty as seen from the Earth.”
But even after this new plan to send prisoners to the moon had been approved, on the grounds that it would bring about no noticeable changes to the night sky, there was still some widespread discomfort at the thought of it. One of the advantages of terrestrial prisons, people realized, was that they were always out of sight, so easy to forget about or ignore. Driving down a rural interstate, one saw a series of squat buildings in the distance surrounded by barbed wire. Such a facility was passed by so quickly that most people barely had time to realize that it was a prison containing the sum of so many brutal, unfortunate lives.
Once the first cohort of prisoners had been sent, no one could look up at the night sky without imagining a line of convicts being led to a cellblock amid the long darkness of a lunar night. In the minds of observers, the moon had become populated with sad-eyed men and women who looked down at the Earth and thought about their hometowns, the sound of rain, the feeling of being inside the world and looking out as opposed to outside the world and looking in. The notion that anyone could be locked away at all, even here on Earth and even if they had done everything to deserve it, suddenly seemed like madness. This aspect of society that people had managed to disregard for so long was now taking place on a stage that occupied a central place in their imaginations, and the resulting surge of empathy was undeniable.
Over time there was a groundswell of prison and judicial reform. People began to call for less aggressive sentencing and an emphasis on rehabilitation. They demanded public inspectors be sent to the moon to ensure that living conditions there were adequate. Some concerned citizens were even moved to join advocacy groups or write letters to their representatives asking that dubious cases be reopened and sentences overturned. Wrongly accused men and women were brought back to Earth two and three at a time.
Of course, there were many prisoners who were unquestionably guilty, those who expressed no remorse and whose hatred of their fellow man indicated clearly that their place was on the moon. And yet even the removal of such wretched individuals was never cause for celebration. People quietly mourned the existence of these prisoners, not because of the particular offenses they had committed, but because of the evil that innocent men and women were forced to commit in denying these criminals their freedom.
No matter how equitably punishments were decided on or carried out, the sight of the moon, once beautiful, now instilled a deeply moral sadness. Its waning usually came as some relief, a thin crescent perhaps even obscured by a dark bank of clouds. But when full, it looked bigger than ever. There were nights when it seemed to fill the whole sky. When there was no place else to look.