America's inescapable debtor's prison

What would Charles Dickens say?

Debt in America can be a never-ending cycle.
(Image credit: Ikon Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

Is there any phrase more Dickensian than "debtor's prison"? The term conjures the trappings of a lost epoch of society, as history has a way of cobwebbing even prison walls enough to make them seem quaint. You imagine dripping stone, piles of straw, perhaps some nice chains to rattle.

The term "debtor's prison" seems even more archaic than whatever images even "gaol" or "Newgate" might conjure, because of the intrinsic fact that debtor's prison is a place. This image alone allows the debtor's prison to seem distant enough to become almost picturesque: At least today, we think, America doesn't lock up people for debt. In fact, the way debt can follow citizens today suggests a yet more insidious kind of punishment — one in which every space the debtor occupies becomes its own prison.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.

SUBSCRIBE & SAVE
https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/flexiimages/jacafc5zvs1692883516.jpg

Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us