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"Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane" also attempts to answer this question: Can anything good come out of prison; can a man be free while in prison? According to H. Bruce Franklin in "The Literature of the American Prison," the name of Knight's hero, "Hard Rock," is a complicated pun on the American penal system and rock/jazz music as well. To the poet, Hard Rock epitomizes freedom. Hard Rock "is known not to take no shit/from nobody, " and "he had the scars to prove it." Hard Rock is his own person--a "free man," though imprisoned. Unable to bear this, "the doctors had bored a hole in his head,/Cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity/ Through the rest." The doctors had not cut off Hard Rock's legs to restrict his movement--his movement was already restricted in "the violent space," "the Hole"--; instead, they cut out his brain to restrict his free thinking.

The prisoners reminisce about Hard Rock and his free spirit, which they had admired:

". . . Man, the last time, it took eight Screws to put him in the Hole." "Yeah, remember when he Smacked the captain with his dinner tray?" "He set the record for time in the Hole -- 67 straight days !" "Ol Hard Rock! man, that's one crazy nigger." And then the jewel of a myth that Hard Rock once bit A screw on the thumb and poisoned him with syphilitic spit.

Hard Rock was, at one time, the living example of a free man imprisoned. But after they tampered with his brain, his spirit suddenly "was really tame/. . . a screw who knew Hard Rock/From before shook him down and barked in his face/And Hard Rock did nothing. Just grinned and looked silly./His eyes empty like knot holes in a fence." Hard Rock, the Black man whom they believed could not be smashed, is suddenly broken: ". . . we turned away, our eyes on the ground. Crushed./He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things/We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do." Hard Rock comes to symbolize the Black man inside and outside of prison walls who has been broken, eventually, by the overpowering forces in an oppressive society.