When a magistrate sentenced the literary genius to two years of hard labor for the crime of being gay, he said it was the maximum punishment allowed by law. That turned out to be truer than the judge might have imagined. It killed him.

In this country, we don’t have Victorian hard labor, as such, but we certainly have solitary confinement, beatings and other forms of brutality that are either sanctioned or tolerated.

When whistleblowers, often intellectual by nature, are treated as enemies of the state, should we not expect the maximum punishment from the state? That is to say, the worst treatment, the kind that can break your spirit, mind and body.

Wilde lived for a short while after prison, but there’s no doubt his time there expedited his death.

Jeremy Hammond, who was connected to the leaked Stratfor documents detailing the security firm’s nefarious dealings, was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

Barrett Brown, the journalist who shared a link to the Stratfor leak, then public information, will spend more than eight years in prison.

Chelsea Manning, who confirmed many of our worst suspicions about U.S. war and foreign policy, including the killing of civilians and journalists, was psychologically tortured for months on end and sentenced to 35 years in prison. The government asked for 60 years, to deter others with such bravery.

John Kiriakou, the CIA analyst and case officer who confirmed that the U.S. did in fact torture people, spent two years in prison. He is the only person tried in connection with the United States’ use of torture, for the crime of reporting it.

Tim DeChristopher, the environmental activist who bid on public land at auction in an effort to keep oil and gas firms from pillaging our common land, spent almost two years in prison.

I’m not saying these people will die as Oscar Wilde did only three years after release from prison, or that they will suffer the same hardships or life-ending injuries. But it seems obvious that prison is not good for your health and we should not dismiss any sentence as “light.”

Prison is prison, and the government knows it’s hurting our modern-day heroes by sending them there.

Oscar Wilde was not a whistleblower or an activist in the way the men and woman above have been, but he was an enemy of his state and its notion of decency. He was killed for it.

Wilde died of cerebral meningitis and ill health generally related to his time in prison. He possessed a great mind and was perhaps the sharpest wit in history. Before passing, he remarked, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go.”

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