Marks and Parlor

Janice Konstantinidis
4 min readSep 15

A Magdalene Laundry Tale

The composition of Mount Saint Canice was intricate, a chaotic blending of lifetimes — elderly women incarcerated for years, young women tethered to the mundane rituals of the convent farm. A voluntary contingent, their existence further complicating the mechanics of the institution. And then there were the “wayward” ones, who, for my money, were merely the output of a corrosive system designed to break us all.

It’s taken me years to articulate the nature of our collective victimhood, decades to fathom that my sense of worthlessness was manufactured, the inevitable outcome of a facility conceived to make us all small and manageable. So, my narrative aims not at bitterness but elucidation, shedding light on the subtle dimensions of power and domination that such institutions impose.

This environment didn’t just specialize in obvious calamities — unplanned pregnancies, seizures, and the quiet tragedies of self-harm or suicide. It cultivated subtler forms of oppression. In a place where ‘liberty’ and ‘home’ felt like antiquated notions, my recollections pivot between the spectral and the keenly felt — a compound of neglect, labor, and trepidation.

Mount Saint Canice offered us a semblance of what some might dub grace every other Sunday. This was “the Parlor,” a space where the walls momentarily receded, a place for the mingling of the encaged with the superficially liberated.

The place where we might see our families — if we were worthy.

Being beckoned to the Parlor was not a tribute to one’s value but rather a mark of one’s submission to the system. A ledger of our worth was kept: a point for chores, a point for decorum, another for sartorial and hygienic precision. It felt like life and love had been distilled into a grading system, arbitrated by unseen judges.

Don’t be fooled — this wasn’t meritocracy but rather a subterfuge. These marks were tickets, allowing us the scarce pleasure of human interaction, as if the simple joys of camaraderie were in short supply, portioned out along with our meager, but also conditional, pocket money of six shillings a fortnight for eighty hours hard labor.

The unspoken yet glaringly evident lesson was this: the governing structures can make even joy contingent, can ration comfort, and can traffic in souls. So, we participated willingly in this emotional marketplace, tempering our voices and grooming ourselves, not out of…

Janice Konstantinidis

I am a lover of fine cheese, my dogs, my garden, knitting, photography, writing and more!