In the cell close by sat a child’s murderess. I saw her only through the little glass in the door. She had had heard our footsteps; heard us speak; but she sat still, squeezed up into the corner by the door, as if she would hide herself as much as possible: her back was bent, her head almost on a level with her lap, and her hands folded over it. They said this unfortunate creature was very young.
–Hans Christian Andersen, Pictures of Sweden, 1851
Maja Lisa was 22-years-old when she was sent to prison. We know that she gave birth in August 1838 and, assuming she was afforded the usual month to recover, and assuming there was a hearing in Vartofta härad district court, it was probably late autumn by the time she was carried away from her home in a horse drawn cart, fifty miles, to Mariestad, the capital of Skaraborg County. She had perhaps never been so far away from home. Most people in those days never went further than the nearest market town.
I found one description of Mariestad prison in 1835.
It consisted then of a granite building with a seven cubits high wall all around. (10.5 feet)The building contained 13 cells.The building was probably built in 1749.When Sweden instituted a comprehensive penitentiary reform in the mid-1800s, Mariestad’s prison was one of the first to be designated as dilapidated and inappropriate.
Those who were put on bread and water soon became emaciated and those sentenced to this often came from social groups that were already malnourished when they were imprisoned and were lacking in any form of fat reserves. If they then also encountered stomach diseases in prison with diarrhea and vomiting, the body very quickly became depleted of salts and minerals . This just got worse and worse with no access to nutritious food. Salt and mineral deficiency caused severe cramping and disorientation, often leading to a very painful death by starvation.
Prisoners got to drink as much water as they wanted, but often it was dirty. Also the more they drank, the more they peed. This led in turn to the body even more rapidly becoming depleted of salts.
Furthermore, there were strict orders that the [type of] bread that was given to the prisoners on bread and water was not to be fortified with salt; they were to get the same bread as the other prisoners. Furthermore, a sentence on bread and water was to be served without interruption so it was not possible, so to speak, to cancel the sentence if the prisoner became ill.