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A practice of the Slave to PR.

In Tropeland, people tend to get captured quite often. Therefore, when your favourite character is slapped in irons and thrown into the brig, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Stuff like this happens all the time, and you can be assured he'll be free again by the next commercial...

Wait, what's going on? Why's he just sitting there doing absolutely nothing?

In many characters' lives there might come a moment when leaving a prison would be against everything they stand for. After all, if they can't obey the law, how could they demand it from anyone else? Besides, they didn't do it, so there's nothing to worry about.

Other characters stick around just because they're better off behind bars. There they are safe from the evils (or goods, as it may be) of the world, possibly lulling their enemies into a false sense of security. Alternatively, they're there just because this week's Plot Coupon is there as well, and the easiest way in happened to be through the front gate.

Often lampshaded with the characters demonstrating just how easy breaking out would be. They might also be forced to insist to be let to stay, if they are in danger of getting freed prematurely. If they're waiting to get legally released, they may just escape as the order comes, to show that they can.

Usually takes place in a Cardboard Prison or a Luxury Prison Suite. If the character was arrested to foil some Evil Plan when getting arrested was their true goal, than its a form of Xanatos Gambit. When capital punishment is involved, it's Forgiveness Requires Death. When they invoke the aid of another character, it often overlaps with No Matter How Much I Beg or Kind Restraints.

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Examples of Self-Restraint include:


Anime

  • In the first episode of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Kamina is thrown in the village lockup after trying to break out. He chills in the jail for a while until Simon shows up and says he found something interesting. At that point he casually snaps his wrist restraints and walks out.
  • Fujin and Raijin in Naruto. They are strong enough to bend the bars of the cell and leave at any time but as long as they have food they are content enough to stay there.
    • In the actual manga, Tobi pulls this off after a failed attempt at kidnapping, where he is bound by Yamato's Wood style and takes the opportunity to gives some exposition before leaving like he could have at any point.
  • Light in Death Note, as part of his Clear My Name Memory Gambit.
  • In one ep of Trigun, Vash goes into a hostage situation and gets captured and even beat up while pretending to be The Ditz (right trope?). The villains tie him up. Once during his captivity he frees himself (quickly) long enough to take a shot at something, and later when everything goes south he's suddenly free of his ropes and able to rescue a girl from the line of fire. When the villain glances his way, he gives a start and swiftly tries to tie himself up again - but the villain says, "I know you could have freed yourself at any time."
  • In Soul Eater the villain Medusa lets herself get captured by the good guys for absolutely no reason other than to taunt them by forcing them to make a deal involving her safe release in exchange for information. During the negotiation she asks them to remove her bindings, and when its pointed out that she could've done so herself at any time responds with "There's no meaning to it if I do it myself." Magnificent Bitch indeed.
    • In the manga however, this is all a part of a huge Xanatos Gambit to gain the DWMA's trust so that they allow her to take command of the students during the raid on Arachnaphobia. She lies and tells the kids that her purpose for this is that Arachne has taken Crona. Her REAL purpose is to get her sister Arachne out of the way and take her body. Medusa later reveals to Maka that she was using them the entire time and that Crona has gone too far off the deep end to go back Maka and co. Most definitely a Manipulative Bitch.
    • When he Kid is visiting the Witch world he initially humors them by pretending to be restrained by the ropes they tied him up with, but eventually points out he could break them and kill everyone in the room. He then breaks the ropes, but only so he could ask for help in the Pose of Supplication.
  • In the last episode of Weiss Kreuz Gluhen, Ken is shown to be in prison - which, we discover, is apparently by his own choice, and it's implied that he can get back out whenever he wants but is simply using it as a form of self-imposed penance and a chance to think.
  • Subverted in Monster, when Tenma gives a false confession just to be able to escape during a transfer to another prison.
  • In the first episode of Fist of the North Star, Kenshiro initially makes no effort to escape from jail, even passing up a chance to grab the keys. When he hears that Zeed kills women and children, he bends open the bars to his cell to kick some butt-ugly ass.

Comic Books

  • In Asterix and the Laurel Wreath, the heroes get imprisoned and break out of their cell during the night to search the palace above, only to return once they don't find what they're looking for.
    • Later, in Asterix and the Banquet, they let themselves be captured, but as the roman attempt to wrap them in chains, they keep moving and breaking them because of the magic potion, to the Roman's smith's great distress.
  • Superman. Because he's the Superman.
  • The Amerimanga Gold Digger has Crush, a former superheroine who was blackmailed into serving a supervillain; she accepted her prison sentence and refuses to seek parole, despite being a model prisoner who helps keep her prison in order. She's trying to repent for "going native" and killing a petty criminal who was actually an undercover policeman.
    • Later the main character Gina Diggers joined her temporarily for trying to steal a device from one of her unscrupulous rivals in order to save her lost sister, when the authorities, include Gina's pops, were already there to pick it up legitimately from said rival
  • In one of the Captain America novels, Cap is kidnapped by a militia group to be put on "trial" for not doing enough to help "real Americans." Cap can and does break out of jail, but he does it secretly to pass along information to other superheroes and law enforcement. He then breaks back in, with the militia none the wiser. This ensures they stay focused on his trial and keep all the best militia members guarding him, so only the B-squad is available to carry out the actual nefarious plan, which is thus thwarted by Cap's partner the Falcon.
  • A lengthy plot in New Warriors involved Marvel Boy accidentally killing his abusive father with his powers, and being found guilty of manslaughter. When the rest of the Warriors show up to break him out of prison, he refuses to go--he did the crime, he'll do the time.
  • Happens a lot in the Dozerfeet Megaverse.
    • After becoming Semaphry, Kayla Tarington is easily able to mogriff her way out of prison at any time. She waits for a restored Morlikus to negotiate a reduced sentence for her anyway, content to know that Vinny can be rescued from the toy spell (again!) and that Gwirmalesh is no longer a threat to anyone.
    • In Ciem: Inferno, it's pretty obvious that Candi could have broken out of jail at any time. Yet, she feels horrible for letting the existence of Zeran wardrobes slip to local authorities (and even worse about breaking the house rules by sleeping with her boyfriend,) so she begrudgingly submits herself to the insane Gerosha justice system.
    • In Sodality: Vindication, the captured members of the Sodalities of Gerosha and Florence rarely bother with escape from SCALLOP custody; in spite clearing of their names being relatively easy, public opposition to the Kirby Act, and the fact that the courts handling them seem to make up the rules and renegotiate verdicts and sentences at the drop of a hat.
      • Candi knows that while all her actions are justifiable, staying behind bars improves her husband and son's chances of getting out and staying out with minimal harassment. Dolly likewise agrees to stay in longer, if only to provide Candi with some company. (They did escape Ameristan together.) This also allows Jeraime (and later Ron) to help Donte find jobs, and for the men to have easier access to their wives when not otherwise busy.
      • Stephanie is concerned about the brain damage she suffered in Pilltar 2, and how she's developing similar problems to those her father had to endure in the Iraq war. Fearing that her mental health is in jeopardy, she views SCALLOP custody as a surefire guarantee that she'll get sent to a mental health clinic if her mind ever does deteriorate too much. (And it does.)
      • Hea and Tabitha know all too well about Icy Finger infiltration in the government. However, they also know that if the law is focusing on keeping them as prisoners, it will be too distracted to pay much-needed attention to the Gray Champion as he weeds out the infiltration.
      • Celia, Michelle, and Angelo could have easily avoided arrest after saving downtown Houston from Lionfish. But they each had their own personal agenda, and getting caught worked to their advantage.
      • Mingmei has easily demonstrated herself smart enough to engineer her way out of SCALLOP prison, especially since the guards aren't too smart and one of them is even infatuated with her. However, her night terrors and visions of Fire and Brimstone Hell have convinced her she needs to stay close to Wilbur for spiritual guidance. For this and various other honor-based reasons, she allows herself to remain detained.
    • The main characters in Camelorum Adventures are equally only staying at Camelorum out of respect for the ideas of law, order, and justice; and not because they couldn't break out at any time.
      • Candace, Barry, Carly, and Emily view their 3-year sentences as an opportunity to learn to control their Xomian powers, treating their correctional center almost as if it were the X-Mansion rather than a prison. Since they get along so well with the warden and staff, they are generally allowed to get away with this (unless the mayor complains that they're getting too popular.) Then again, Candace also plays along because she and the guard Patrick Pitterson fall in love. Even that is tolerated to an unusual degree.
      • Even Jackie/Laney, in spite not being Xomified and not having any powers, finds it really easy to escape Camelorum. Yet, most prisoners there don't bother with escape.
    • Former Bison possession victims usually stay in jail willingly, for fear they will get re-possesssed if they leave and that the Bison will force them to hurt their loved ones.
    • Liquidon waits for the Voyagers to bail him out on Neothode, rather than escape, in spite easily being powerful enough.
    • Cherinob frequently agrees to being locked up, as the corruption caused by Astirnah's bugs and Kritchobol's shard is making it harder and harder for her to manifest her armor - and she can only maintain her mesh with great pain. Staying in prison means she can drain her radioactive energy and avoid becoming a Walking Wasteland endangering the very humanity she's called to protect. Also, facilities that take her in notice a significant drop in guard corruption, rape, and fights. Nobody wants to become 2.5-Mrad goop on the floor.

Film

  • In The Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick allows bounty hunter Toombs and his goons to capture him and take him to the prison planet of Crematoria where he has unfinished business. It is unclear whether the entire Crematoria plot is actually a Gambit Roulette of Riddick's...
  • In Support Your Local Sheriff, James Garner's character has one of the bad guys so badly buffaloed that he's willing to stay in a jail cell that has no bars, just a line drawn on the floor to indicate where the bars should be.
  • Marv in the film of Sin City: He gets chained up and interrogated, then breaks his chains just as he's about to be let free. He explains that it's because he Wouldn't Hit a Girl.
    • Another Sin City example is Hartigan, who actually had to claim to have committed a crime, but was innocent. His refusal was partly because of his distrust of his captors (who were paid off by a corrupt US senator who wanted to make him pay for trying to take down his Complete Monster of a son), and partly because he didn't want to be associated with the seriously heinous crime in question.
    • Also Wallace in Hell And Back is arrested by the Basin City police, and as they reach his cell, he removes the handcuffs himself.
  • In Hancock, when he turns himself in to improve his public relations he is basically kept there on the honor system. This is demonstrated at one point when he jumps over the fence to retrieve a basketball and then goes right back in.
  • In Serenity, River is handcuffed and locked in a sealed storage room after she goes berserk. She stays in there for a while as the movie progresses, but she eventually manages to puzzle through her own telepathy-induced schizophrenia and realizes she needs to access the navigation computer - at which point she slips out of her restraints and knocks out Jayne when he comes into the room, making it clear that if she wanted to she could have escaped at any point. She instead stayed there because the rest of the crew were terrified of her.

Literature

  • In the Discworld novel Guards! Guards! Vetinari is usurped and thrown into prison. He has anticipated this, and the most secure cell happens to have its lock on the inside.
    • Leonard of Quirm could escape any time he wants to, but prefers the peace of prison.
      • Leonard of Quirm designed his own prison cell, and the traps in the hallway leading up to it! He's practically a boarder.
  • In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer convinces Jim that he can't just walk out of his cabin, and has to make his escape in a properly epic fashion. Jim's already legally been freed but Tom's keeping it a secret
  • Horatio Hornblower, after being released from a Spanish prison to aid in a rescue mission at sea, refuses to stay on British ship that eventually picks them up, because he had given the Spanish his parole.
    • The British captain is little pleased by this. Even less when Hornblower points out that the Spanish with him must be released as they were engaged in rescue at sea. British Naval regulations must be cited before the Captain agrees, but he did agree.
    • Hornblower ends up being exchanged early as a result though, and promoted to Lieutenant.
  • A couple of Orson Scott Card's Tales of Alvin Maker books have done this. Alvin can pretty much go wherever he wants, whenever he wants, but allowed himself to be kept imprisoned twice, though I seem to recall he eventually broke out the second time because there was an emergency.
  • In J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin get captured by the Uruk-Hai, manage to free themselves and then keep wearing their bonds while they wait for the right moment to escape.
    • Subverted when Frodo is captured - Tolkien makes no mention of any sort of restraint on him AND his guards have almost completely annihilated one another, but seeing as he's malnourished, in mental anguish from being separated from the Ring, and also sick from Shelob's poison, he is unable to escape.
  • Subverted in Arsène Lupin in Prison as there's no question that Lupin is guilty or could easily escape. The only reason he stays in prison is so he is able to pull off a caper that could only be done if he were in prison. In the next story The Escape of Arsène Lupin his first escape from prison is part of a plan for particularly spectacular escape.
    • His descendent Lupin III has done exactly the same thing on several occasions.
  • In Stephen Pressfield's Tides of War, this happens with Socrates, representing the Truth in Television event, at least if Plato's Crito is accurate.
  • Happens briefly in Codex Alera, when a group of Alerans are imprisoned by being put on the top of a tower, with no nearby buildings to jump to, no way to climb, and generally no way down. The only way to escape the prison is to fly
    • They stay because they need to talk to the person who threw them in prison.


Live Action TV

  • Supernatural: The Winchesters purposely trip a motion detector to get themselves arrested so they can investigate a haunted prison.
    • In another episode they allow themselves to be committed to a mental institute to investigate the deaths of patients. When they are done, they just walk out of the place with minimum of effort.
  • How can we forget Andre Linoge?
  • As part of her Heel Face Turn on Angel Faith turns herself in to the police and is sent to prison for a murder she committed back on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her breakout when a Slayer is needed 3 seasons later proves she could have escaped any time.
  • On Bones, not only the main character's father, but her brother, do this to restore her respect in them.
    • Zack also demonstrated the ability to escape quite easily.
  • An early episode of Stargate SG-1 has Teal'c captured and put on "trial" for killing a man years ago (when he served Apophis). It's an absurd Kangaroo Court, the team is fully armed, the locals have only medieval weapons, and the Stargate can't be more than thirty feet away. The only complication: Teal'c is guilty as charged, and refuses escape. Even after the Goa'uld attack and Teal'c is freed and armed to join the fighting, he shows up for his scheduled execution.
    • Needless to say, the locals have changed their mind about sentencing by this point.
  • One episode of The Outer Limits (the newer series) has a self-aware robot called Adam that had just killed its creator after said creator, on the behest of the government, tried to erase Adam's personality and reprogram him as a mindless weapon. Most of the episode consisted of a trial determining whether or not Adam should be considered a person fit to stand trial or a piece of haywire machinery that should be immediately scrapped. The entire time he is cuffed with rather hefty restraints. In the end Adam wins the right to stand trial as a person. However, as everyone is leaving the courthouse, the prosecuting attorney who argued against Adam's humanity accidentally walks into the path of a truck. Adam effortlessly breaks his restraints and pushes her out of the way, sacrificing himself in the process.
  • Neal Caffrey on White Collar broke out of prison 3 months before the end of his sentence to find his girlfriend. This suggests that he could have left at any time. It is also ridiculous that the 'tracking anklet' he has in the first season can literally be cut off by a pair of scissors. If he wanted to leave, 5 minutes would be more than enough time to disappear.
  • Played for laughs in Arrested Development when GOB ends up in a coalition-run prison in Iraq. The whole thing is actually a government trick to get him to lead them to some evidence against his father, and they keep intentionally giving him opportunities to escape, but he just points out their "mistakes" each time rather than taking advantage of them.
  • Corner Gas: Davis voluntarily goes to jail for charity; the jail cell hasn't had a proper lock for years.
  • At least until "The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone" River Song of Doctor Who is imprisoned in the Stormcage Prison for some not-yet-specified crime (implied to be murder, possibly of the Doctor himself). When she needs to (normally to go off on some adventure with the Doctor), she will happily escape and even let the guards see her packing her bags and inform them of her plans, and then return to her cell willingly when the adventure is done. Why she does this instead of just leaving for good is not clear, although it is possible that, in her ridiculously convoluted time-travel relationship with the Doctor, she needs somewhere where she can reliably be expected to be.
    • As of "The Wedding Of River Song" we know that she is indeed imprisoned for killing the Doctor, but didn't really, and that part of the reason she remains in prison is to provide clear historical evidence to the Silents that the Doctor was, in fact, killed.
  • In The Jailhouse Job on Leverage _Nate, arrested in the season 2 finale, refuses the team's offer of rescue until someone else is in trouble.

Mythology and Religion

  • Christ Jesus, who willingly gave himself up to suffer something as terrible as crucifixion so we wouldn't have to, making this Older Than Feudalism: "Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and he will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53 NKJV)
    • In the same book, two missionaries (Paul and Silas, to be exact) are locked up in jail when a miracle happens and the jail wall collapses. The guard freaks out that he'll be punished, but then sees that they just stayed in their cell singing hymns.

Video Games

  • Cody from Street Fighter Alpha 3 has a tendency to leave his prison cell, pick fights with other fighters, then return to the cell. He also wears handcuffs that he can remove at any time. He's a bit hard to take seriously, even by his Final Fight compatriots.
  • In Breath of Fire, you encounter Karn for the first time when you get thrown in jail. He's sleeping there. Bug him enough and he'll open the doors so you can escape... then go back to sleep.
  • In Tales of Symphonia Dawn of the New World, Izoold has been damaged by several acts of arson. The man in jail for these crimes is Regal Bryant, wearing his trademark shackles. After you clear his name, he is released from jail, whereupon he immediately breaks his shackles and suggests that Izoold use a stronger brand (from the Lezareno company, natch).
    • Regal did this in earlier in Tales of Symphonia, using a Kamehameha Hadoken to destroy the prison cell he and the party were stuck in. He only did this once the party had exhausted all other options, and it took little effort on his behalf. He refuses to use his hands to destroy anything, as he had to Mercy Kill the woman he loved with them.
  • In Final Fantasy VIII, Rinoa surrenders herself to be imprisoned and have her sorceress powers sealed in order to prevent the Big Bad from being able to possess her. Then Squall breaks her back out anyway, but it was a nice thought.

Web Comics

  • Miss Dynamite from the webcomic of the same name stays in jail (at the first chapters) just because they keep her comfortable.
  • A recent plot development in Girl Genius has Agatha posing as a murderer because the prison itself is the latest Plot Coupon.
  • Implied to be the case with the inhumanly strong and almost literally unstoppable Mister Inertia in General Protection Fault, as he seems to be waiting for something while in UGA captivity.
  • Frequently subverted in Schlock Mercenary. The company policy is that when a mercenary is arrested they stay put and don't break anything, because posting bail is fairly cheap and doesn't have the drawback of making the government issue a warrant for you in case you want to come back to the system. Unfortunately, mercenaries get bored.
    • Schlock has broken out of prison and then had to break back in at least once.
  • In It's Walky, Sal is sent to prison. It would take no effort to bust out of there using her superhuman strength, but she stays on principle.
  • In Order of the Stick, Roy tells his companions not to free him and Belkar when they were imprisoned by the Empire of Blood... or at least not until they've secured information about Girard's Gate from General Tarquin.

Western Animation

  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Avatar Day", Aang refuses to break out when one of his previous incarnations is accused of murder. He even gets slapped into stocks. The problem is they're designed for adults, so Aang, who is pretty skinny anyway, has no trouble at all taking them off when he wants to.
    • Later, in "The Earth King", rock restraints are put on Aang's wrists. Since Aang has been training as an Earthbender, this is pointless, but Aang lets them stay on so he can make a good impression. He even briefly takes them off to wave, then puts them back on.
    • This happens to Bumi when he is imprisoned by the Fire nation, he willingly restrains himself until the Firebenders lose their powers so it is easier for him to escape.
  • In one episode of the Mister T cartoon (!!) from the 80s (!!!!!), Mr. T is arrested for theft; his friends ask why he doesn't just break out and he then proceeds to demonstrate that he could -- and quite easily -- but he says that he is innocent and therefore has no need to run away.
  • Demonstrated several times in the Justice League series.
    • Green Lantern John Stewart is tried and convicted of destroying a planet, and although he could easily resist arrest and escape (particularly with the help of the rest of the JL), he doesn't because he feels people with that kind of power need to be held accountable (plus, the set up is so good that even he thinks he's guilty).
    • When Flash is mind-controlled and commits a crime in "The Brave and the Bold". Green Lantern hauls him out of the confession room, informing the police that Flash must be innocent; if he were guilty he would already have escaped. Flash then proceeds to demonstrate how he can't be held by handcuffs. He'd been willing to stay, but Lantern was too impatient to wait for him to be exonerated.
    • The Justice League is accused of firing their BFG on a government base, and six of the founding seven (Batman refuses) turn themselves in. As they're going into custody, one MP asks if they should cuff the superheroes. His superior scoffs, saying something to the tune of, "Do you really think that would make a difference?"
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer and Bart get arrested in Japan and are put in a jail cell... with paper walls. Only after his bail is paid and the door is opened does Homer walk through the wall.
    • Granted, this is Homer's Running Gag in this episode.
      • In another episode, we see that one of the prisons in Springfield operates on the honor system. And most of the prisoners actually comply.
  • Played with by Fox of Gargoyles. When Coyote is breaking out all of other members of The Pack, she decides to stay. The thing is, the entire set up was a Xanatos Gambit by her lover, Xanatos himself, to significantly reduce her sentence for good behavior. If she joined the break out she'd have to worry about being re-arrested. The actions of the Pack were meaningless to achieve this goal and Xanatos knew they'd be swiftly recaptured.
    • Xanatos himself served his prison time quietly during a significant chunk of Season 1, despite having the impressive resources of his multinational corporation to call upon.
  • Beast in the 90s X-Men cartoon was once wrongly sent to prison. Magneto, thinking this would make him bitter, broke him out in an attempt to recruit him as an ally - at which point Beast politely asked him to leave, as he wished to stand trial and prove his innocence.
  • In the Ruby-Spears Mega Man cartoon, one episode had Mega get arrested by humans who, thanks to Wily, thought he was behind the Evil Plan of the week. As he didn't want to harm the humans, he let himself be handcuffed and led away. When his name was cleared, he snapped the cuffs easily.
  • In the Transformers Generation 1 2-parter "Megatron's Master Plan", Megatron tricks the world into believing that the Autobots are evil and the Decepticons are good. Despite being easily powerful enough to do whatever they feel like regardless of public opinion, the Autobots submit to arrest, sit through a trial, and agree to be banished from the planet, only deciding to come back after Megatron reprograms their navigation system to fly them into the sun.
  • On The Looney Tunes Show, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are put in prison, and Bugs finds that prison life agrees with him; free meals, free gym, and best of all, protection from the other prisoners so he can insult them indiscriminently ("It's a smart-aleck's paradise!"). When they both escape shackled to each other, all Bugs wants is to turn himself in. And once they have served their sentence, Bugs has to be dragged out kicking and screaming.

Real Life

  • Truth in Television, every now and then. The one that comes to this troper's mind involves a preacher who was sued for libel and refused to post bail to make a point. The prison wasn't particularly nice, either, and aggravated his health problems. OTOH, his accuser was discredited and fled the country.
  • If we are to believe the autobiography of the Renaissance goldsmith and sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini, he was guilty of several crimes during his lifetime. However, the time he went to jail was for no real crime (a false accusation by his servant). Yet, since it was his "first" offense - he was never caught previously - he was not locked in, but allowed to roam the St. Angelo castle, where he was imprisoned, quite freely. Touched by the kindness of the castle's governor, Cellini stayed in jail freely, despite even the soldiers in the castle offering to aid him in his escape, since they were aware that he was condemned wrongly. Cellini's word, however was a word of honor.
    • Nonetheless, this trope was subverted some time later, when the governor, prone to sudden bouts of schizophrenic disassociation (thinking himself a pitcher of oil, a frog and whatnot), as well as paranoia, decided, during one of these, to confine Cellini to an actual cell. The goldsmith took offense and promised to make a jailbreak as soon as possible. He did so in one of the most daring lone jailbreaks known to history, breaking his leg in the process and limping with an open wound about half a kilometer to Florence, where he made his final escape.
  • Socrates, having been condemned to death by the Athenians, was urged by his friends to flee the city. Instead, he chose to stay and be executed to make the point that he loved virtue more than life.

Notes

  1. Not to be confused with a Fetish known as "self-bondage".
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