The research investigates the male prison experience, and the issues of masculinity that are raised through incarceration, addressing the concern that, if crime is a potential resource for ‘doing gender’ (Messerschmidt 1993 : 84), especially when other legitimate resources are unavailable, then how do men accomplish their masculinities? In particular, how do men achieve masculinities in an environment such as the prison, where they are deprived from more legitimate gender resources (Sykes 1958), particularly in light of the additional pressures put upon men in terms of their expected masculine performances (West and Zimmerman 1987; Butler 1990) in the eyes of other men (Kimmel 1994)? Consideration is given to how men in prison are made to perform their masculine identities in ways that are very different to how they would be expected to behave outside, mainly due to the fact that such resources for establishing masculine self (family, work, heterosexual relations, etc.) are unavailable or restricted within the prison setting, and the key audience(s) for masculine performance are highly masculine gazers. Thought is also given to how prison places men in the feminine position in so many unseen ways—unexpected in such a hypermasculine environment.
This research directly investigates the effects of the prison as an institution upon adult men, looking at their masculine identities, interactions, and experiences. This was achieved by undertaking 31 semi-structured interviews with incarcerated men, and through observations and reflections (in the form of research diaries) of the prison setting, which occurred during the four-month fieldwork period in an adult male category C training prison. The resultant qualitative data was analysed using theories of masculinities as an explanatory framework to explore the underresearched concept that criminality is dominated by men, and therefore most prisoners are men, yet little is asked or understood about the men who commit crimes and end up incarcerated, or the masculinities they hold. The project is distinctive on a number of levels, but primarily because the majority of studies of the prison fail to address the masculinities that lie at the heart of the institution, looking at other variables such as class, race, age, and so on, instead of the key distinctive feature—the dominance of men (who make up 95 % of prisoners in England and Wales). The book aims to satisfy the need for greater attention to the gendered dimensions of the penal system and ordinary men’s experiences of it (rather than simply focusing upon extreme examples that sensationalise crime and criminology), in addition to addressing the need for wider attention to be given to the prison experience as a whole, rather than merely focusing upon the negative aspects. In addition, the research draws upon reflexive processes by including the researcher’s perspectives on the gendered prison experience in order to add to the understanding of the gendered nature of the prison. The research diaries kept allowed an extra dimension of gender to be gleaned—not least because the young female researcher’s gender was often used as a juxtaposing force for prisoners to ‘bounce’ their masculinities off—in addition to placing the researcher firmly within the subjective research context.
Moreover, the informing interest here is the mature (but not aged) masculinity so poorly understood within crime, criminality, and beyond. Such are the differences between male and female offenders that men’s position within the prison system is seen as ‘normal’ and in keeping with masculine traits of aggression, dominance, and deviance. Men are viewed in this way to such an extent that their gender becomes invisible—the term prisoner becomes assumed to mean male prisoner (Wykes and Welsh 2009: 57); thus, analysing adult men’s experiences of incarceration explicitly as male/masculine (as opposed to detailed and distinguished features of male offending such as youth, drugs, violence, ethnicity and race, etc.) addresses the annihilation and undermining of gender in much work and debate surrounding men’s prisons and criminality. The men in the prison, albeit diverse in terms of background, ethnicity, race, age, and so on, had one overarching commonality. They were, first and foremost, men.