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Temporal Masculinities

Time, Imprisonment, and Masculinities

Thomas Cottle makes the highly significant point that:

all human beings must work out their own conceptions of time flow and their own perceptions of the temporal horizon. They must deal with the historical past that existed before their births and with their own pasts, their own presents. They also must deal with their personal future and its unknowable content. (1976: 188)

When one reads this through the lens of imprisonment, such ‘workings out’ that incarcerated men have to undertake become substantially more challenging and limited by virtue of the prisoner label and how it defines men’s pasts, presents, and potential futures. It is clear that time is central to the prison experience. The very point of imprisonment is to deprive an individual of their liberty and autonomy—their freedom to spend their time freely—and the length of the sentence is reflective of the seriousness of the crime committed. Matthews (2009: 37/38) argues that there are four elements that can be attributed to time-centred punishment: its

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 63

J.A. Sloan, Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-39915-1_4

universal and independent nature relative to the individual prisoner; its objective and solid nature compared to other forms of expressive punishment; the social quality of time-as-punishment; and the commodification of time (Giddens 1981: 130) that, as Wahidin points out, can be ‘lost, gained, saved, wasted or ingeniously endured’ (2006: 3.1; see also Cohen and Taylor 1972: 87).

Ministry of Justice statistics show that from 1999 to 2011 there was an increase of 1.4 months in the average time served in prison for determinate sentence prisoners, due to an increase in average custodial sentence lengths being sentenced and a decline in parole release rates (Ministry of Justice 2013: 1). The introduction of tougher sentencing policies in line with the ‘Tough on Crime’ agenda of the 1990s/2000s, such as the creation of Imprisonment for Public Protection[1] and mandatory minimum sentences (Crime [Sentences] Act 1997) have had the effect of increasing the time individuals serve within the prison setting. In addition, research has shown that the impact of prison as an interrupting event in an individual’s life course creates concerns regarding employment, education, and the return to social lives, all of which are shaped by developments in time (Wilson 2010: 7) as well as being key signifiers of masculine identity.

Matthews (2009) argues that prisoners go through processes of the negotiation of time, either legitimately through the creation of routines, or through illegitimate means such as the taking of drugs that are ‘able to place time into further suspension and thereby release the prisoner, albeit temporarily, from the apparent timelessness of prison life’ (2009: 39). Although Matthews offers no evidence for this claim, his presupposition was supported by some of the comments within the research project, such as:

Logan: [...] the sentence I’m doing it’s not as clear cut so I’ve got more time to do here

and there’s not really a lot of things for me to do here [.] can drag a bit your time here if you don’t find ways to occupy it more

Henry: If them drugs are making you feel happy in a cell of a night, and you’re not

getting stressed out and you’re not worrying about your prison, and you’re happy in your cell out of your head, then you carry on taking drugs. If it makes your sentence easier for you then do it, d’you see what I'm saying, if you drink alcohol then drink your drink, do whatever it is that you feel necessary to get on with your sentence, don’t worry about what other people think or what the authorities think, you just do what’s necessary for you as a person

Perceptions of time are not only relevant for the impact of incarceration in terms of its deterrent effects—they play a key role in the shaping of identities and the general prison experience. Identities change over the life course, and so will continue to develop when in the prison environment (Medlicott 1999), yet will be shaped by events that are prison-specific, thus creating (or forcing the creation of) a prison identity (see Schmid and Jones 1991). Medlicott (1999) has noted that individuals who have been found to fail to cope with imprisonment have shown signs of the denial or distortion of such time, compared to copers who are more accepting and forward looking, highlighting the ways in which time can shape behaviours and mental coping strategies, and who men essentially are.

Wahidin and Tate have considered the implications of time upon the female prisoner, particularly with reference to the ageing female body, arguing time to be a constituent part in the construction of gendered identity due to the impacts regarding family, age, female bodily functions, appearance, and forms of resistance to this process (2005: 60). They argue that women experience prison time as a ‘somatic identity cipher’ (2005: 65) and attempt to reinscribe time through performativity. As such, they emphasise the importance female prisoners ascribe to being able to own and control time in some way, with the value of time being inherently connected to time that is ‘lost’. Although this is arguably the case with those individuals who maintain a close connection with the outside world, which many women (and men) will tend to do due to their intimate identity connection with external institutions such as the family, it is arguable that this is too simplistic a definition. Time within the prison can also have a form of positive value, such as having time for personal development and treatment (Inciardi et al. 1997: 264), and the negative value of time is not only that which is equivocal with the outside—although this is key to the nature of time as discipline. Many of the points made about women inmates and ageing bodies are transferable to the male situation.

  • [1] (Criminal Justice Act 2003, amended by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008), nowabolished by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which replacedIPP with a life sentence following a second listed offence (s122).
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