Home Psychology Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience
Spatiality, Power, and Resistance
What tends to link masculinities and prison spaces is the notion of institutional power imposed upon prisoners and the subsequent resistances that are made to these impositions (Dirsuweit 1999). More often than not, such resistance is framed in the negative, rather than as a process of using the prison space for personal well-being. In reality, the prevalence of security narratives and the focus on dangerousness that pervades discussions of male prisoners has the outcome that men are prevented from seeking more positive signifiers of masculinity such as children and families (Curtis 2014). In this research, however, many participants spoke of the importance of attaining education, qualifications, training, therapy, or some other form of learning whilst in prison, in order to achieve something positive with their time and a degree of masculine self-sufficiency and legitimate identity status in terms of planning for their release (see Chapter 4). This ‘learning’ was not always totally positive in terms of being socially legitimate behaviours, yet could be considered positive with respect to the development of masculine independence and selfdefence as personal safety mechanisms—some spoke of learning to assert themselves and their identity through violence:
Henry: You can learn things from being in prison, you can.. .like obviously probably not the good things to learn but.. .you can get a bit street smart in prison, you can get.. .you, you can learn to look after yourself and like not be intimidated by people and standing up for yourself, I mean because the size that I am, like
I’m quite a small fella, ah, growing up and in young offenders institutes as well I used to get like into a lot of situations where.. .I’d come off second best, but as I’ve done so many years in prison.. .the more recent things and confrontations I’m involved in, I’m.. .more the aggressor now than in the past I’m on the receiving end of it [.] Because I’ve just learnt to sort of toughen up and just how to react to people and how to speak to people if you feel they’re taking the piss or whatever, how, how a, how to put it on people and how to fight as well, d’you know what I mean, like the more fights you have, the more you get the hang of it, and the more you get the hang of it, the better you get, d’you know what I mean?
A number of participants noted the negative aspects of incarceration in spatial terms, describing it as being highly stressful, frustrating, and like a trap (e.g. a lack of autonomy and independence, as noted by Sykes ):
Zachary: You know, just sit in your cell it’s just lonely and you can’t help but think and you don’t really want to think coz thinking just drives you mad, but it’s just.. .its the worst punishment going is to be in the seg,1 you know, it just drives you mad
The prison is unique in terms of its spatial make-up and operation— rarely, even in other institutions, are people forced to occupy certain spaces as punishment, where these spaces have been designed not for well-being, health, or enjoyment, but for security and punishment (see Shalev 2013 for the extreme manipulation of spaces in supermax prisons in the USA). Although other countries try to change penal environments to focus less on these considerations and more upon rehabilitation (Jewkes and Moran 2014), in England we still focus primarily on the security aspect.
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