Home Psychology Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience
Masculine Sporting Spaces
The gym and sporting activities featured regularly in participants’ narratives about their experiences of imprisonment, and very often in positive terms, with participants speaking of it as one of their favourite places in the prison, and often talking positively about staff members in the gym; some participants spoke of wanting even more gym time. Prisoners had access to two different areas of gym work, weights and fitness, and it was not unusual for participants to speak of favouring one area over the other (it was explained to me that doing both could strip an individual of the strength that they built up in doing weights). The space of the gym itself was sometimes referred to as being different from the rest of the prison:
Logan: The gym, it’s like, when you’re in the gym you’re in a different zone [...]
I think, it’s like.you’re getting rid of stress and at the same time you’re keeping healthy and of course you can have a chat with your friends and it’s sociable, it’s like, it’s like escapism, you’re not really in, when I’m there you don’t really feel like you’re in jail
Working out and exercise were not restricted to the gym, as some participants spoke of taking part in communal sports and activities such as yoga, doing circuits in their cells or in the segregation unit, or using their time in ‘exercise’ to run outside. Men chose to take part in such activities for various reasons—some saw it as a means of keeping fit and feeling good (especially in view of their negative perceptions of the impact of the prison diet, as already described). Others found that it helped them sleep better after, or saw it as a means of focusing their thoughts, passing time out of their cell, or relieving stress and frustrations, thus allowing them to take control over their bodies, minds, and spaces. Working out was also seen as a means of ‘escaping’ the prison:
George: That’s all I say to my it’s like [...], even when I’m at the gym I say I’m
going home, when I’m running I say look I’m going home. I’ll be running on the treadmill be thinking I’m going home. They’re standing at the gate for you, run. And I just push myself, I say run. I just psyche myself up, if I can’t [.] I say look, they’re waiting for you, now get on that machine, you’d better run, better run. I say, I talk to myself I say run, run fast as you can, just keep running, don’t stop. Like little things, like mad little things, I’m say, look they’re gonna come and knock you again you’d better run, they’re gonna put [.] and then I start running and then I don’t stop until I’m dripping, and then I say you know what, I’ve made it. I’m gonna stop now.it’s like little things, the gym is the focus, ask any prisoner.. .the gymnasium is the only getaway focus
The results of working out took the form of a visible corporeal reward, and many spoke of the importance of being able to see (and show) their work’s results and their ability to achieve something:
Benjamin: Coz actually, I suppose, doing the gym, that’s a bit alpha male as well
[.] You know people probably do it for yeah, gym, prison, it’s just, it’s stupid, I mean I’m [X] years old, not 12 Researcher: (laughs) Do people do that a lot in the gym then. [.] .kind of
Benjamin: Oh yeah, when they finish the session taking their tops off and giving it
The interpersonal aspects of the gym were somewhat complicated— some were seen by others to use such spaces to perform their physical masculinity for other men or as a location for socialising, whilst other participants spoke of training as being an individual activity. A number of individuals played a role in encouraging others to take part in the gym and take courses in the gym, building up qualifications that would allow many of them to seek jobs in the fitness sector in the future, so honing masculine physiques in order to gain a legitimate male occupation, again distorting heteronormative specifications of gaze (see Chapter 3).
The gym and sport provided sources of gendered discourse and display that could shore up a sense of self in prison but also help shape a life outside. It is thought provoking to note that those men who were classed as vulnerable were only able to access limited facilities and spaces due to potential risks, and thus were excluded from another forum for legitimate masculine performance. It is also compelling to see how exercise is frequently referred to as ‘working out’, thereby linking it firmly to another discursive marker of masculinity: work (see Chapter 4).
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