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Reflexive Note

Contrary to some suggestions in the literature (see King and Liebling 2008; Sloan and Wright 2015), I spent my fieldwork in the prison with keys. This gave me access to many spaces that were unavailable to the majority of men in the prison, such as ‘clean’ spaces (staff-only zones where prisoners were never allowed), the segregation wing, the medical centre, the OMU, and so on. This was a very strange experience, as it sometimes required me to challenge prisoners who wished to follow me through a gate, and therefore placed me in a difficult position of power over the men. In essence, I had subverted my own gender by having greater access than most men to the restricted spaces of the prison. I think this was one of the aspects of the prison research experience that affected me the most, because the responsibility of having keys, and the hugely symbolic and gendered nature, gave me an image and a power that I did not expect, and actually did not want. At the same time, it was fascinating to be able to see how men behaved differently in different spaces.

Different spaces in the prison evoked different feelings. Crewe et al. (2014) has spoken of different areas in prisons being seen as ‘emotion zones’, such as the visiting room, but on a more subconscious level, I observed different feelings in different spaces. The newer wings of the prison tended to be much more pleasant to be in: the men were more relaxed, there was more light and visibility across the wing, and they felt somewhat ‘safe’. Other locations were less positive. I vividly remember walking through another of the prison buildings and looking through the bars into another wing, filled in shadow, where a lone figure stood at the gate watching, but not clear to see. The place felt sinister, as did the medical wing and the segregation unit—none of which had much natural light, and all of which—upon personal reflection—felt like spaces of sadness and without hope. They also aligned most closely with extreme popular cultural representations of prisons in films like Shutter Island or The Shawshank Redemption (see also Jewkes 2014 regarding the importance of darkness and light in penal understandings). In addition, all the spaces within the prison seemed to be occupied by—and guarded by—male figures. In every space there was at least one conspicuously masculine staff presence, and in a number of instances that individual also used my femininity and naivety as a tool for masculine self-escalation. It was as if a feminine presence made those spaces even more masculine.

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