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Home arrow Psychology arrow Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience

Summary

Ultimately, all spaces are gendered, albeit to different degrees. Spain argues that ‘women and men are spatially segregated in ways that reduce women’s access to knowledge and thereby reinforce women’s lower status relative to men’s. “Gendered spaces” separate women from knowledge used by men to produce and reproduce power and privilege’ (1992: 3). When applied to the prison, this can take on a completely different appearance. Prison reduces a prisoner’s access to spaces, and certain spaces are only made available to those that the prison institution has deemed ‘worthy’ (e.g. trustworthy cleaners, those who have proven themselves to be ‘good’ through achieving ‘enhanced’ status on the Incentives and Earned Privileges [IEP] scale, get access to more time in the gym, etc.).

This also has the impact of enhancing the individual's visibility (and therefore masculine status) within the prison.

With this in mind, prison actually places most prisoner men into the realm of the female—it restricts access to spaces and areas of power and knowledge, and therefore personal control over their use of time, which Chapter 4 has established already to be of consequence, in the same way that male spaces act upon women outside prison. Indeed:

A condition and consequence of women's subordinate position in the public sphere, and their ascribed domestic role in the private sphere, is that of significantly inhibiting their power to make decisions about their own time and that of others. (Odih 1999: 22)

This, in turn, affects how men are able to use the spaces available to them, and their experiences of using such spaces (and why this often results in a hypermasculine use of spaces that are accessible, such as areas used to demonstrate corporeal masculinities, or the sexualisation of spaces such as through decoration with ‘Page 3’ pictures).

The different spaces made available to men (the cell, the wing, the education department, work spaces, etc.) are all used for different masculine demonstrations and performances as a result of the different audiences present in each space, and due to the fact that power is structured differently in each space as a result of them not being accessible to all. Those who have access to more spaces that could be seen to have masculine credentials (i.e. restricted spaces) are able to escape a degree of feminisation that occurs to those for whom spatiality is restricted. Cleaning jobs, for instance, grant prisoners access to different places, which, in turn, grants them a degree of power and status, and thus access to a variety of masculine credentials (i.e. trust, respect, money, time used in a productive way, etc.). Yet overall, all men serving time in prison are restricted by the very fact that they have been sentenced to prison, and thus had spatial restrictions imposed upon them. In actuality, if one considers the range of penalties available to punish men across the world, what lies in common with them all is that the more serious the punishment, the greater the spatial restrictions imposed. Some would see this in terms of ‘freedom’—it is clear that such notions of freedom are, at the fore, highly gendered:

Sebastian: So I could never relax in here really, whichever way you look at it, I could

have, you know, I don’t know, you could give me all this food that I’m wanting or widescreen telly or whatever in my cell, and I’ll still not be relaxed coz at the end of the day I’m in prison and I don’t want to be here

The use of masculinity as an analytical lens adds a new dimension to the consideration of prisoners’ spatial experiences, which rarely frame such notions in terms of gender, thereby highlighting how identity is inherently linked to individuals’ access to, and use of, masculine spaces. Where individuals are not able to access such signifiers, negative manifestations of prison-based masculinity have more opportunity for use, thereby highlighting the importance of maintaining individuals’ access to spaces of masculinity.

Such management of individual elements of discomfort and harm cannot alter the abiding influence of incarceration itself upon the i ndividual’s masculine identity and the impact of having to perform a masculine identity that conforms to the hypermasculine expectations of the prison setting, which often undermines the socially legitimate expectations imposed upon men outside prison. The majority of day-to-day uses of spaces described were for the purpose of reducing the harm of imprisonment, rather than being for any particular proactive purpose— they were to use up otherwise wasted time, avoid the loss of individuality that prisoners often experience, or avoid trouble from other prisoners. It is to the consideration of relationships with others, their importance, and their implications that we now turn.

 
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