Home Psychology Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience
Harmful Masculine Interactions
The performance of gender can sometimes result in extreme and harmful behaviours: violence is high in communicative value (Crawley and Crawley 2008). Thus violence can be an easy way to display the self relative to, and to, others, as well as heighten personal visibility. The majority of participants had either directly experienced or observed such incidents:
Oscar: [...] see you look surprised, to me it doesn’t, doesn’t bother me... [...] you
know I think, phh, s, someone gets cut up you’re just like oh right [...] Yeah it’s, it’s that bad, you know, like oh someone got hot water down over on [X] wing, oh, ok, not like oh, really! Someone got hot watered? Bloody hell, was he alright? Nah. It’s just yeah whatever mate, who cares.. .because it’s such a normal thing
The negative behaviours of some prisoners impacted upon the majority in terms of behaviours, interactions, and reactions (in this instance, normalisation of this particular experience placed the individual within the “safety” of the prisoner collective). Participants spoke of having to manage their interactions with others in order to avoid conflicts with people who might take things the wrong way, or about having to lock their doors when they left their cells in order to avoid being victimised. Although many spoke of not caring about the views of others—not valuing that audience—this opinion tended to be undermined when considering the fact that many participants spoke of the ways in which they managed themselves and their interactions with others in order either to avoid confrontation/victimisation, or to manage how others saw them as individuals:
Noah: A lot of it’s moving about, yeah coz obviously groups of people, people
gathering, [...] and uh, you find that’s where a lot of stuff kicks off, you know [...] And uh...so it’s quite a...you know, you have to be on guard, yeah, coz, you don’t know what’s going, even though you do nothing, you know you don’t know if someone’s took umbrage to something or someone else is, you know, or, you know you’ve had an argument with someone down the line [.] And so it’s always, you know, them times that you have to be on guard when you’re.. .being moved, you know coz there’s no staff about. And I suppose they’re the most apprehensive sort of times, to me
On a wider level, too, prisoners who undermined this idea that ‘we’re all in the same boat’ and differentiated themselves from the prison community too much (such as feeling that their personal problems were more serious than others’) were seen negatively. Prisoners who overexaggerated individualism and differentiation in personal narratives, or who were seen to be complaining too much, borrowing unnecessarily, getting into debt, or failing to maintain personal hygiene (see Sloan 2012a, b) were all spoken of negatively by participants. In a similar vein, participants spoke in negative terms of individuals who bullied or took advantage of more vulnerable prisoners, in addition to those who failed to show an acceptable level of courtesy and respect to others (such as through cleanliness or keeping noise to an acceptable level)—people wanted to be audiences that mattered to some degree, as this would shape others’ behaviours in line with their own values. In some instances this was seen to come with maturity, with younger prisoners being criti?cised for failing to adhere to such expectations. Participants recognised that inter-prisoner relationships were less volatile in adult prisons compared to young offender institutions, where there was much more violence and a need to prove one’s masculine self (see also Jackson 2002).
Despite its communicative value (Crawley and Crawley 2008), violence as a whole was seen to be something to try to avoid within the adult male prison setting, having the potential to have an adverse effect upon sentence length, although at the same time, individuals sometimes referred to having to be able to prove themselves capable of committing violence if the occasion came, in order to prevent personal victimisation and demonstrate physical hardness. There was an unwritten code of behaviour with respect to relationships with others—such a code referred to coping with incarceration and an all-male context where escape and finding other contexts for interaction are very limited.
Negative interactions with other prisoners changed the way that individuals behaved and performed their identities, often being the reason behind putting up an emotional barrier to others and not being fully open (which, in turn, fostered a feeling of tension and distrust within the prison and created a perpetual cycle (see also Crewe 2009) . In addition, participants spoke of feeling that they could not respond to such threats negatively as they wished to demonstrate that they had changed their behaviours and ways of doing masculinity (see West and Zimmerman 1987; Messerschmidt 1993) in order to be considered for release or privileges. The staff audience mattered, not least due to its extreme power over how a male prisoner is seen by those of real emotional value to him, such as his family. Having to police their external identities created stress, both internalised and impacting upon their relations with others. In this way, it is understandable that—in line with Sykes’ pain of the deprivation of security (1958: 76)—living with prisoners was seen to be one of the key negatives of incarceration:
Jude: [...] you know it was just, just a personality clash, just didn’t get on,
you know, I said something, he disagreed with it, he said something, I disagreed with it, and that’s, and that’s a big pressure, you know, when you’re in with somebody and that much pressure’s coming from it, that much.you know that’s, that’s another sentence in itself, that’s another punishment, you know [...]
Harrison: Coz I’ve never been like that, I’d never do drugs and things like that,
so to be around that’s not very nice, plus you get them all walking around asking for burn, ah, ‘have you got a fag, have you got this, have you got that, have you got tinfoil’ d’you know what I mean, it’s not very nice. What else is there?
Researcher: So you don’t like being asked to, for that kind of stuff?
Harrison: Yeah, it’s horrible, because you can just be sitting in your cell doing
something and next thing you turn around and there’s people like, obviously not very nice looking, they’ve got no teeth and they’re all thin and look just horrible, asking you for things to do drugs with and it’s like, nah. Coz I’m comfortable with everything, I don’t mind them doing it, let them get on with what they’re doing init, but when they’re coming into my space, like making me feel uncomfortable, that’s when I don't like it
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