How I interacted with, and related to, the men and women I met in the prison setting has shaped me for years after. Having never spent a prolonged period in a prison prior to this, it became apparent that the job of working in a prison is fraught with difficulties, stresses, and strains, and is highly intensive when it comes to emotional labour. In addition, the men who are serving time in the prison and who agreed to talk to me were all very polite, insightful, and often intelligent men. ‘Normal’ men who you might pass by in the street, or who might be a friend or family member, not the ‘monsters’ they are made out to be in modern press. Even being familiar with the tactics of the media, and the politics and stigma applied to deviant men, it was a shock to the system to see so many similarities between the men I met in the prison and the men I valued in my own life. I met no monsters, just men who had done some monstrous things.
The way those men related to me was compelling. Rarely was I treated with hostility—there was only one man I met who even challenged me in terms of asking why he should help me, what difference it would really make, and subsequently mocking me in front of others (thereby using me as an effective tool to show his dominance and power-claiming abili- ties—see Chapter 2). He was the only man who actually frightened me— not for his performances, but for his clear intelligence. I did not know what he had done to get there, but being on the lifer wing, it was clearly on the more serious side of the crimes that had been committed.
In general, I was met and spoken to with respect and friendliness. As noted earlier, some men took me under their wing and were quite protective of me:
Elliot: As long as you feel safe and secure
Researcher: Oh I do, I do
Elliot: That’s good
Researcher: I do, yeah, everyone, everyone looks out for me (laughs)
Elliot: Oh of course yeah, if anyone gave you lip they’d be [...] the guy
who’s giving you lip
Many chatted to me on the wings, greeting me with some degree of affection (and potentially, wing ownership!). Even for these men, I was a useful mechanism to show heterosexuality and the ability to dominate and protect. I was used as a tool through which the men could perform their masculine identities for the benefit of those watching—the other men on the wing were the obvious ‘audience that mattered’ in these interactions, but when alone, that audience shifted to a more internalised watcher, and became much less demonstrative of masculine signifiers, it being a much easier process to be seen as a ‘man’ in a 1:1 situation with a woman, where the gender dichotomy is much more normalised. Such clear shifts in how men performed in different settings for different audiences and different genders was clearly apparent (which would have been lost without placing my own gendered self into the frame).