Home Psychology Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience
The Control of Others
Individuals spoke of the way that they controlled their associations and audiences both in prison and outside. Outside the prison, there was often reference to the hierarchical ranking of potential visitors and support networks—family ranked highest relative to friends, for example. In addition, associations that allowed a degree of control over the individual’s life course were highly valued (such as legal teams and sentences, or partners and the individual’s familial role). Some prisoners also spoke of the testing of associations outside, where friendships were put on hold in order to gauge their reliability, thus allowing an individual to control his surrounding support network. Such control over outside relationships and interactions allowed individuals to exert some degree of control over their gendered identity performances. Familial or partner ties allowed men to perform masculine roles through the expression of sexual and emotional identity signifiers—emotionality was seen to be acceptable in certain instances in the context of the family. Men could juxtapose their masculinities against the women in their lives (if only somewhat symbolically), in a manner that was generally unavailable to them within the prison setting.
Inside the prison, men controlled the very nature of interactions on a physical and symbolic level through the differentiation of exchanges according to the varying labels applied (see also Chapter 6). The recognition of such interactions as situational, transient, and temporary allowed individuals to demonstrate control over them—their very lack of permanence acted as an indicator of the choice to interact and thus the control an individual had over who he decided to spend time with and perform for. Individuals controlled such associations through gendered performances, which allowed interactions to take on distinctive natures—men controlled the degree of openness and fronting that they applied to interactions and thus the very dynamics of such relationships.
Although there was little choice as to who one could associate with on a wider level—you had to live with other prisoners on the wing, and you had little control over imbalanced power relationships with staff—individuals could choose how they defined such exchanges, forming closer associations with those with whom they had some degree of affinity, trust, or commonality (and thus whom they were less able or willing to differentiate themselves from). This sometimes resulted in the emergence of informal subcultures within the prison as a result of commonalities such as religion or interest in making music, thus allowing individuals to exert a degree of control over others (and similarly be controlled themselves) through the dynamics of such groupings and their associated values, such as religious gender norms.
On an individual level, positive associations allowed men to control how they were seen by others in a more constructive light—elements of individuality could be shared, emotional toughness could be demonstrated in light of contexts learned, and protection could be given highlighting masculine solidarity and toughness. Negative interactions between prisoners could also be evidence of individuals’ control—individuals could influence how they were seen by others either by harmfully imposing control over others, or by differentiating themselves from individuals whom they looked negatively upon—generally those who they felt to lack control over their own lives. As such, some negative associations could undermine an individual’s control if he was positioned as the lesser man; however, many spoke of the methods they used to manage those risks and avoid such interactions, and thus control their associative sphere in order to avoid such trouble that could potentially undermine their masculinity and personal effectiveness. One of the key ways through which to control others was through the control of spaces, and thus the manipulation of whom one encountered on a regular basis.
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