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The Control of Spaces

The control of personal space could be seen through the imposition of the self upon prisoners’ cells, be that through the use of cleaning as a signifier of differentiation from the prisoner collective, or the use of individualising signifiers and elements of decoration such as photographs, religious elements, or pictures put on the walls. Cleaning one’s personal space demonstrated the imposition of control over one’s environment, in addition to symbolically removing the ‘contaminating’ effects of the prison (see Goffman 1961) and the evidence of the lack of individuality of such spaces through their repeated use. Control over space can also be seen through the use of funds within the prison—prisoners can spend their money on signifiers of individuality and identity, be that through cleaning products (see Baer 2005), DVDs, games, or food, all of which can indicate distinctive elements of self and add to the performance of identity and differentiation from the prisoner collective.

Control can also be exerted through a prisoner’s choice of cell location within the jail—the wing upon which one is situated can distinctly influence how one is seen by other prisoners and staff. Wings of the prison had distinctive natures, such as the segregation unit, the lifer wing, the induction wing with its shared cells and transient population, or the VDTU[1] wings with their distinctive stance on drugs. Prisoners could manage their risk and thus control their situations to a degree through such locating practices. Protection could be sought on the Vulnerable Prisoners’ Wing (or potentially on the segregation wing or in the cell for a short period of time) and thus the risk of bullying or violence directed towards an individual could be controlled. As such, the control of space also links to the control of the body and the self.

  • [1] Voluntary Drug Testing Unit
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