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Final Thoughts

In this book, I have focused upon the subject of masculinities in prison, and have tried to look at men in terms of who they are as men—beyond merely their prison selves. I have privileged the variable of masculinity above other differentiating elements such as age, race, ethnicity, and so on, as masculinity and maleness is the variable shared by all the participants—and 95 % of the prison population in England and Wales. Being male is the most pervasive character of the entire prison population. Despite the dominance of masculinity in prisons, a host of other variables have tended to be highlighted in the existing academic work regarding prisoners. This other work is vital in understanding the prison system and prisoners’ experiences and interpretations of it, and was highly influential on the focus and design of this research (see, for example, Jewkes 2002a, b; Crewe 2005a, b, 2006a, b, 2007, 2009, 2011; Phillips 2012; Phillips and Earle 2010) . Although this existing work is all highly influential, the missing link generally failing throughout to reach centre-stage in lieu of a host of other important variables is that these research subjects are men. As such, and as this book suggests, the use of gender might allow the cross-fertilisation of such research and connect the wide variety of academic thoughts on the area of incarceration. Although all of these fabulous examples did mention gender within their work, this was rarely the central focus, as it is in this book.

What I attempt to bring to the academic table is just that often underprivileged (or sometimes totally missing) connecting link, which is essential to producing a holistic body of knowledge. Moreover, I not only consider the maleness of prisoners and how their gender is negotiated when in isolation from other gendered norms and influences, but I also explore the effects that this can have on and within the prison as an institution. In addition, I gender the research process itself with a focus upon the implications for both the researcher and research participants of a woman interviewing men.

My approach has highlighted what connects men in prison (such as tropes of control, visibility, and the value of certain audiences in the masculine process), rather than what distinguishes them from each other, in the hope that through understanding the whole as a dynamic collection, the impacts of imprisonment upon masculinity—and vice versa—can be better understood. In fact, through understanding masculinity in such a distinctive setting, it is possible to consider in more detail the condition of masculinity as a whole, and perhaps to understand men generally and the pressures they experience better. By understanding more about masculinity in isolation, fragile gendered power relations and differentials are exposed. Removing (to a degree at least) men from the diverse range of heterosexual power relations that are available in the outside world, we can see how many of the ways in which men deal with the performative limitations of such a restricted gender environment do not conform to the hypermasculine model of masculinity that many perceive prison to apply. Men in prison often invest their time and emotions in the intimate, the domestic, the emotive, the body-centric, and the vulnerable—areas that are traditionally seen to be the reserve of femininity. This shows us much more about the flexible and contextual nature of gendered identity as a whole, and the interplay between gender and agency in people’s lives.

Through undertaking this research, I have learned a number of things, beyond the actual findings of the research elaborated upon in the preceding chapters, and further than the importance of considering gender in one’s methodological approach. What I have discovered, is that men are men regardless of their location or personal circumstances or other identity variables. Some events and environments compel certain gendered responses by virtue of internalised and/or externalised gender-based behavioural policing or responses. Hegemonic masculinities result in internalised expectations placed upon the gendered self as seen through the lens of the audience that matters, and these internalised cultural and values of masculinity change according to the audience of value to that particular man at that particular time. In addition, through the process of interviewing men about their lives, experiences, and perceptions of imprisonment; through immersing myself within the prison setting and watching what goes on within; and through talking to people about the research and reflecting upon my own experiences in an effort to be reflective and reflexive, I have learned one central and overarching thing. Prison places extremely high expectations upon people, and can subsequently cause serious damage (Behan 2002)—particularly to their (gendered) identities and selves.

The masculine expectations imposed upon prisoners by other prisoners (and arguably staff) can have implications in terms of the collective shaping the individual in ways that are inconsistent with the expectations of society outside prison. The masculine norms expected of male prisoners are often manifested in socially illegitimate ways. This is in part, as Messerschmidt (1993) notes, a result of such men’s lack of access to legitimate means through which to ‘do’ their masculinities, thus having to resort to criminality. However, I would argue that this research shows that such manifestations are also the result of gendered behaviours that are collectively expected (and thereby enforced) within the prison environment (and arguably, before). Although these can be due to the deprivations of prison (Sykes 1958), they are also the result of the sheer number of men confined together under an almost wholly masculine gaze. Such a gaze requires masculinity to be demonstrated for the achievement of manliness, which is granted by men to men (Kimmel 1994), and this can be done through a number of illegitimate and legitimate means, all of which are available to all prisoners in some form or another.

Such performances also sit in tension with performances undertaken for the benefit of other audiences who matter to the individual (including the self). With this in mind, Messerschmidt’s (1993) suggestion that crime is a result of a lack of other means through which to perform masculinity legitimately requires some amendment. In the prison setting, it is more likely that illegitimate means are often easier ways through which to acquire a masculine reputation, yet the main way to demonstrate manliness is through the imposition of control. Such control may be over others and the relationships one has with them, one’s environment—be that geographical, emotional, or temporal—or one’s self through processes of performance or differentiation. The performance of one’s masculinity through the imposition of control has both positive and negative implications, but, as has been noted, the easiest means are often through illegitimate or harmful behaviours, which in turn have potentially negative implications for release and reintegration.

In other words, if men in the free world have to resort to crime as a means through which to perform their masculinities as a result of other legitimate means being unavailable to them (Messerschmidt 1993), and then when in prison are encouraged to demonstrate their manliness through the imposition of control in some form or another—a mechanism that has restricted masculine appeal in the free world and thus limited transferability upon release—then male prisoners are at a key disadvantage. As this book has discussed, some individuals are unable to (or opt not to) conform to the masculine norms imposed through the male gaze of other prisoners, be that through their inability to show control over themselves, their spaces, or others, or through their failure to differentiate themselves from the prisoner collective. When individuals fail to perform masculinity within the relatively restrictive limits avail?able to them (or expected of them) they enter the realm of vulnerability—either through their being located in this category through the eyes of others (an excellent demonstration of labelling theory in action [see Becker 1966: 179]), or through personal association with vulnerability through internalised weaknesses.

Some men who could be seen to be vulnerable avoid the label through their association with forms of strength and control by virtue of their criminal pasts, their prisoner selves, or their coping capabilities and ability to compensate for and cover up potential weaknesses. For those individuals who avoid being attributed with labels of vulnerability, the men that they are valorised as being inside prison can rarely be similarly appreciated outside—in fact, the ‘prison men’ are often—by virtue of their prisoner identities—prevented from such legitimate valour or the means through which to become legitimate ‘free men’. The audience who matters has changed and the masculine capital situated within one audience is rarely easily transferable to another.

The overarching message that I hope is taken from this book is as follows: the nuances of men’s subjective masculinities and lives need to be considered more when punishing in order to punish meaningfully and suitably—otherwise we just damage them. The criminal justice system does not need to restrict and erode masculinity to the degree that it does: that merely equates to fighting fire with fire. Instead, masculinities can be directed in line with people that these men value and want to improve their lives for, and previously negative masculine behaviours can be redirected towards meaningful, useful jobs, more education, more family ties, and so on. In reality, prisons should be less about security: essentially masculinity battling masculinity (and assuming masculinity to be violent in the process, as also recognised by Phillips 2012). Instead, we need to renegotiate the whole notion of ‘boys will be boys’ and the expectations that we place on men—young and old. Otherwise, we merely set up men to fail, and push them towards finding value and visibility from less socially acceptable—more criminal—sources. Perhaps we need to do more as a society to encourage positive relationships and development of meaningful audiences that matter to men, and enable those who struggle to be visible as men to do so in more socially acceptable ways. Otherwise, how else can we expect criminal men to really make a change and—per- haps most importantly—to want to?

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