The prison boundary, the ‘prisoner voice’ and resistance: Chris Hillstead

Carceral Crossings

The Carceral Geography Working Group of the RGS-IBG is delighted to present the second in a series of Carceral Crossings, showcasing both newly published work in this subdiscipline, and engagement with it by Early Career Researchers.

For more information on the Carceral Crossings series, (including information about how to propose a piece for the series), click here.

The prison boundary, the ‘prisoner voice’ and prison-boundaryresistance

Chris Hillstead, MPhil Candidate JETA (Justice and Equity Through Art) Program, School of Design and Art, Curtin University

The prison boundary is often viewed as a hard and fast demarcation between insiders and outsiders. Most criminologists and penologists tend to base their view of prison on objective data collation and statistical outputs to formulate ideological assumptions about the prison environment. In turn prisons are often viewed for their warehouse function rather than a societal service (Richards et al 2010).

Taking a different slant on the subject, The Prison Boundary: Between Society and Carceral Space 2016 by Jennifer Turner interrogates those long held beliefs of what constitutes the modern prison boundary. Teasing out the complexity of the prison boundary with the employment of Carceral Geography, applying a more subjective approach, Turner humanely examines …. ‘the interactions between the prisoners on the ‘inside’ of the system and the people ‘outside’ of it: interactions which are themselves generated by the conceptual and physical prison boundary’ (Turner 2016:2). The cultural bounds of Carceral Geography ascribe an in-depth evaluation of the to and fro across the prison boundary which is highlighted by case studies in each of the chapters. Developing a patchwork of complex interlinkages between society and the artificial prison space, Turner’s analogy draws on historical, cultural, political and intersubjective threads to weave a rich tapestry of comprehensively researched ideas and material.

This project provides future researchers, and other academics with vested interests in the criminal justice system, a unique vantage point to examine the prison boundary through an exciting new lens (Moran et al 2017). There is an abundance of references that support this monologue and offer further in-depth readings and lines of inquiry into the prison system and its boundary. The liminality of the prison boundary is laid bare with a fresh transparency that offers the well versed or uninitiated alike an open and honest insight into many aspects of humanity that touches the prison system.

I come from a Visual Arts background and currently am a Master of Philosophy candidate. What makes my research unique and sympathetic towards carceral geography is that I am a long term prisoner living in an artificial vacuum. My research and art holds a rare position. Whilst my practice is located within the mainstream art system at the same time I am excluded from society. My drawings started out as a way to pass time in prison which has now evolved into a social comment through images not only of the space I inhabit but of society itself. As I grapple to define the space I live in from the first-person perspective in a visual process, I found Turner’s book and carceral geography deals with many of the same notions; but from an outsider’s perspective. A key component to my research is the restricted (im)mobility of movement within the artificial space and how this tends to flatten my depth-perception of the world (Morris 2004). Framing my research as a trauma not unlike a complex PTSD that is also prevalent in other controlled environments like nursing homes, battlefields and detention centres, I am examining alternative positive avenues to counter the deleterious effects of artificial confinement (Ebert and Dyck 2014).

Embedding a ‘prisoner voice’ into my research as a practice of everyday resistance against being isolated and alienated from society my artistic process is a form of escapism beyond the prison boundary. One such way to counter institutions that enforce total control is exhibiting artwork in community. Turner suggests the prison boundary is not rigid but porous and highlights this in Chapter 6 referring to prisoner art being exhibited beyond the boundary (Turner 2016:183). Taking up this posture and challenging the Gothic facade of the modern prison as concrete and solid, I explore the concept of the contemporaneous carceral boundary built of mesh and razor wire being a sieve that filters and restricts in a more metaphorical way. Viewing these liminal transgressions across the boundary as leakages, I will exhibit a volume of images with another artist from the freeworld as collaboration between insiders and outsiders. Conceptualising my work in this way develops a correlation between an insiders’ lived experience and how such phenomena can cross the prison boundary as a resistance against isolation in a positive manner.

Having a greater knowledge of the prison boundary and its porosity may offer greater insight into how society may assist in curving high incarceration and recidivism rates. Carceral geography is well poised to tackle these issues from its unique perspective.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ebert, Angela, and Murray J Dyck. 2004. “The experience of mental death: The core feature of complex posttraumatic stress disorder.” Clinical psychology review 24: 617-635. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2004.06.002.

Goffman, Erving. 1968. Asylums: essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Moran, Dominique., Jennifer Turner and Anna Schliehe. “Conceptualising the carceral in carceral geography.” Progress in Human Geography. doi: 10.1177/0309132517710352.

Morris, David .2004. The Sense of Space. New York: SUNY Press.

Richards, Stephen, Michael Lenza, Greg Newbold, Richard Jones, Daniel Murphy and Robert Grisby. 2010. “Prison as seen by Convict Criminologists.” In Transnational criminology manual, edited by Martine Herzog-Evans, 3, 343-360. Nuijmegen: Wolf Legal Publishers.

Turner, Jennifer. 2016. The Prison Boundary: Between Society & Carceral Space. London: Palgrave Macmillian.