5 Carceral Boundaries

Tuesday 18th December 2018 11:40-13:00

5 Carceral Boundaries


Crossing the prison boundary? A study of UK prisoner writing competitions

Eleanor March (University of Surrey)

Writing has historically been viewed as a way for prisoners to escape their imprisonment. Through the act of writing, the prisoner can transcend their incarceration (Brombert, 1978; Carnochan, 1998) and convey a part of themselves beyond the prison walls. While prisoner writing undoubtedly offers numerous benefits, its liberatory function has been challenged (Rodríguez, 2006; Ahnert, 2013). Traditional conceptions of the impregnable prison boundary, and the resulting absolute division between inside and outside, have also been contested (Baer & Ravneburg, 2008). The prison border is revealed to be permeable and heterogeneous (Moran, 2015), an idea encapsulated by Turner’s model of the “boundary patchwork” that can be crossed in numerous ways, including via prisoner artwork (2016). This paper builds on Turner’s research by evaluating the function of prisoner writing as a boundary crossing, focusing on the spatial movement of texts within prisoner writing competitions. I examine written submissions to the Koestler Awards, alongside the annual Prison Reform Trust writing competition. I draw on my experience of volunteering for both competitions, along with my research into archive and published competition entries. My paper considers how competition entries leave prison, travel though the judging process, and achieve publication. By examining the literary practices involved, and relating these to the geography of the prison boundary, I conclude that the majority of prisoner writing remains unpublished and that publication often imposes further constraints on such writing. This interdisciplinary study thus suggests that, counter-intuitively, prisoner writing offers limited opportunities for boundary crossing.


The presentation of place in everyday prison life

Maddalena Rodelli (Università degli studi di Padova)

The interplay between individuals and their surroundings plays a fundamental role in relation to the intergroup psychosocial dynamics of inclusion end exclusion. This has significant implications in prison, a context with hardly permeable boundaries where convicts and prison officers are members of two inevitably opposed groups, due to the power asymmetry of their role of controllers and controlled ones. With this contribution I intend to explore the representation of places in everyday prison life, from the point of view of the various social groups populating the prison: convicts, penitentiary police officers and health care workers. The principle aim of this study is to analyze the role of prison’s physical and symbolic features in the processes of construction, negotiation and maintenance of an individual identity and groups’ sense of belonging or opposition. Assuming Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective, I will try to identify which could be, for each social group, the front stage and back stage places, highlighting their use and their perception. I will consider the concepts of place attachment, defined as a multidimensional bond between person and place, and territoriality, defined as the use of the space to communicate influence or control on places. The research is based on 30 dialogic interviews conducted both with inmates and staff of a minimum-security prison for drug addicted convicts. A part of the interviews was dedicated to the production of a personal map of the prison, in order to allow participants to express visually their cognitive and sensory experiences linked with the prison environment.


Use and appropriation of spaces in Cameroonian prisons: How inmates transform “space” into “place” through their everyday activities in Mfou’s prison?

Birwe Habmo (Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne University)

Presented by Erving Goffman (1968 [1961], 41) as a place of residence and work where a large number of individuals, placed in the same situation, cut off from the outer world for a relatively long period of time, prison is characterized by many activities including those carried out by the prisoners. Removed from public space, locked up, isolated and kept at a distance (Milhaud, 2009), inmates remain nonetheless “organically” linked by their work to the society (Durkheim, [1893] 2007). From these activities, inmates develop an “exceptional residential experience” that highlights their “domestication of the prison space” (Lucie Bony, 2015). In my communication, I will try to present various methods of appropriation of prison space in a Cameroonian prison shaped by the work of the prisoners. The main objective of this reflection is to show how the activities of inmates carried out intramural, in a regulatory way or not, lead in Cameroonian prisons and Mfou’s prison in particular, a territorialization of the prison space and the emergence of several forms of sociability and control. This communication is based on field surveys (semi-structured interviews, informal interviews and direct observations) carried out with detainees and staff in March and April 2017 as part of my doctoral research on Cameroonian prisons.


Closing Holloway Prison: The women’s voices

Carly Guest and Rachel Seoighe (Middlesex University)

This paper reflects on interviews and focus groups with formally/imprisoned women who experienced the closure of Holloway Prison in the summer of 2016, including oral history interviews conducted by Islington Museum. It considers the far-reaching implications the closure of the prison had on women’s lives; the women detail the impact on relationships within and beyond the prison. These include relationships with self, others, the carceral space and institution. The women’s experiences also illustrate how the inadequacies of support outside of the prison, such as housing and mental health support, forms another kind of carceral landscape that shapes their carceral journeys.