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  • Before that I'd spent the last year researching

  • prison systems and general entities,

  • so I thought I'd take you on a journey through what I've found.

  • At the end I would like you to celebrate with me the fact that I can now leave

  • this disgusting, horrible, painful, dangerous system behind me;

  • and we'll all go out and have a drink and celebrate the fact that we,

  • ourselves, actually can leave it behind unlike some.

  • Fyodor Dostoevsky once said that one can measure

  • the degree of civilization in society by entering its prisons.

  • While this may be true, I think that in all senses

  • we see prison as separate from society, parallel to society,

  • not a product of that society but a neighbouring entity.

  • This is partly a product of the nature of the modern imprisonment paradigm:

  • a delineation of walls, barricades,

  • halted access in circumscription of its structures,

  • its necessary opaque methods of administration.

  • The anatomy of a prison system comes into existence

  • or is defined by its separation from its surroundings;

  • it's cut off from the external.

  • At the same time, these institutions we wish to understand

  • and the system as a totality, house what is seen by the general public

  • as an alternative population, a branch of humanity that has transgressed

  • whatever that society has placed into the paradigm of legal activity.

  • This perception aids us in divorcing the prison system

  • and the whole concept of the imprisonment system from our daily lives too.

  • Few problematic consequences arise, I think, from this.

  • First off, it has become very hard to criticize the prison system.

  • You are less likely to see the root causes and consequences of social issues

  • and the effect of social pressures on the people

  • who ultimately become inmates in the prison system

  • if you don't see the prison system as a product of a certain kind of society.

  • It's not independently involved,

  • and yet we quietly slip into the habit of this impression.

  • More specifically, and as I want to argue, all attempts at social criticism

  • of the method of imprisonment need to flow from an understanding

  • of the historical precedence that came to produce the prison.

  • This is rarely done academically and never in mainstream media.

  • This notion of separation also allows for the methods of the prison system

  • to be transferred to a general society whilst maintaining a certain doublethink

  • that these methods are not being used.

  • Ever-increasing and ever-powerful surveillance

  • is quite an embedded part of life now,

  • and yet it goes unnoticed by many because we are 'outside the prison',

  • therefore we must be free.

  • Comparisons of the school system with a prison are met with a priori cynicism

  • and are mostly made half jokingly by students who are only quietly aware

  • that the school system much more closely resembles the coercive organization

  • of prison than people would comfortably admit.

  • But, the reinforcer is there: You are not in a prison, you are outside;

  • and even though you may be in another social institution,

  • the logic and methods of the prison system

  • in your life are made to appear non-overlapping.

  • You should be thankful that you are not in prison.

  • This is a powerful enforcer against critical engagement with prison as well.

  • The 3rd and final effect of dividing up prison and society I want to dwell on

  • concerns the reform movement towards prison.

  • While it may seem an odd thing to say,

  • the debate against prisons' various failings or successes

  • is automatically framed as an argument for increasing its abilities.

  • The demand for reform, improvements, inspections, accountability

  • are all impulses of the same core values that gave birth to the prison itself.

  • Thus we easily slip into solving the problems of prisons

  • with a debate framed within the assumptions of creating more imprisonment,

  • in a sense that the attributes of surveillance, structured administration

  • and the demand for improvement and tracking of a subject that we see in the prison

  • are all reasserted on the prison itself, magnifying it more.

  • Let's give prison the context we need in order to understand it.

  • What came before the practice of the prison?

  • What happened to people caught in transgressions of the law in pre-carceral days?

  • What were the development pressures of imprisonment,

  • and how have they continued up to the present day?

  • What does it actually mean, in social terms,

  • to be living in a society that makes use of a prison system?

  • In his book 'Discipline and Punish | The birth of the Prison'

  • Michel Foucault recalls a famous case of public execution in 1757

  • of a regicide named Robert-François Damiens.

  • On the 1st of March, 1757,

  • Damiens the regicide was condemned to make the 'Amende Honorable'

  • before the main door of the church of Paris, where he was to be taken

  • and conveyed in a cart wearing nothing but a shirt,

  • holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds.

  • Then, in said cart, to the place de Grève

  • where on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be torn

  • from his breasts, arms, thighs and cleaved with red-hot pincers,

  • his right hand holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide,

  • burnt with sulphur; and on those places where the flesh will be torn away

  • poured molten-lead, boiling oil,

  • burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together,

  • and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses,

  • and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes

  • and the ashes thrown to the wind.

  • The account covers in detail the final moments of this goring.

  • Then the executioner, his sleeves rolled up, took the steel pincers

  • which had been especially made for the occasion

  • and were about a foot-and-a-half long,

  • pulled first the calf of the right leg,

  • then of the thigh, and from there, the two fleshy parts of the right arm,

  • then, at the breasts.

  • Though a strong, sturdy fellow, the executioner found it so difficult

  • to tear away the pieces of flesh that he set about the same spot

  • two or three times, twisting the pincers as he did so;

  • and what he took away formed at each part a wound about the size

  • of a 6-pound crown piece.

  • Stories like the one of Damiens are extremely common

  • for this time period and for the hundreds to thousands of years before it.

  • Indeed, in the pre-modern era we often find stories

  • of the beheaded, treasonous characters from history

  • having their heads placed on London Bridge's entrance.

  • The stories of Henry VIII, his misadventures towards his wives,

  • the methods by which Guy Fawkes was placed on the rack

  • and then ultimately hanged: These are common to our historical understandings.

  • I think it is with seemingly great relief

  • that many parts of the world have now abandoned public torture and execution.

  • On the face of it, this has been a humane move,

  • informed by design, not to see wanton, visceral bloodshed

  • performed by the State on its own people

  • in those societies that have abandoned either the death penalty

  • or any other overt public torture or execution.

  • However, before we move away from staged state violence,

  • the following points need to be made which help us understand this transition.

  • Public executions are just that: public.

  • As a spectacle, the event consists of a singular criminal

  • or defined set of criminals usually raised on a stage for better viewing,

  • surrounded by gazes of the onlookers.

  • In fact, there are historical precedence of crowds of expectant onlookers

  • rioting because a certain execution was held in private

  • or organized with limited or obstructed viewing.

  • Such was the expectation of the public to have a visible event.

  • Events were also explicitly ordered for

  • and performed by agents of the state.

  • The hanged man is not an aggressor so much as the showman for the crowd

  • and an employee of the state.

  • As is particularly the case with treason, the crimes that have been committed

  • are seen as against the monarch or the head of state.

  • The violence retribution that takes place is at once the expunging of the crime,

  • often symbolically as with Damiens whose hand held the knife

  • with which the attempted murder of the king was made.

  • It's also a reassertion of the power of the monarch or state head,

  • which has been undermined by the transgression of one of the laws

  • that the monarch has made, and which defines the power

  • to which the serfs are indeed subject.

  • The sovereign's power is acted out physically on the subjects

  • and the gaze of the onlookers at once empowers the event as theatrical,

  • noteworthy and central, whilst one would think

  • also forming a strong negative reinforcement to the witnesses.

  • This is what happens if you disobey the laws of the land.

  • To move away from this kind of punishment

  • to an organization of corrective institutionalization and surveillance

  • is often considered as one driven by the enlightenment

  • or a new set of human-based values and understandings towards human behaviour

  • or the nature of what we call 'evil'.

  • It is seen predominantly as the melioration

  • of the viciousness of the punitive mechanisms of the social order,

  • a more humane form of interaction between society and the criminal individual.

  • Indeed, the move from torture to punishment and imprisonment

  • as the main corrective function occurred in Europe in under 80 years,

  • making it a very speedy and almost sudden move in the force of punishment.

  • It demonstrates that large changes in the social organization can happen,

  • but in this case the move was not driven predominantly

  • by these values at all, but by something else.

  • The morphing of societal methods of treating transgressions occurred in tandem with

  • the development of an economy more closely founded

  • on the ideas of private property and ownership.

  • A reorganization of power occurred that relocated the point of application of power

  • from the body whose physicality was tied up in a more agricultural

  • and labour-based economy to what people often term as 'the soul'

  • or the more inner light of the delinquent products of that society.

  • Theft and other property-related crimes belong to the physical,

  • but once more ideological crimes come into play, like an up-tick

  • in the amount of fraud that occurs as a market-based economy

  • and a monetary paradigm begin to dominate, the more the power becomes effective

  • if it is relocated to the behavioural

  • rather than the physical side of the human being.

  • Consequently, we see the following:

  • The gallows are largely replaced by handcuffs,

  • and the public spectacle that was overt, punitive violence

  • and state termination of bodies has now been replaced by

  • an inverted spectacle that is worth noting.

  • Where once the lone criminal was gazed upon by a multitude,

  • by and by the institutional form of correction

  • has inverted this model into the modern recognizable prison organization:

  • a multitude of prisoners, all confined, separated, a crowd of individuals

  • rather than a throng surrounding a central, all-seeing tower

  • which allows constant supervision of the inmates,

  • but whose watching eye is itself not identifiable.

  • It is unseen, invisible. Indeed, as Foucault himself put it:

  • "Visibility is a trap."

  • This then was the invention of the 'Panopticon'

  • by a cheerful chap called Jeremy Bentham (there he is),

  • a structured excluding building that would house always-visible criminals;

  • and although the Panopticon is most famous for its central tower

  • and often round nature of the buildings,

  • actually over time surveillance has become digital,

  • and as such the ever-present centre can now be aided by CCTV

  • and similar measures rather than the need for direct line of sight.

  • So, even though today's prisons look rather different to this model of operation,

  • we can see how surveillance is the thing that has most empowered itself

  • in our punitive measures; and we can also see

  • that those measures are totalising, born of a central tower,

  • now morphed into a hi-tech control room.

  • No longer are the crowd watching the criminal.

  • A crowd of criminals is now being watched, isolated independently by cells

  • and the larger layout of the prison;

  • and yet made uniform by literally, uniforms,

  • shared rules and statuses.

  • They can be both entirely separated from the world in solitary confinement,

  • and yet have every move and behaviour inspected and supervised.

  • In fact, the word 'super-vision' has its roots in literally overseeing;

  • those two meanings of regulating an event

  • as well as having complete views of it are preserved in the modern phrase.

  • Such a system is always defended (especially by politicians)

  • as something that works in reducing crime and making society safer.

  • Indeed, the inbuilt, psychological effect of locking up human delinquents

  • is to bestow an ill-conceived feeling of being protected from them,

  • and indeed this feeling of needing protection itself becomes an engine

  • for the maintaining of such a system of punitive function.

  • Incarceration is also broadly characterized in two ways

  • which maintain its persistence as an accepted function in society.

  • One is the negative reinforcement:

  • People believe that peoples' experience of prison,

  • of being deprived of liberty, should correct that behaviour

  • so that upon their release they will integrate with that society,

  • or others exclaim "Some are just so bad

  • that you should just lock 'em up and throw away the key!"

  • This view essentially chooses to see the prison system

  • as a permanent container for the permanently dangerous.

  • It is maintained in the pro-imprisonment rhetoric

  • that prisons ought to be pacifying the criminals,

  • to be normalizing them so they can be potentially released in most cases.

  • This, of course, presupposes

  • that they be non-violent enough to be trusted with freedom.

  • One of foundations of being able to coexist with the wide population

  • is the curbing of violent behaviour towards the self and others;

  • such an impulse and tendency should be implicitly generated by a system

  • that is built to be the normalizer of human beings for social coexistence.

  • Yet, I want to impress upon you the following:

  • The prison system, its structure, its foundational ideology of punishment

  • through negative reinforcement, its governing legal mechanisms,

  • and its criminal, administrative and interpersonal hierarchies

  • are implicitly those that instill, promote,

  • require, enable and affect violence.

  • It is no longer the priority of the prison,

  • nor was it likely ever the main priority