I’ve escaped! Literally. From prison? Not exactly. Actually, from a week stay in my local hospital following an operation to repair my tibia and fibula, shattered at the knee joint by an overly-vigorous tackle on the rugby pitch. That moment of my life, based on choices I made, resulting in actions I could have prevented. Aside from a week’s sentence in the maximum security of the orthopaedic ward, my right leg is now being further punished by three months incarceration in a plaster cast … unless of course all goes extraordinarily well and I’m let off early on good behaviour. Once released, my leg will never be the same again, visibly scarred by my experience. Furthermore, my hospital record now excludes me from ever playing contact sports again.
You can see what I’ve done here, there’s nothing subtle about my analogy. My hospital stay did exhibit similarities to that of a prisoner confined to his cell. At night, with the curtains drawn to create a cubicle, alerting outside agency by pressing the bed bell I was powerless to move beyond my bed prison, despite the fact that the ‘walls’ were merely fabric and the prison gate, a double door, only a few steps away. Obviously for me, my broken leg was the ball and chain between myself and freedom, and there were others, much older, equally hampered by joints and bones no longer able to carry their bodies around with the same ease they once did. And it is here I got to thinking about other very vernacular conceptualisations of carceral spaces.
Frequently, the global media has raised interest in the parallel that populations such as the elderly in nursing homes experience life in a ‘prison-like’ state – with their immobility often the cause of this. And it is easy for geographers to develop links between incarceration, mobility and agency. Indeed a forthcoming volume edited by Moran, Gill and Conlon (2013) seeks to examine these factors in relation to both prisons and other detention spaces. But there are other avenues of interest in which the prison can be used to develop existing geographical themes and theorisations. For example, the criminal record, much like my bionic leg documented in my hospital notes, often renders the individual changed, and often unable to function in the same way as they did before. Research which I presented at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers developed the notion of a ‘prisoner diaspora’; considering how a criminal record and the experience of prison itself comes to inscribe itself both mentally and physically upon the identity of the ex-offender. Through the process of incarceration, prisoners undergo a transformation of their everyday lives, often forcing belonging to a kind of ‘nation’ with allegiance to a prison homeland.
I’ll make no suggestion here that following my hospital experiences I have truly learned about life in prison. Neither do I make the assertion that the ward I stayed on should realistically be compared to a punitive system. However, what is clear to me is that academic consideration of spatial relationships in spaces such as prisons can be applied in other surroundings, thus bringing theories developed in the emerging sub-discipline of carceral geography into universal relevance.
But as for my leg, it’s literally and metaphorically screwed…