Monthly Archives: May 2012

‘Breaking’ out: remand on Ward Block H

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…


Moran, D., Gill, N. and Conlon, D. 2013 Eds. Carceral Spaces: Mobility and Agency in Imprisonment and Migrant Detention. London: Ashgate.

Turner, J. 2012 ‘The ‘where’ and the ‘what’ of prison life’ at The Annual Conference of the Association of American Geographers, New York, NY, 24-28th February.


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‘More-than-human’ pathways to rehabilitation?

On May 3rd 2012, the Washington Post reported on an innovative new programme being launched in Larch Corrections Center in Yacolt, WA.  Inmates at this minimum level security prison have been given the opportunity to adopt a homeless or badly-behaved cat.  A cat rescue organization called Cuddly Catz currently has two cats at Larch, who are cared for by two offenders who live with the cat in a 10-by-12-foot room.  Local businesses and organisations have supplied the food and equipment needed, and volunteers have helped train prisoners in pet care. 

The clear benefits of the scheme are two-fold.  Firstly, the cat themselves have gained a second chance in life – sometimes literally.  “With all of her behaviour problems, she would most likely be euthanized,” said offender Joseph Contreras. “And I just couldn’t imagine that.”  Secondly, in taking care of and interacting with the cats, the prisoners have experienced some huge benefits of their own, particularly in fostering a sense of care and compassion within the wider community of the Corrections Center.  Furthermore, once the cats are deemed healthy and happy, they are hoped to be eligible for outside adoption.  That way, Larch hopes to expand the programme to having long-term benefits for feline re-homing charities more widely – thus reducing the number of unwanted and abandoned cats in the local area.  According to Counsellor Monique Camacho, “The offenders don’t get a lot of chances to do right by the community … It gives them an opportunity to directly impact the community.” 

In other prisons, similar examples of other projects designed to help prisoners gain a sense of ‘giving something back’ through purposeful endeavours includes such things as the US ‘Puppies behind Bars project’ where prisoners raise guide dogs for the blind (Cheakalos 2004) or ‘strengths-based’ or ‘restorative’ activities with ‘worthy causes’ including repair of wheelchairs, and community regeneration schemes (Burnett and Maruna 2006).

Practices which transform the relationship between the prisoner and carceral environments continue to sit at the top of the agenda for geographers carrying out research on spaces of imprisonment.  However, in recent years, ‘non-human’ things have been the focus of these transforming practices.  In one of the earliest geographical interactions with the prison space, Valentine and Longstaff (1998) recognised the importance of food in shaping prison perceptions and interactions with space.  Lenny Baer (2005) recently conducted a study of how empty toiletry bottles became ornaments to display in prison cells, and contributed to a unique network of value and exchange.  However, in their recent AREA paper, Katrina Brown and Rachel Dilley (2012) reiterate current scholarship within the discipline which focuses upon how knowledges count in human/nonhuman relations.  Animals in prison environments have received little attention, despite tales of both legitimate (and often illegal) adopted pets.  Clearly, in the seemingly closed-off space of the prison, interactions with non-human agents highlight themselves as a new avenue for the carceral geographer.  


Baer, L D 2005 Visual imprints on the prison landscape: A study on the decorations in prison cells. Tijdschrift Voor Economische En Sociale Geografie 96 209-217.

Brown, K & Dilley, R 2012 Ways of knowing for ‘response-ability’ in more-than-human encounters: the role of anticipatory knowledges in outdoor access with dogs. Area 44 37-45.

Burnett, R & Maruna, S 2006 The kindness of prisoners. Criminology and Criminal Justice 6 83-106.

Cheakalos, C 2004 New leash on life – In an innovative program, prison inmates find that raising puppies for the blind makes a difference. Smithsonian 35 62-68.

Valentine, G & Longstaff, B 1998 Doing porridge – Food and social relations in a male prison. Journal of Material Culture 3 131-152.

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