Thursday, May 8, 2008

behind the wall

All this time as a federal defender, but today was my first time in a federal prison. i've been to many a jail, state penitentiary, and the federal detention center, but today was the first time i was in the fed prison. in the biz of justice and lack thereof, i notice the architecture a lot. is it built to heal? or variously control, intimidate, demoralize, etc. Foucault wrote a book touching on these things called Discipline and Punish and it described a particular variety of prison design called the panopticon. i'm always interested in the industrial psychology of how to control a large number of people, perfected over the years from the Tower of London to the victorian models, to Gitmo, etc. Dark stuff. i see the panopticon a lot, even at county jails. The basic idea is a prison in the round, with all the cells facing towards a control tower in the center. The critical element is the two-way mirror shielding the control tower which allows the guards to see out, but prevents the prisoners from seeing whether they are being observed. The social control concept is that the prisoner does not know when he is being watched or not, which leads to a constant state of vigilance and paranoia about being watched, without being sure what is happening. the idea is that it will promote compliance at a greater efficiency. Countering this effort is the human will to be free and to push back against this sort of oppression. So even in under the tightest security, with the greatest degree of scrutiny, people still find a way to defy authority and jack with the system. My main encounter with this involves prisoner litigation. The last refuge of self defense is the inmate's knowledge of the prison rules. The procedures, the disciplinary standards, the limited rights afforded to confined people. The smart inmates become experts on the intricacies of prison regulations, become important within the prison for their knowledge, and they litigate the deprivation of their due process rights as ad hoc class action representatives for the grievances of their fellow inmates. There has to be an outlet and that is it. This is a bit of what i'm doing these days and i'm glad i went into the prison, met the staff, and saw the buildings, talked to people in person, felt the pressure. it wasn't bad at all as far as prisons go. Some people super duper need to be there. But it's still a prison and given its power, somebody has to keep and eye on it.

Bonnie "Prince" Billy - I See a Darkness

Yo La Tengo - I Heard you Looking

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