Tuesday, August 16, 2016

New LSI Issue of Interest

Law and Social Inquiry's latest issue contains a symposium on Law and Sexuality, which features  several articles that will be of interest to punishment and society scholars. These include (among others):


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Members' Publication Digest - August 2016 Edition

As compiled by Miltonette Craig:

RECENTLY PUBLISHED WORKS
August 2016

ARTICLES
Cheliotis, Leonidas K., & Sozzo, Máximo. (2016). Introduction: Democratisation and Punishment. Punishment & Society, 18(3), 263-267.

Cheliotis, Leonidas K., & Xenakis, Sappho. (2016). Punishment and Political Systems: State Punitiveness in Post-Dictatorial Greece. Punishment & Society, 18(3), 268-300.

Kaiser, Joshua. (2016). Revealing the Hidden Sentence: How to Add Legitimacy, Purpose, and Transparency to “Collateral” Punishment Policy. Harvard Law & Policy Review, 10(1), 123-184. 

Super, Gail. (2016). Book Review. [Security in the Bubble: Navigating Crime in Urban South Africa by Christine Hentschel (2015).] Punishment & Society. DOI: 10.1177/1462474516659162

Super, Gail. (2016). Punishment and Democracy in South Africa. Punishment & Society, 18(3), 325-345.

Turnbull, Sarah, & Hasselberg, Ines. From Prison to Detention: The Carceral Trajectories of Foreign-National Prisoners in the United Kingdom. Punishment & Society. DOI: 10.1177/1462474516660695

BOOKS/BOOK CHAPTERS/EDITED COLLECTIONS
Bradford, Ben, Jauregui, Bea, Loader, Ian, & Steinberg, Jonny. (Eds.). (2016). The SAGE Handbook of Global Policing. London: SAGE Publications.

Cheliotis, Leonidas K., & Sozzo, Máximo (special issue editors). (2016). Democratisation and Punishment. Punishment & Society, 18(3).

Lynch, Mona, & Verma, Anjuli. (2016). “The Imprisonment Boom of the Late Twentieth Century: Past, Present, and Future.” In John Wooldredge and Paula Smith (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook on Prisons and Imprisonment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Xenakis, Sappho, & Cheliotis, Leonidas K. (2015). “Anger Management and the Politics of Crime in the Greek Crisis.” In Georgios Karyotis and Roman Gerodimos (Eds.), The Politics of Extreme Austerity: Greece in the Eurozone Crisis. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Xenakis, Sappho, & Cheliotis, Leonidas K. (2016). “Crime and the Crisis: The Politics of Insecurity in Greece.” In A. Placas & D. Doxiadis (Eds.), The Financial Crisis in Greece: Causes and Consequences. New York: Berghahn.

If you would like your recently published book or article to be included in the next digest,

please send your citation information to Miltonette Craig (mocraig@fsu.edu) by September 30.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Angola Tour at LSA 2016 -- A Followup, Part III

In the last two posts, I offered a general description and an evaluation of our tour of Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) back in June. These posts drew on comments prepared by Johann Koehler and Keramet Reiter. Keramet in particular generously put together a brief essay or reflection of that trip that I promptly split up. Now, I want to post her comments in their entirety to maintain the integrity and coherence of her original words. 

--

As a prison scholar, I have been inside prison and jail facilities across the United States and Europe. Sometimes I enter to conduct interviews with prisoners or staff, for research or advocacy; sometimes to assess a new facility or program; other times to take a group of students to educate them about conditions of confinement. I hesitate to use the word "tour" to describe how I enter prison facilities because the phrase has become charged in prison scholarship, where prison tourism is (rightly, I dare say) condemned as a potentially voyeuristic visit to an institution that is transformed into a human zoo by the tourist's gaze. In spite of this critique, I find that I learn something new with each prison I visit, and that the visits create unparalleled opportunities to talk concretely with students, colleagues, and the public about the utter inhumanity that pervades so many prisons, especially in the United States. To me, not every outsider's footfall across a prison threshold constitutes prison tourism.

Nonetheless, there are some prisons that are so famous, so integrated into prison lore, that I do simply want to tour them, to see the reality I have read about. Louisiana State Penitentiary, known colloquially as Angola, is one such prison -- so perpetually infamous that I simply wanted to see it for myself. I had visited other "plantation" prisons in Alabama and Georgia, but none with their own rodeo, cinematized death row, or substantial gift shop. In particular, I had imagined the Angola gift shop for years, because of a strange gift I was given in 2005.

I was working for Human Rights Watch when Hurricane Katrina hit. One of our researchers went to visit Angola, to document the human rights abuses taking place there as New Orleans flooded and prisoners, literally, disappeared. When the researcher returned to the Human Rights Watch offices in New York, she presented me with a gift: a plush little "beanie baby" dog, dressed in black-and-white prison stripes, stamped with the word "Angola." I have kept that odd memento for more than a decade, moving it from office to office, as a reminder of the many contradictions inherent in our prisons, especially the too easy commodification of suffering. As I entered Angola prison, through the gift shop, this summer, I was surprised to see shelves of those same, familiar little puffy prison dogs.

Later, on the tour, I was more surprised by another bunch of dogs. The only building in the entire, swampy facility, which both houses prisoners and has air conditioning, is the barn, bright white atop a sloping green hill at an edge of the property, where the prison's guard dogs are trained. Our tour guide told us that the most trusted prisoners in Angola earn the right to sleep in the air conditioned barn -- without guards -- and manage the dogs. I asked what exactly the dogs are trained to do. The tour guide said "guard the prison." When I had worked at Human Rights Watch, I had written about the use of dogs to attack prisoners and drag them out of their cells. I suspected the Angola dogs did more than "guard the prison." As our tour bus paused, the guide pointed out a single white cross marking a grave at the foot of the hill. A bill-board-style sign labeled the grave: "Ole Red used in music video by Blake Shelton." Here's where I sheepishly admit to loving Blake Shelton's country classic, "Ole Red," about a prisoner, sentenced to life for killing his wife and her lover, who earns the trust of the warden in prison and is given charge of the prison's guard dog. The prisoner trains the red-haired prison hound to sneak out of the prison on late night rendez-vous with a blue-tick hound beyond the prison gates. Next, the prisoner escapes, running "north" while Ole Red runs "south" to his blue-tick love. The refrain is cute: "Now there's red haired blue ticks all in the South. Love got me in here and love got me out." At Angola, Ole Red's grave, obviously in a place of honor, was a stark contrast to the sea of un-labeled white crosses a few hundred yards beyond, and across the road, marking the graves of the hundreds of prisoners who had died and been buried at Angola over decades of the prison's operation. I could barely make out the edge of the cemetery it was so vast. 

At Angola, I felt more like a prison tourist than I ever had before. Maybe it was the commodification of beanie baby dogs and country music videos. Maybe it was being on the school bus that shuttled 25-or-so-of-us around the prison grounds, past housing units and barns and stables and rows of corn. Still, the images of the visit, from prisoners talking with us in the law library, to the prisoners grooming the horses in the stables, to the museum of execution implements, to the white barn full of dogs up on the hill have mingled with snapshots from Dead Man Walking, the Ole Red music video, and the annual prison rodeo, layering a raw lived reality into a cinematic imagination. 

I, and busloads of other prison tourists, were lucky to cross the threshold of the prison in the morning, and ride out again in the afternoon. That vast cemetery insistently reminded us that most of the prison's inhabitants can never hope to be so lucky. I keep remembering the sticky, swampy heat that wore me out even as I sat still on the old school bus, and I keep imagining living an entire life in that heat with no hope of any relief, whether in the form of a fan, cool air, ice, or freedom. I'm still not sure whether joining the daily exodus of tourists from Angola raises awareness of the contradictions riddling the commodified, imagined reality of prison life, or just re-legitimizes the institution.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Angola Tour at LSA 2016 -- A Followup, Part II

In my last post, I described our trip in early June to Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary. In this post, I describe the ethical and empirical concerns we had prior to the tour and our assessment of the visit. Again, I draw on a text that Keramet Reiter has prepared for this blog (to appear in its entirety as the third post in this series).

A Priori Concerns


Prior to the tour, the organizers (Keramet, Lori Sexton, Jenn Sumner, and I) as well as several CRN members had raised some concerns and apprehensions about the tour: would it be ethical? Recent scholarship has emerged to analyze and also to question the rise of prison tourism (and "dark tourism" more generally), and this literature helped to frame our thoughts.

Prison Museums


Some prison tourism, at least in the United States, has been around (at least) since I was a child (i.e., the 1980s), although it has changed over the years and become far more common. Most notably, Alcatraz Island, the site of the famous federal penitentiary, became part of the US National Park Service (as a national recreation area) in 1972 and has been a tourist attraction since 1973:
The National Park Service opened Alcatraz to the public for the first time in October 1973. Visitors had never been allowed on the island before, and the response was overwhelming – more than 50,000 people visited Alcatraz during the first year it was open. Historians estimated this was more people than had set foot on the island during all of its previous recorded history. (From Alcatraz Cruises
Ironically, one of the best moments that captures the absurdity of this is a line from a Michael Bay movie about The Rock---when Sean Connery's character, John Mason, a man formerly incarcerated at Alcatraz who long ago escaped but who since has been kept in isolation (and thus away from current events), exclaims, "The Rock has become a tourist attraction?" In the movie (no spoiler alert here), the tourists visiting the island are taken hostage, becoming (short-term) prisoners themselves, and federal authorities have to break in to Alcatraz, with John Mason's help.

The prison I study, Eastern State Penitentiary, is another prison museum, operating since 1994.  Personally I am extremely grateful to be able to visit the prison: it was opened in 1829 and my research ends in the 1910s, so its physical existence is not guaranteed. Additionally, back when my dissertation was more ambitious and I was planning to examine Auburn State Prison in New York, I ran into problems with gaining access to a functioning prison: even photographing the prison brought a threat of arrest, the demand that I delete the photos, and some nasty words from the guards on duty. Consequently, the opportunity to walk around behind the Eastern's 30-foot-high walls and see the cells and their attached "gardens" is very useful. At the same time, the commercialization of the prison and the site's emphasis on salacious tidbits (Al Capone's cell, ghost tours, etc.) makes me a little queazy. Apparently, it also makes the prison museum staff a little queazy. In her fantastic book, Culture of Punishment, Michelle Brown captures some of the compromises prison museum curators make, recognizing that things like the ghost tours that are so popular that they fund other, more historic endeavors like restoration and the educational components of these tours. The curators of Eastern, moreover, seem to be more sensitive than most and have endeavored to use their tourist attraction to focus attention on mass incarceration. Through a number of artistic and informational exhibits (e.g., Prisons Today), they have provided a fantastic service of public education, reaching many more people than (for most of us) our research will. Still, some of these efforts have also straddled the line between salacious and useful, education and entertainment. A recent installment of the Searchlight Series, which is generally aimed at awareness, was advertised on twitter, "Join us tomorrow for The Searchlight Series: Yoga in Prison. Bring your own mat!" There has also been a strange trend of doing artistic photography, especially including ballerinas, at these sites, including Eastern and Pentridge (Australia).

Prison Tours: What the Literature Says


However, these prison museums exist on the site of long-since defunct prisons. Alcatraz closed in 1963 and Eastern in 1971. Prison tours, like the one we did, are also available at functioning prisons, and as such raise even greater ethical and empirical issues. First, there is the question of whether what one sees on the tour is at all representative or whether the tour is staged in some way and thereby serves the interests of prison authorities. This is a point that goes back to Goffman (1961), but has been raised again by a number of scholars because so many of us, in light of diminished access to prison facilities, are turning to prison tours for data collection. One of the earliest examples of this move is Wacquant's (2002) visit to the LA County Jail; following his description of that visit, he calls for more prison ethnography. Since then, his article, and other uses of carceral tourism has been critically discussed by a number of skeptical scholars who raise important questions about staging---see for example work by Justin Piche and Kevin Walby (BJC, Howard J.), who argue that rather than "knowledge-producing," tours are often scripted and avoid revealing what prison life is really like. A similar point is made by Dey (2009), a formerly incarcerated person. He emphasizes the need for "first-person accounts" from prisoners themselves. Echoing Piche and Walby, he explains the prisoner's perspective:
I find tours to be hypocritical because I experience them from afar. Since I often hear about them after they have passed, I am left with the feeling some fraud has been perpetrated. Those who operate the Gulag Archipelago have their view and we have ours. The truth is always somewhere in the middle. Often the truth is lost due to layers of denial, rhetoric and misdirection. The problem is that we never get the chance to participate in the debate. They get to shape the direction of the ‘dialogue’. (Dey, 120)
To this end, he makes two recommendations for which prisoners tourists should speak with:
In order for a tour to become a viable research tool, concerned parties
must be given confidential access to a wide range of prisoners. (Dey, 121) 
Every prison has a department that handles prisoner grievances. One of
the most direct paths to uncovering the realities of any correctional facility
can be found in these ‘appeals’. These litigants who file these grievances
are an excellent source (Dey, 122)
Underlying Dey's emphasis on communicating with prisoners is a concern with prisoners' dignity. More than collecting reliable data, prison tours also must respect the dignity of the people whose lives they are disrupting or taxing. Wacquant raised a similar issue, noting, "I can’t tame the nauseating feeling of being a voyeur, an intruder into this plagued space." Prisoners are necessarily subject "the permanent and pervasive gaze of others" (378) and prison tours contribute to, even exacerbate, this condition.

Prison Tours: Our Concerns


Prior to the tour, we circulated a few of these articles to the group of confirmed tourgoers. We anticipated having a conversation on the bus to and from Angola---one way would discuss the ethical issues our presence raised and the other way would discuss the history of the prison to better contextualize what we were seeing. Unfortunately, the bus was loud and nauseating, so there was no way to have a large group discussion. Nevertheless, the articles provided us with a dual set of concerns: (1) was what we would see be a relatively accurate snapshot of life on Angola (to the extent that any snapshot can be informative given the diversity of experiences within prison), or would it be a highly scripted, apologetic, or gloating account of the prison, and (2) would we be able to respect the dignity of the men incarcerated at Angola or would our tour involve at some point (for example) a voyeuristic moment during which we might see men in cages like animals, unable to talk back and unable to escape our gaze?

More generally, for several of us, there was also a concern about our own motives for going on this tour---was it really to be social scientists interested in seeing first-hand one of the institutions we study in order to have a better appreciation for and knowledge of our subject, or was it puerile curiosity. Keramet Reiter captures this tension in her reflection:
As a prison scholar, I have been inside prison and jail facilities across the United States and Europe. Sometimes I enter to conduct interviews with prisoners or staff, for research or advocacy; sometimes to assess a new facility or program; other times to take a group of students to educate them about conditions of confinement. I hesitate to use the word "tour" to describe how I enter prison facilities because the phrase has become charged in prison scholarship, where prison tourism is (rightly, I dare say) condemned as a potentially voyeuristic visit to an institution that is transformed into a human zoo by the tourist's gaze. In spite of this critique, I find that I learn something new with each prison I visit, and that the visits create unparalleled opportunities to talk concretely with students, colleagues, and the public about the utter inhumanity that pervades so many prisons, especially in the United States. To me, not every outsider's footfall across a prison threshold constitutes prison tourism. 
Nonetheless, there are some prisons that are so famous, so integrated into prison lore, that I do simply want to tour them, to see the reality I have read about. Louisiana State Penitentiary, known colloquially as Angola, is one such prison -- so perpetually infamous that I simply wanted to see it for myself. I had visited other "plantation" prisons in Alabama and Georgia, but none with their own rodeo, cinematized death row, or substantial gift shop.
Like Keramet, I had a difficult time deciding ahead of time if my motivations were pure. I was certainly excited to visit Angola, but part of me also saw this as a civically important event. Going into the tour, I saw this as an opportunity to observe and then to "testify." One of the many problems with our prison system is that our prisons are out of the way, far from the public gaze, and this makes it easier for them to exist and function as they do.

Prison visitation---in which society's elites toured prisons---has played a hugely significant role in prison history. John Howard gained access to his local county prison (jail) by becoming its keeper, but he thereafter toured the other prisons of Great Britain (and later other countries), writing his findings in a hugely influential book. This book, and Howard himself, was instrumental in slingshotting prison reform in the nascent United States as American elites began to address the "miseries of public prisons" in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Once formed, the early prisons formally allowed visitors---not personal visitors to see incarcerated loved ones, but civic visitors---men, and sometimes women, of good social standing who would procure "tickets" from the prison's "inspectors" (overseers of the warden who set prison policy). Thousands of people a year would visit prisons like Eastern, Auburn, and Walnut Street before them. Part of the reform from colonial jail to proto-prison (and then modern prison) was to open up carceral facilities, previously the fief-like domaine of the keeper, to the public to ensure better governance. In the proto-prison era (1790-1820), penal reformers were given formal visiting power so they could keep the jailer honest (e.g., stop selling alcohol, collecting "fees," or accepting bribes). This formal visiting power diminished with the first modern prisons (1820-1860), but was not extinct. These visits were important in sustaining (even enlivening) an international dialogue about what prisons should look like and whether they were perpetrating unconscionable cruelty. With the professionalization and bureaucratization of prisons in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century---possibly aided by the concomitant growing belief that prisoners at what were now maximum-security prisons (as opposed to the new adult reformatories) were irredeemable, dangerous, born criminals---prisons returned to mini-fiefdoms (well described by Jacobs (1977)) and visitation became heavily constrained except to staff psychologists/sociologists/criminologists, although even their positions (in light of Jacobs' work) may have been tenuous.

With the diminished access academics (and journalists) have to prisons since the 1970s, the potential for abuse and even the continuation of questionable but legal policies widens. Angola, in particular, is such a notorious prison, part of me is surprised it is as tourable as it is (although most visitors probably stop at the rodeo). Consequently, although leery of the possibility that the tour would be laden with propaganda and highly selective, I thought of this as an ethically important action, part of engaged citizenship. Of course, another part of me wondered whether I was deluding myself and simply providing a moral justification for an otherwise base desire.

Evaluation


Overall, I think our tour was as ethical as we could have hoped for. First, our tour guide was a guard rather than an incarcerated person, but overall he did an excellent job. With the exception of the moment in the death penalty exhibit at the end of the tour, he avoided presenting the prison in a scintillating way. He did not tell us of any major instances of violence or of types of contraband collected from the prisoners---the sorts of stories prison museums collect. Instead, he provided in monotone a mixed, fact-heavy account of the prison. If anything, he seemed aware of the enormity of the facts he presented (the number of prisoners, the average sentence, the wage structure), and paused after each to let them sink in---or perhaps that was just his speech pattern.

There were times throughout the tour that he seemingly gave us the company line---it was at times unclear whether it was his genuine pride in certain characteristics of the prison or that he was parroting the information that some unseen authority wanted to have included: an emphasis on the prison's self-sufficiency, the lack of tax-payer dollars going to the construction of a church on the property, and the quality of the fruits and vegetables grown by the prisoners. Indeed, after lunch, he (knowingly) asked us how we would rate our meals; this could be part of an administrative ploy to showcase how well the prison functions as a farm (perhaps forgetting the connotations of a modern-day plantation), but he seemed genuinely pleased that we were so impressed.

At other times, however, our guide seemed to be fully aware of some of the same issues we found troubling. For example, in answer to a question about what had changed during his several-decades-long tenure at the prison, our guide told us about the significant decrease in violence at Angola and the improvement in guard-prisoner relations. Without using these words, he attributed these changes to mass incarceration: he explained that, these days, it is difficult to find a prison guard who does not have a family member, friend, or neighbor who has gone to (or is in) prison. Essentially, this familiarity helps to humanize prisoners and guards alike, thereby preventing greater animosities; paraphrasing him somewhat, it's harder to be an asshole to someone you know/knew on the outside.

Finally, there were times when our guide seemed dissatisfied with his treatment by the prison---while incomparable to how the prisoners are treated, guards seemed to be similarly subjected to prison authorities' instrumental and exploitative logic. This came up when he told us that everyone (including the guards) gets paid for eight hours each day regardless of how much they actually work and his discussion of his night alone in the wilderness on watch for an escaped prisoner. Interestingly, as far as I can recall, race never came up in our tour. However, when our (African-American) guide pointed out the housing for guards, he noted that he did not live on the prison grounds---something in the way he said this made some of us wonder if perhaps the highly desirable (convenient and cheap) on-prison housing was informally reserved for the white guards.

Overall, I think most of us felt that he was straight with us: He had no agenda, it seemed. His only words that might seem to be propaganda could just as easily been his own genuine pride in the facility. He did not present a one-sided view of things---his disappointment at his own treatment by the prison was apparent. If anything, he seemed like a tired man who had been too long in a loveless marriage---it was too late to extricate himself, and he was aware of his partner's bad qualities, but he also recognized the value of partnership. As he put it at one point, he had retired from the prison's service several years before, but they brought him back in. That we were able to see this side of guard life---that at least one guard was not fully satisfied with his experience---I think is telling. This does not provide us with insight into prisoner life, or an unbridled look at the prison's policies, but it does suggest the tour was not purely a highly scripted show piece. If anything, it was scripted in parts, but even some of these scripts---the monotone description of prisoners' "wages"---did not always put the prison in a positive light.

Second, we were able to speak with some of Angola's inhabitants---the men at the Prison Law Office and again at the barn. The session at the prison law library was not confidential---our guide stayed in the room---and the men had something to lose---it seemed that, although hard, they did find their work meaningful and consequently enjoyable. Even still, it gave us a sense of how under-resourced the prisoners' attempts at rights mobilization and how thin basic legal protections were at this prison (like so many others). It also provided a space for us to respectfully listen to our hosts and let them share with us what information they wanted to share. While I think we got more out of that session than they did, I hope that our presence was a welcome distraction and that some of us are able to one day repay it by working toward improving the resources available to jailhouse lawyers. When we stopped at the barn to see Big Boy, several members of the group were able to introduce themselves and talk with his caretakers. Whether these men were pre-selected to meet with us, we could not know, but I suspect not---it did not seem that many people worked at the barn (thus, if the prison authorities wanted to select those who would put the prison in the best light they had few choices) and we did not stay very long (so selecting might have been more work than needed).

Third, our other interactions with Angola's inhabitants were, for the most part, respectful. Our guide warned us at the outset to not take any photos of the prisoners or their living spaces. I think a lot of us were glad (and surprised) to hear that this was the prison's policy. Additionally, we never walked through the dormitories, through the living spaces themselves, and although we did walk past the dormitories, we could not see into them, beyond the shadowed outlines of men in some places. In this way, I think we respected their privacy. We did walk past prisoners in common walkways or waiting on benches: in these situations, the men could not escape our gaze---we were there and they were there, and they could not exactly walk away or head off into a different area. However, even these situations were semi-interactive: I think everyone or almost everyone greeted the men, nodding, smiling, say hello or good morning, etc., which was often returned. Ironically, walking through these areas, it felt like we were the novelty, the ones at whom many gazes were directed, particularly from the direction of the dormitories where we could hear (mostly) unseen men acknowledging our presence.

I certainly do not think that we saw a full cross-section or real sense of prison life from this visit. While the tour itself was three or four hours, we spent most of that time on the bus and learning about the prison---the farm and its history. There were several different types of housing units and we only saw one. I was disappointed when our visit with the prison law office staff ended---it felt far too brief even though it was probably 30 or 40 minutes.

Despite these limitations, I do think we learned a lot: in some cases, we saw first-hand things that we had read about or studied, but seeing them in person made a difference. For example, we knew that Angola was home to the largest lifer population in the country---we know that most of the people who go there are probably going to die there. But there was something about stepping off the bus and seeing these older men taking care of a horse and having such pride in him, that helped me to realize that this was their life---there was probably nothing more for them. There are other parts of the tour that were more physically affective: it was only June 1 and yet the heat and humidity made us so tired that thinking about working in the fields for eight hours (or more) a day, and doing that for decades, seems unimaginable. Seeing Angola's natural borders for ourselves and realizing just how thick the foliage was also helped to explain why escape attempts were so rare and why fences were unnecessary---growing up on the West Coast, there was nothing in my cognitive frames of reference that would make this fact make sense. Overall, though, I think going to Angola gave me more questions than answers.

As for the question of why we were there, and whether we were there as tourists or scholars, Keramet writes:
At Angola, I felt more like a prison tourist than I ever had before. Maybe it was the commodification of beanie baby dogs and country music videos. Maybe it was being on the school bus that shuttled 25-or-so-of-us around the prison grounds, past housing units and barns and stables and rows of corn. Still, the images of the visit, from prisoners talking with us in the law library, to the prisoners grooming the horses in the stables, to the museum of execution implements, to the white barn full of dogs up on the hill have mingled with snapshots from Dead Man Walking, the Ole Red music video, and the annual prison rodeo, layering a raw lived reality into a cinematic imagination.  
I, and busloads of other prison tourists, were lucky to cross the threshold of the prison in the morning, and ride out again in the afternoon. That vast cemetery insistently reminded us that most of the prison's inhabitants can never hope to be so lucky. I keep remembering the sticky, swampy heat that wore me out even as I sat still on the old school bus, and I keep imagining living an entire life in that heat with no hope of any relief, whether in the form of a fan, cool air, ice, or freedom. I'm still not sure whether joining the daily exodus of tourists from Angola raises awareness of the contradictions riddling the commodified, imagined reality of prison life, or just re-legitimizes the institution.
Do you have other thoughts---other metrics by which to judge the tour or a different take on the metrics discussed here? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or by emailing me at punishmentsocietyblog@gmail.com 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Angola Tour at LSA 2016 -- A Followup, Part I

A little less than two months ago, a group of about twenty or twenty-five law and society meeting attendants toured Angola, the Louisiana State Prison, which I previously advertised. The tour itself lasted about three or four hours, taking up a full day including travel time. By the end, we were mentally and physically exhausted; many of us retreated to our hotel rooms, not yet ready to discuss the day's events. Nothing dramatic happened, mind you. Instead, we were overwhelmed.

It would be difficult to describe the full tour in its entirety or everyone's reaction to it, so I have asked Keramet Reiter and Johann Koehler to help me describe it. Johann (a doctoral student at UC Berkeley's JSP program) has tweeted and blogged about the Angola tour (see his excellent review of Dead Man Walking written in light of the tour) and Keramet (an assistant professor at UC Irvine's CLS program) has generously provided her reflections (which I will later post in their entirety). I will add my recollections as well as my own take on the question of the ethics and history of penal tourism.

Today's post will be the first of two (perhaps more); each will be an amalgam of our collective reflections, memories, and assessments of that tour. In the second post, I will draw extensively on Keramet's reflections to discuss more directly some of the ethical issues that we had been concerned with while organizing the tour, the problem of show-piece (propaganda) tours, and our evaluation of the tour.  In the present post, I will offer a general description of the tour, to which I now turn.

PROLOGUE

if you haven’t been, [Louisiana State Penitentiary] is an exceedingly difficult place to describe. Perhaps you’re built to tolerate the humidity and the sweat that sticks to your neck no matter how fervently you waft the glossy brochure they hand you at the Visitor Centre. If you are, you’ll notice sooner than I did that there aren’t actually any walls surrounding the facility. 6,300 inmates are divided among innumerable clusters, each of which houses anywhere from a dozen to many hundreds of people, scattered across the prison’s 18,000 acre territory. But aside from the barbed fence surrounding those small clusters, the entire facility has no perimeter fence, no high wall, no barbed wire. “You don’t need ‘em,” the guard informs you, “when the bushes are filled with animals that’ll get the job done.” (Johann)

ARRIVAL

After travelling by school bus for about two hours, some of us a little car sick from the humid and bumpy ride, we arrived at the visitor center to wait for our tour guide. The visitor center consisted of multiple rooms of history, what some might call propaganda, some genuinely intersting (for sociolgoical or historical purposes) artifacts (including a few framed ancient issues of the prisoner-run newspaper, The Angolite), and especially the kind of attractions that have become rote for the common audience---exhibits of escape attempts and weapons. A related kind of exhibit reveals Angola's other sources of fame. Johann writes,
Next to a trite display that proudly attests to Angola’s impressive history at the forefront of progressive penal reform (you can make your own mind up) is an exhibit devoted to representations of Angola in popular media. Pride of place in that exhibit goes to Tim Robbins’ adaptation of Sister Helen Prejean’s Dead Man Walking, which was partly filmed on site.
The visitor center also includes a small store in which one can buy hot sauce made from the crops raised at the penitentiary to shirts and other items. Reflecting on the commercialization of prisons and prison tours, Keramet writes,
I had imagined the Angola gift shop for years, because of a strange gift I was given in 2005. I was working for Human Rights Watch when Hurricane Katrina hit. One of our researchers went to visit Angola, to document the human rights abuses taking place there as New Orleans flooded and prisoners, literally, disappeared. When the researcher returned to the Human Rights Watch offices in New York, she presented me with a gift: a plush little "beanie baby" dog, dressed in black-and-white prison stripes, stamped with the word "Angola." I have kept that odd memento for more than a decade, moving it from office to office, as a reminder of the many contradictions inherent in our prisons, especially the too easy commodification of suffering. As I entered Angola prison, through the gift shop, this summer, I was surprised to see shelves of those same, familiar little puffy prison dogs.

THE TOUR

When our tour guide arrived--a tall, sturdy man in a light pink suit and loafers, whom I did not at first realize was a retired prison guard--we all got back on to the bus and drove forward through the prison's gates. As we drove for what might have been a mile or two (we drove slowly), he pointed out the various crops grown on the prison's thousands of acres---it seemed like every fruit and vegetable that one could grow in the south---corn, okra, various kinds of berries, peppers, nuts,...---and several buildings. We had passed several housing units that we could only see at a distance before arriving and parking at one housing unit. As in many older prisons, the sallyport was the only entrance---all entire group squished in for both doors to close before we walked through, down a long open corridor. We passed two churches on either side and then twin dormitories on either side before entering a building.

The Prison Law Office

Our destination was the Prison Law Office. The Law Office consisted of parallel cubical/desk areas within the prison's law library. As one might expect (although it is disheartening to see in reality), it was a library but with few books or periodicals and no (visible) computers; it was reminiscent of the reading areas, where there are some tables for reading or research, and some waist-high bookshelves, with taller bookshelves on the perimeter. We took seats in this area and turned our attention to about eight men who ran the Prison Law Office. I have a poor sense of time generally, and even more so during our tour, but I would estimate we spent 30 or so minutes listening to them and asking them some questions.

This was by far the most stimulating, and I would argue important, part of the tour--getting to listen to and speak with the men who did the important work of trying to ensure rights were respected within one the nation's most notorious prisons and to give its inmates the slightest chance of release from a prison with the largest population of lifers. I will return to the importance of speaking with inmates during a prison tour, but for now, I want to emphasize what I (and I think others) learned from it.

I think many of us were struck by their professionalism and their commitment to their work---this impression was not from a lowered sense of expectations because they were incarcerated people (far from it). Instead, I was mentally comparing them to, for example, undergraduates, law students, or paralegals who would run a similar office out of a law school or community center, and finding these men more impressive. Indeed, they were essentially doing the work of lawyers, but without any formal training (no law school) except what had been handed down from previous and existing members of the office. And like lawyers, they were working what sounded like 60-hour work weeks (while getting "paid" for an eight-hour day---more on this later). They emphasized the importance of confidentiality and what efforts they took to protect their clients' information and also protect files from other incarcerated men for whom there might actual legal restrictions preventing them from seeing material in the file. I think many of us were also impressed by their resourcefulness but also their ability to get anything done without a fully equipped library, let alone internet access. As an example, they relied on CDs that compiled case law (something like a CD version of LexisNexis) and specific law reviews or newsletters that compile prison law-relevant cases. However, the CDs came out once a year or less and the newsletters likewise had delays. Consequently, new cases may have come through with potential consequences for their legal strategy, but they had no way of knowing---the consequence could be their case gets rejected or they miss the opportunity to challenge something that they now have a strong basis for challenging.

A series of thoughts ran through my mind during this session---respect and gratitude to these men for their work, Milovanovic and Thomas's work on jailhouse lawyers, Calavita and Jenness's work on the inmate grievance system, and a general desire to examine the work of a prison's prisoner-run law office from any number of perspectives (resistance, professionalization, gap studies, bureaucracy, policy/doctrinal, etc.). I was disappointed when our time came to an end---there were so many questions I wanted to ask. At the same time I wondered if they saw our visit as a net positive or net negative---they rarely spoke with outsiders, so we may have been a welcome visit; on the other hand, they were overworked and understaffed with too much to do in too little time and we had just taken up their precious time.

As we retraced our steps, we again passed the dormitories. It was nearly lunchtime and through the dim, horizontal shade/slots that served as windows, I could just barely make out some men preparing lunch for their dormitories. Our guide explained that in these wings, the inmates ate in their cells. This was the closest we came to their living space, a point I will return to later. Before exiting the unit, we entered one of the two churches. (If my memory and understanding are correct, this was the Catholic church, directly across from what I think was the non-denominational Christian church.) It looked much like other churches one sees in the South---an alter facing rows of pews and colorful decorations. What was unique about this church in Angola was that everything had been made with prison labor---our guide emphasized that no state funding had gone to the construction of this church; instead, it benefited from some donations from local religious organizations and individuals. He especially pointed to a beautiful large mural that had been painted by a prisoner.

Space

The rest of the tour primarily took place on the bus transcending what felt like a very large expanse. More fields and crops. It was during this portion of the tour that we learned of the prison's natural barriers---the Mississippi and an extremely dense forest, the one that even if you could fit your body between the thick foliage was filled with critters, as Johann noted above. Our guide told us about his night in the forrest when one prisoner had attempted to escape and our guide was one of the men assigned to sit in the wilderness and wait should the escapee happen past him in the night. He emphasized how scared he---this large, strong man---was that night; he was armed with a gun, but had few shells, and was given a flashlight, but instructed to keep it off except for emergencies. It was one of several moments on the tour during which we glimpsed the way in which prison guards at Angola were treated better than the prisoners, but still much worse than a typical first-world employee.

During this part of the tour, we also passed the prisoner cemetery, the dog cemetery, and the dog kennel. As Keramet notes,
The only building in the entire, swampy facility, which both houses prisoners and has air conditioning, is the barn, bright white atop a sloping green hill at an edge of the property, where the prison's guard dogs are trained. Our tour guide told us that the most trusted prisoners in Angola earn the right to sleep in the air conditioned barn -- without guards -- and manage the dogs. I asked what exactly the dogs are trained to do. The tour guide said "guard the prison." When I had worked at Human Rights Watch, I had written about the use of dogs to attack prisoners and drag them out of their cells. I suspected the Angola dogs did more than "guard the prison." As our tour bus paused, the guide pointed out a single white cross marking a grave at the foot of the hill. A bill-board-style sign labeled the grave: "Ole Red used in music video by Blake Shelton." Here's where I sheepishly admit to loving Blake Shelton's country classic, "Ole Red," about a prisoner, sentenced to life for killing his wife and her lover, who earns the trust of the warden in prison and is given charge of the prison's guard dog. The prisoner trains the red-haired prison hound to sneak out of the prison on late night rendez-vous with a blue-tick hound beyond the prison gates. Next, the prisoner escapes, running "north" while Ole Red runs "south" to his blue-tick love. The refrain is cute: "Now there's red haired blue ticks all in the South. Love got me in here and love got me out." At Angola, Ole Red's grave, obviously in a place of honor, was a stark contrast to the sea of un-labeled white crosses a few hundred yards beyond, and across the road, marking the graves of the hundreds of prisoners who had died and been buried at Angola over decades of the prison's operation. I could barely make out the edge of the cemetery it was so vast.
What struck me about the human cemetery was how few graves there seemed to be in light of how many prisoners had died since the prison's opening more than a hundred years ago. As Keramet notes, it was unclear where the cemetery ended, but the little white crosses demarcating graves visible were only a fraction of the number of men (and women) whose graves would be on the property. (Our guide noted that the vast majority of inmates were not picked up by their families, but were buried here.) We were told there was a smaller older cemetery nearby. As the bus continued up the road, I puzzled over where the other graves were or if the white crosses were simply new within the last decade or so.

Time and Money

We only got off the bus once before our final stop back at the visitor center. As we pulled up to a barn, some of us were focused on one of the prison's dogs laying in the shade until we realized our guide had gotten off the bus and had two of the men who worked at the barn to bring out one of the prison's most prized possessions---Big Boy, a magnificent, extremely large horse of the kind that used to pull the hearse that brought prisoners to the cemetery (the hearse was retired to the visitor center). We slowly got off the bus---unsure without instructions from the guide whether to stay put or disembark, but anxious to get into the comparative coolness of the hot, humid Southern summer air. Johann spoke with Terry, one of the men who worked in the barn and worked closely with Big Boy. Johann noted afterwards "Terry's pride in Big Boy's health." Terry was an older man who had been at Angola for a very long time. It was around this part of the tour, as I thought about the men who had lived most of their lives here, went to work in the fields during the day and the dormitories at night, that for me the enormity of time in Angola started to strike.

It was around this time that the Angola economy was explained to us. Angola is largely self-sufficient, a point our guide repeatedly noted. Most of the prisoners, as Johann summarizes,
labor in the fields to farm the produce that will feed the State’s incarcerated population. Inmates aren’t paid for this labor for the first three years, but upon the start of their fourth year, for each hour of labor, they make two cents: one goes in their pockets while the other goes into a ‘savings account’ that they may access upon earning a balance of $250. If you make it that long, it takes about fifteen years. Then you can buy a candy bar.
Additionally, everyone in Angola---including the guards---is paid for an eight-hour workday, despite the fact that everyone works more than eight hours a day. With this level of exploitation, one can understand how the prison is essentially self-sufficient. (It is worth noting that the economy of scale helps: even smaller prisons exploiting their prisoners to this extent are unlikely to prove self-sustaining.) Meager pay is an overstatement in this case, but it does make one wonder: why does the prison even pay the prisoners at all for their labor? I ask this not from a penny-pinching neo-liberal standpoint, but as a genuine question: Angola was a plantation named for the original home of its African slaves. The prisoners, now and throughout history, are primarily African-American, many likely descended from slaves; in the prison's early years, some prisoners and their families had worked the land as slaves. There is no hiding the history of or parallels to slavery at Louisiana State Penitentiary. But one does not need to: slavery itself is not illegal in American prisons---the 13th Amendment allows it. But if the prison were attempting to avoid accusations of modern-day slavery, paying someone (effectively) one penny per hour would be the thinnest form of symbolic compliance imaginable. I imagine the prison authorities are balancing an intent to reduce costs to the bare minimum and an effort to incentivize work. I want to emphasize the latter point: when is a penny an hour an incentive to work?

Again, the time-scale at Angola is striking. Our guide informed us that the average prison sentence at Angola was (somewhere around) 90 years. Advice for alcoholics and others trying to overcome some great difficult is to take it one day at a time. At Angola, that advice seems inadequate at best as one needs a different order of magnitude. Whereas we, free people on the outside, might think in terms of days and weeks, at Angola, I imagine one would think in terms of years and decades. At least, that seems to be the logic of the prison economy. This was just one of the points throughout the day where we confronted something so foreign---even though we had read about these things and studied them---that our normal experiences and our cognitive frameworks, at least for me, felt inadequate for comprehending what life was like at Angola.

It was now lunch time---or a little past. We exited the bus and ate in a cafeteria open to the public. Our guide informed us that, in years past, the cafeteria served the same food as the prisoners ate. At some point in the recent past, however, they changed the menu. When organizing the tour, we were told that our lunch options would be hamburgers or cheeseburgers. Keramet successfully asked if we might add a salad option, although we were skeptical of what that would be---I was expecting wilted iceberg lettuce and suggested that members of our group pack protein bars or other snacks. I never asked anyone how their burger was (a few did order a burger), but I think everyone was surprised by the salad: it was probably the best salad I have had. In addition to a little iceberg lettuce, there were mixed greens, kale, thinly sliced squash, bell pepper, blueberries, cranberries, cashews, sunflower seeds, edamame, and some other ingredients I do not recall, with a vinaigrette on the side. As we were finishing our meal, one of the men working in the cafeteria brought around silver-dollar-sized warm chocolate chip cookies. As our guide informed us, everything we ate (except the bags of chips) was grown by the prisoners at Angola.

The Land of New Beginnings

Our final stop was the old Death Row. Between the visitor center and the death row were parallel rows of a high metal fence lined with razor sharp barbed wire at the top and bottom. We were told that should a prisoner get inside, the guards would release the dogs into what became essentially a long dog run. Once we arrived at death row, we were greeted with the puzzling sign proclaiming, "You Are Entering The Land of New Beginnings." As Johann describes,
Even happening upon death row during the late afternoon after the sun has descended, the fans at full blast stand no chance against the formidable Louisiana air. I’m told that only one cluster in the entire prison enjoy air-conditioning, and it houses twelve inmates (the trusties). They’re not the ones on death row.
A long line of ten or twelve cells on the right and barred windows on the left with fans and TVs for every few cells. A list of the names of famous death row inmates and which cells they had occupied was posted above one of the cells. This was not the current death row---that was housed in a supermax-like facility deep in the property---but instead a glimpse of what death rows have looked like for a century or more around the country. The cells were the standard Big House style that had grown out of the nineteenth-century Auburn System: barred doors that roll from left to right, cells about six feet wide and eight feet deep. Facing the cell, one sees a metal bed affixed to the right wall and a combination toilet/sink in the left corner. The placement of the toilet makes it even more difficult to walk around or do jumping jacks or pushups, which would be barely possible if the toilet were at the foot of the bed, but presumably plumping made that placement impossible. The beds themselves were short--a six-foot-tall man would find it difficult to lay flat. One of the striking features is how much this set up resembled contemporary supermax cells (except those are entirely enclosed spaces---no barred door through which one might communicate with a neighbor), modern juvenile cells (which are unnervingly like supermax cells), or the standard cells many prisoners find themselves in, regardless of when their prison was constructed.

Outside of death row was an exhibit about executions at Angola. The electric chair that had long been used was on display--set off so one could not sit in it (unlike at some other facilities). The center of the room was filled with several display cases showing the garments worn and accouterments used (for example, to cut their hair) for the execution. Lists of prisoners executed by the state of Louisiana adorned the walls. With everyone inside this cramped space, our guide reported in matter-of-fact monotone the process by which an inmate was prepped and ultimately executed by lethal injection, its current method. He told us that in the month before execution, a guard of similar height, weight, and build, would stand in for the condemned person while the execution team would strap the guard into the gurney and make all the needed adjustments before the day of the execution to minimize the number of adjustments needed on the eve of the person's death. For the first time all day, and what seemed to be somewhat out of character, our guide engaged in the kind of gallows humor that seems to be standard for prison tours: he looked at us and said (inexact quote) "Next time, we might use you--or you," pointing to a few members of the group. With his narrative completed, he asked if we had any other questions, which a few asked. By this time, I think everyone, including our guide, was punchy. We had spent most of the day so far sitting on a bus, but between the oppressive heat and the enormity of our subject matter, we were exhausted. We slowly made our way back to the visitor center, used the facilities, and re-boarded the bus for our return to New Orleans.

PREVIEW

With this description in mind, the next post will critically evaluate our tour. Drawing especially on Keramet's commentary, I will discuss the ethical and empirical issues confronting scholars and ordinary citizens. What is an ethical prison tour? Should prison tours exist? What factors might we consider when balancing the tendencies toward voyeurism with the need for documentation and investigation? By touring Angola, have we implicated ourselves in a larger system of exploitation and commodification? These are some of the issues we considered before, during, and after the tour, and with which we are still wrestling.

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Another tour will be offered for those attending the ASC meeting in November. I will circulate information as it becomes available.

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Did you join our tour and want to share your reflections? Leave a comment below or email me at punishmentsocietyblog@gmail.com

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Special Issue of Punishment & Society: Call for Papers!

The international peer-reviewed journal Punishment & Society published its first issue in 1999, at a time when punitive politics and populism was reaching an apex globally, and when longstanding penal logics were being supplanted by novel ones. In his inaugural editorial, founding editor David Garland characterized punishment as “one of the most pressing problems of our age,” that called for a distinct intellectual outlet for scholarship on punishment. “The new centrality of penal politics and the changing configuration of the field, together with the growth over the last two decades of a vigorous and impressive body of new penological scholarship made it seem timely and important to establish a forum for this kind of discussion and debate.” The journal has since established itself as the premiere international publication on issues of punishment and penal control.

Punishment & Society will publish a special 20th anniversary issue of the journal in Fall 2018. We seek submissions for the 20th anniversary issue that are in conversation with the many penal developments that have been highlighted and debated over the last two decades in the journal. Interested scholars should submit a 750- to 1000-word summary (including references) of an original empirical or theoretical article to be considered for inclusion in the 20th anniversary issue. The summary should identify the particular line of inquiry, as previously featured in the journal, that will propel the manuscript, as well as the original empirical and theoretical contributions of the proposed manuscript.

Authors of selected submissions will be invited to a small workshop to refine their manuscripts, facilitated by current and former editors of the journal. The workshop will take place in Spring 2017 at the University of California, Irvine.

Interested authors should submit summaries of proposed manuscripts to current editors Mona Lynch (lynchm@uci.edu) and Kelly Hannah-Moffat (hannah.moffat@utoronto.ca) by Friday, November 18, 2016. Authors of selected proposals will be notified no later than early January, 2017. Full manuscript drafts (approximately 8000 words, including notes, tables, and references) will be due in March, 2017, in advance of the workshop.

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The flyer: 

Monday, July 11, 2016

New Positions of Interest: U. of Toronto

The Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto (Mississauga campus) is hiring in the areas of (1) Criminology and (2) Crime and Gender. The deadline to apply is September 12, 2016. Please see the advertisements below.