Prisoners Struggle Against Demands of Public Narratives

face of a prisoner

Prisoners have struggled against confinement in public narratives. When George Jackson explained to Luis Talamantez that prisoners’ struggles were all about seizing the means of production, Talamantez, a fellow prisoner, responded:

I used to pass the {food} trays through the cell slots {as tier tender}. “So what’re you tellin’ me? You’re gonna seize your tray, or what!”^

Andreas Schroeder observed:

Following the publication of an article I’d written for Weekend Magazine on my prison experiences, I was overwhelmed with invitations to appear on talk shows, public affairs programs and the like, to “oh you know, describe some of the horrors of the place, the physical and psychic violence…”^

Prisons are fear-inspiring, violent, oppressive, boring, depressing, treacherous, regimented places. Public narratives that highlight prison horrors separate them from ordinary experience. Like horror movies, public narratives of prison horrors have their own intrinsic public appeal. They do not necessarily lead to public action.

The same communicative structure is apparent with respect to prison rape. Rape is a significant risk in prisons and jails. Public joking about rape in prisons represents prisoners as other beings for whom ordinary human compassion doesn’t exist. A general public sense that prisoners are fellow human beings with the same human dignity as all human beings may more effectively support humane prison conditions than do public narratives of prison horrors.

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