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Home arrow Psychology arrow Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience
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The Masculine Value of Time

As has been noted, men and women’s perceptions of time have been found to be extremely different in nature (see also Wajcman 2014). In particular, masculine time has been aligned with the control of time (Odih 1999; Shirani and Henwood 2011), individualism and instrumentalism, and looking to the future (Cottle and Klineberg 1974), in particular attempting a ‘disembodiment from the particularity of human experience’ (Odih 1999 : 15). Such linearity, Odih continues, is central and dominant in capitalist economies, demonstrating a temporal hierarchy and the links between the definition of time and power. Such a temporal hierarchy can clearly be seen within the prison setting, in that prisoners are told what to do and when to do it, and have their daily routines mapped out with precision and predictable regularity. The instrumentality of linear time that men usually put into place in their daily lives is removed from their control, and in addition, more feminine conceptions of cyclical time are forced upon them in combination. Men, being unable to conform to this linear time-form, find themselves no longer seated within power economies embodied within temporal discourses. They become disempowered through time itself, and feminised through their subordination and lack of temporal control. This may well explain the words of one convict criminologist who states:

Prison is a place so removed from the rhythms of the social world that temporality (experienced time) is heavily distorted. A sense of ‘the future’, which should be an open horizon, becomes all-but-inoperative while you are in prison (Nakagawa 1993). I think it is quite common to feel that there is no future within a prison sentence, nothing between going-in and coming-out but the pre-established routines, the prison timetable, to drift through. (Earle 2014: 407)

That said, there was some value ascribed to time by the men I spoke to, which was dependent upon the degree of control an individual had over it. Prisoners often described time in terms of its ownership by the particular individual serving it—time tended to belong to someone or something, hence its ascribed value:

Sebastian: But I don’t want to be frank and opening up and showing my emotions

to someone that is wrong in my eyes [...] Coz.. .someone like that don’t deserve my time

Generic aspects of the prison such as the routines established and enforced, the progression of individuals through a sentence, and the development and changes to, and experienced by, individuals over time, tended to be subject to value ascription when a prisoner claimed these time signifiers as their own, or relevant to their own time experiences:

Joshua: Yeah, you know. ..it’ll be even better once, once I get on my education the days, the days, you know, once you get your days go, everything’s a.I put, I put everything into sections, you know.. .even my sentence, you know, do my exams, get that done, get to D Cat,2 that.. .that’s my goals, when you make short goals for yourself, tends to go a lot quicker I think

The achievement of such goals can be used as indicators of a positive masculine identity, as well as indicating manners in which men take control of their prison lives when such autonomy-resources are decidedly limited. The positive implications for prisoners’ well-being of having a routine (and thus having time marked out formally and regularly) were also recognised with reference to the constructive use of time (in terms of using it up or gaining some form of tangible benefit, such as entering different surroundings through employment or earning money for acquiring possessions or contacting family members), although in some cases a break from the routine of prison life was also seen positively. This theme tended to be the value that participants ascribed to talking to me in the interview setting, it being something ‘different’ to do with one’s time (and the movement into different spaces which were restricted to them—see Chapter 5).

The use and passing of time was achieved in numerous ways, most of which involved a prisoner being out of his cell (a time that was recognised as being of value) and engaged in religion, sport/gym, education, work, and so on. Achieving ‘extra time’ to undertake these activities was often viewed in a positive light—one prisoner spoke positively of the delay in roll call (which unfortunately shortened our interview considerably on this occasion), as it allowed him to have extra time in the gym, and the prison institution uses such views to enhance behaviour through the IEP[1] scheme. Some prisoners related the positive use of their time as being directly related to personal well-being—where a prisoner saw time in his cell as being positive, this was generally related to the concept of ownership of time, whereby the prisoner retained some element of control over his experiences as a result of being in his own personal space, which was also inherently linked to his masculine identity (see Chapter 5):

Researcher: So when’s your favourite time of the day?

Kai: Bang up, at night

Researcher: What when the door’s shut?

Kai: Yeah, bang up at night

Researcher: Why?

Kai: Coz it’s your time, you know when that door’s locked at eight o’clock

that’s you now till morning

Relaxation in general was seen as a positive use of time distinct to the prison sphere, and was linked by a number of participants to the prison/ outside divide regarding how they saw themselves and performed their identities through the use of their time:

Sebastian: If you could come to prison for a month and then get out, that would

be great coz you could like gather your thoughts and think right, this is what I’m going to do, this, that and the other because I’m like um...I’m classed as a prolific offender out there every day so my sort of licence is quite uh intensive so I have to go every day and all that and last time I was out they weren’t really doing nothing for me it was sort of like a number-crunching exercise

Time was also viewed in a positive light when it involved personal development and self-improvement, such as time built up free from drugs, or free from disciplinary action, highlighting the positive uses of prison time and their potential to encourage future positive masculine identities with implications for how they were viewed by key audiences such as loved ones. The idea of prisoners’ ages and relativity tended to be discussed by numerous individuals, generally with greater ages of others being seen to correspond to experience and maturity (and in some ways, respect), whereas younger offenders were criticised for lacking these elements. The differences between adult jail and young offenders’ institutions were often described in terms of the relative increase in maturity across the estate, which in turn often resulted in a decrease in violence and the perceived need to ‘prove’ oneself experienced by young men (usually situated towards the bottom of a highly volatile and fragile hierarchy of masculinity). The audience available within the YOI has particularly violent and sensitive expectations of masculinity—within the adult estate, the priorities of the watching audience have altered with age (and generally with the fact that the audience watching is not invested in that individual’s performances in the same way as they are within the youth estate, where young men feed off the activities and behaviours of other young men (see also Jackson 2002):

Jayden: Young offenders, yeah, um, young offenders is people feel like they’ve got

something to prove like d’you know what I mean, I’m all this, rarara, but in a man’s jail people just want to do their time [...] Get out and see their kids etc., in young offenders they all.. .they all think they’re 50 Cent

Individuals did see their own growth in age in a negative light with reference to their ageing bodies (see Wahidin 2002; Wahidin and Tate 2005) and the impact it might have on their future identities as independent and healthy men, and who they could be to potential future audiences such as families (see also Chapter 3).

Positive, valued time in prison, therefore, tends to be time that is passed quickly or efficiently, or time that is dedicated to the individual’s masculine development and thus controlled and owned by them directly and individually with positive implications for how they are seen. In the majority of cases, positive time seems to be related to looking forward in the life of the individual towards their aspirational future identities as free men and away from the autonomy-restricting prison context (albeit not in terms of their ageing bodies and minds):

Henry: But for me, because I have got a release date and I know that whatever happens at some point I’m getting out, it’s a bit easier, but for certain people, especially on this wing, they’re all lifers, people ent got release dates, they haven’t got a date when they’re getting out, do you know what I mean, so if, if I was in that situation I probably wouldn’t like it so much, but when I know whatever happens they’ve got to let me out next year

Narratives that fell within the negative time theme often tended to be related to the incongruence of individuals’ outside (linear) and prison (cyclical) identities, with claims that prison ‘wasted’ time or caused periods of stagnation:

Benjamin: It’s just, it’s not, it’s very boring, it’s very dull prison, I don’t know how

many people you’ve spoken to but it’s very dull, just a waste of life

Nathan: Well I’m stuck in here I guess. I look back and I think of all the years

I’ve wasted, I’m [X] now, I first come to prison when I’m 15 and I think that half me life, I think how much I’ve missed out on. At least [...] I’m still young enough in a sense to go and have a life

Time tended to be regarded in a negative fashion for prisoners when it was going unused, or was not being used in a way that prisoners saw to have positive implications in relation to their future masculine identities. The costs of prison in the context of the value of their personal lives and existences were recognised, with the most negative interpretations of prison tending to be where a prisoner juxtaposed his life inside with the life he imagined himself having outside, and seeing things lacking or lost—in particular, time that was exclusively in the ownership of the prison or prison staff and out of individual control (such as time waiting for reports to be completed, routine time, or time when a prisoner was behind his door) was seen in a negative light, and prisoners often compared the negativity of their own sentences with regard to other prisoners (particularly those with a longer/less determinate situation). In addition, the negativity of time tends to change during the period of a prisoner’s sentence, depending on factors both inside the prison (in terms of passing the time through achievements and development) and outside (things that prisoners are looking forward to getting out for—generally, their valued audience(s) and markers of masculinity):

Harrison: But these days because it’s like the downhill part of the sentence, it just

seems like it’s longer, the days seem longer, the weeks are longer.. .at the start of my sentence they were flying by and now, coz I know now I’m so close to being back with my family, that’s it [.] It’s starting to drag now

Another means through which men could display their masculinities was through displaying their working identities.

  • [1] Incentives and Earned Privileges
 
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