Reflexive Note

Being in prison also impacted upon me in relation to time experiences. In terms of my observations of time in the prison setting, I sometimes found myself losing track of time due to the lack of markers available to me, and I started to regulate my days in the prison according to the segments of time divided up by prison ‘movements’. Although the prison day was strictly divided up into sections of time defined according to these ‘movements’, such sections were not always uniform in character, being dictated by matters of security. Roll check after a movement—the counting up of prisoners after everyone has moved to their next location of the day—was often late, which would shorten the following segment of time. As Medlicott observed, means of marking time through the routine of the prison day are not necessarily consistent, with potential negative effects:

So the time-markers are trivial matters, such as the television going on. Even these markers are tenuous and unreliable, since they lie within the control of the staff, a power which they exercise as a weapon in the maintenance of conformity. (1999: 227)

Although such time markers were useful in terms of knowing the structure of the day, they also acted both as restrictions and a means through which to situate people within the prison institution through the imposition of controlling time regimes, including myself as a researcher. Restrictions in that they took away freedom to move away from the set structure of the day—if it was time for movement, you moved, even if there was scope to continue working on whatever was occupying you at the time, such as a research interview. I had no control over this, and was essentially under the highly masculinised control of prison security forces—quite a disempower- ing sensation. Numerous interviews had to be cut short as a result of having to stick to the set time frame as a result of the needs of security—security was thus inherently connected to time, in that the population of the prison was regulated according to roll calls at set times during the day.

Time markers acted as a monotonous controlling agent with serious security implications if they were not conformed to—controlling prisoners, staff, and visitors alike. As a researcher, the research agenda was out of my control to some degree—interviews had to be set within the set periods of time dictated by the prison security remit. In addition, the time markers had implications for me as an individual, acting as a rapid acclimatiser to the institutional regime and setting my internal clock to that of the prison in a relatively quick period of time. I became part of the prison through conforming to its regime and working to its timetable without really thinking about it.

Strangely, I had not thought about the impact of prison time upon me in a gendered fashion until I left the prison and began writing this book, other than in terms of the practicalities. When one considers the imposition of combination time patterns (i.e. cyclical and linear) upon individuals, this does explain some of the tensions I experienced whilst in the prison that I could not articulate at the time. There was something constricting—both practically and on a more existential level—about the routines even for those who could walk away, and rarely did those routines feel like they considered the people as opposed to the institutional requirements: there was something inhuman about the way that time was divided into equal segments. Hall makes the point that, as a result of us transferring our conceptions of time in modern day from our body clocks to timepieces, and then to have considered those clocks on the wall to be the ‘reality’, we have created stresses and conflicts within ourselves:

We have now constructed an entire complex system of schedules, manners, and expectations to which we are trying to adjust ourselves, when, in reality, it should be the other way around. The culprit is extension transference. Because of extension transference, the schedule is the reality and people and their needs are not considered (Hall 1983: 131).

Nowhere is this more true than in the modern-day prison.

For me as a woman, I am more attuned to working on cyclical time, which arguably also directed my approach to research and interviewing—the ethnographic process is arguably both cyclical and linear, looking forward but also immersing the researcher within controlling regimes.[1] Adapting to linearity and the hyperregulation of cyclicality was an additional challenge that is hardly ever discussed in the research methods literature. Time and its gendered impacts is clearly something that ought to be given some consideration beyond simply fatigue and practicality when undertaking prisons research.

  • [1] Many thanks to Jamie Irving for helping me with this thought process.
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