Vulnerabilities: The Self

Participants spoke of their personal vulnerabilities that emerged when they were alone in their cells (for long periods, generally at night), and the fact that they felt the need to keep busy or distracted in order to avoid thinking too much about their personal situations (and emotional feelings of failure or separation from the outside world), which had the potential to result in negative emotions and potential actions. On a number of occasions, the exaggerative effects of prison upon ‘problems’ were mentioned:

Jude: Everything’s intensified you know it’s like being in a...pressure cooker, you

know, everything, you know, a little problem outside that you wouldn’t think twice about in here is a major issue

Negative emotions and experiences of the prison were widely experienced, although the importance of being supported through one’s sentence, the value of positive interactions (numerous participants spoke of how they helped and advised other prisoners, or had been helped and advised themselves), and the need to get along with other prisoners, was acknowledged. Many also noted the fact that there was a general lack of trust in prison, that prison ‘friendships’ were generally temporary in nature (see Chapter 6), and the need to police one’s words and actions in order to avoid trouble with others. As such, the masculine solidarity that existed in prisons of old appears to have been eroded, although there was acknowledgement of the fact that:

William: You know we’re all in the same boat, and if we don’t have a little bit of respect for those around us then it’s all just going to go to pot I think

Prisoners have to sustain a level of individualism, yet not generally be individuals due to their status as numbered prisoners, which impacts upon how they are treated and creates a sense of vulnerability with respect to their personal identities as independent, individual men. Other self-destructive tendencies were mentioned as due to, and contributing to, a climate of isolation and alienation, despite the size of the prison population. Participants spoke of their vulnerabilities at the hands of others, with a number highlighting the effect that certain prisoners could have upon their mental well-being through their own negativity (and vice versa with positive people) and the impacts of peer pressure. Others were often seen as having actual negative effects—participants spoke of the discomfort that other prisoners produced in them due to their offences, personal hygiene, and mere presence with the accompanying lack of privacy, highlighting the fact that individuals can feel vulnerable due to their inability to predict or control others:

Sebastian: Because it’s mixed in you don’t know who you’re talking to do you [...]

And that’s not, that’s not nice [.] coz I’ve got pictures like pictures like my step kids, my nieces, my nephews all over the walls and I think to myself, hold on a minute this geezer’s walking into my cell, he’s looking round my cell, “oh these are nice pictures”, I’m thinking, I’m thinking some nasty things, I’m thinking why are you looking at my pictures, are you looking at my pictures coz they’re nice or are you looking at them coz you re a wrong un[1]

Participants tended to show traits that could be seen as vulnerabilities with reference to losing control over some aspect(s) of their lives in the harsh environment of the prison—at least one participant described feeling ‘trapped’, highlighting the lack of control he experienced and perceived. With many there were obvious underlying issues from their pasts that had impacted upon their criminal futures and their masculine identities and abilities (such as their abilities as fathers). It was clear that many participants could be classed as vulnerable or victims before they became entangled in the criminal justice system, with implications for their selfesteem and confidence. When these issues were identified and engaged with in ‘safe’ environments where individuals generally took a much less judgmental stance towards each other’s displays of emotion and “weakness” participants often felt more able to show a degree of emotionality and vulnerability to others, where they would not as standard due to the negative implications of being seen as weak. In order to retain a level of control over themselves, participants spoke of the fact that they put up fronts to other prisoners to hide their true identities with their associated emotions and weaknesses. This was seen to have implications for how generous or kind individuals could be to each other, with trust being at a premium:

Connor: You know. ..not a lot of them are like that in here though, [...] they say

there’s no one like you, you know, you, you’re the only person that actually cares, and I do and it’s a downfall really, in here, because.. .to care in a place like this, you’re either soft, gay, or hiding something

  • [1] Referring to sex offenders.
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