Reflexive Note

Whilst in prison, men’s masculine vulnerabilities and my own gendered identity intersected in ways which were illuminative of the gendered vulnerabilities being experienced by men, particularly regarding the lack of female identities against which they were able to juxtapose their masculinities. Many such vulnerabilities have already been discussed in the reflexive notes of preceding chapters. I was very lucky in that I rarely felt overly vulnerable within the prison—although my identity management was a personal challenge, and I was restricted in my movements and temporal experiences; and although I was also watched throughout the day, my vulnerabilities were nowhere near as problematic as those of many men in prison, nor of the staff. For example, one day I came into the prison to find out that one of the staff members I was chatting with had had to cut down someone who had attempted to hang himself the day before. The implications of such experiences for the suicidal man, and for the staff member having to take action, are feelings that take notions of vulnerability to a whole new level. The fact that staff members carry ligature knives with them as a matter of course, and yet prisoners cannot use metal cutlery (but can use razor blades) really does challenge one’s thinking of prisons and their priorities.

One of the central tenets of vulnerability is the notion of being, in some way, at risk. I rarely felt that within the prison, mainly because I was normally in some degree of control over my movements, use of time, personal identity, and when I wanted to leave. These were all dimensions that were categorically denied to the men that I was interviewing. Having experienced some of the gendered vulnerabilities that emerged in the prison setting as an observer—and therefore to a degree nowhere near as intense or inescapable as those actually living (and working) in prisons—it becomes clear that gender, vulnerabilities, and imprisonment are tightly connected and have serious implications for each other and the men experiencing them.

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