The Control of the Self

The control of the self can easily be seen in its corporeal manifestations on prisoners’ bodies. Evidence of the gym and physical development can be seen through the building of muscles, bodily strength, and fitness. Tattoos show the inscription of the self on the body and, along with self-inflicted scars, are evidence of one of the most fundamental aspects of imposed control over the self through the manipulation of the body’s appearance to others and its associated symbolism. Such corporeal management can be used as a means of displaying one’s identity and personal control over the self and others—muscles and fitness signify personal strength and toughness, and tattoos are often associated with hardness as well as signifying certain affiliations, be that to the family through the display of loved one’s names, or to football clubs and so on. In addition, scars can also symbolise toughness if interpreted as being evidence of one’s fighting past.

Personal health can also be inscribed upon the body—signs of illness can have implications for how others view and judge you, as some highlighted with reference to the ill appearance associated with drug-taking behaviours. Cleanliness can also be a signifier to others of the self, signifying the ability of an individual to be independent and take care and control over his own body and image, which can be added to through individualising scents and clothing. In this way, the manipulation of the body allows evidence of relationships of control to be seen, as well as control over which elements of identity an individual values most. The control of the self is also evident in the behaviours expressed by individuals—the setting of aspirations and the attainment of skills and qualifications demonstrate an individual’s control over his intended life course, and the ownership of time allows individual prisoners to avoid the feeling of their time being ‘wasted’ and thus out of their control.

When such avenues of control of others, spaces, and selves were lost or unavailable—particularly when under the restraining influence of the institution—men cited their stresses and frustrations. When other men denounced or were unable to take control over their selves, their sentences, or their spaces, they were defined as weak or vulnerable. What ran throughout these processes of control was the fact that such processes had the aim of appealing to a particular audience that mattered to that individual.

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