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Über dieses Buch

This book explores how an audience of men serving sentences in an English prison responded to viewing five contemporary British prison films. It examines how media representations of prison vary in style and content, how film can influence public attitudes, and how this affects people in prison. The book explains the ways in which film acts as a power resource, presenting an ideological vision of criminal justice. The audience used these films to map the social terrain of prison, including issues of power and resistance; race and racism; corruption and the illicit economy; and staff-prisoner relationships, themes which are explored in the films screened. The authors argue that media consumption is one of the ways in which people in prison construct and maintain an ideal of the prisoner culture and what it is to be a ‘prisoner’. The book also reveals the ways in which audience members’ media choices and readings are part of the ongoing process of constructing their self-identity. This book illuminates the complex ways in which media consumption is an integral part of social power, cultural formation and identity construction. Recognising and engaging with audiencehood offers one potential route for supporting more progressive penal practice. This book speaks to those interested in prisons, crime, media and culture, and film studies.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

1. Introduction

Abstract
Media representation plays a significant role in shaping how the public understand the penal system. It is less understood how people serving sentences in prison respond to media representations. This book draws upon an exploratory study in which five contemporary British prison films were screened to an audience of men serving long sentences deep inside the English prison system. Audience studies of prisons and the media have largely focussed at a macro-level, considering how this shapes public attitudes and values, and situating this within the broader political economy. By focussing on people in prison, this study also seeks to explore the role of the media at a micro-level, intersecting with individual identity and sense of self. Further, the study is concerned with the role of media consumption at a meso-level, including the interplay with institutional cultures, such as the inmate culture. The research adopted an audience ethnography approach, qualitative in nature and recognising audiencehood as an active process in which viewers engage in struggles over meaning rather than passively consuming media texts. The essential concern is the relationship between prison film and the lived experience of the participants.
Jamie Bennett, Victoria Knight

2. Bronson: Power and Resistance

Abstract
Bronson is a stylised biography of notorious British prisoner, Charles Bronson, a figure of tabloid fascination in the UK. The prisoner audience read the film particularly focussing on three themes: power in prison; strategies of resistance and; the illusion of hope. In relation to power, the audience read in the film as a depiction of the transformation from authoritarian power, characterised by few material comforts, and a rigid hierarchy backed by staff brutality and violence, to neo-paternalism, characterised by soft power, nurturing self-interest through the use of conditional incentives, fostering closer social relations, and introducing discretionary decision-making in relation to access to material rewards, custodial progress and release. With regard to resistance, the Bronson character was read as offering direct and politicised opposition, whereas the audience saw such approaches as unproductive in their own lives, where they had to navigate a line between conformity and retaining their own self-identity. Hope, particularly for conditional release, as offered to Bronson in the film and a prominent feature of the lived experience of the audience, was viewed as illusory and that such incentives acted as a form of veiled power. The audience readings offered a sophisticated illumination of their lived experience and critique the wider power structures that shaped their world.
Jamie Bennett, Victoria Knight

3. Starred Up: Prison Cultures and Personal Change

Abstract
Starred up focusses on Eric Love, a young prisoner who has been moved from a young offenders’ institution into an adult prison as a result of his violent behaviour. The prisoner audience discussed three significant themes: the prison subculture and everyday prison life; rehabilitation, reform and redemption, and; prison staff violence and corruption. The audience described aspects of the film being authentic, including the chaotic life of a newly sentence long-term prisoner. Some saw this as echoing their own experiences. Most of the men were now, however, in their mid-sentence and had withdrawn from the prison subculture and were constructing a different life and identity. The men recognised the film’s critique of offending behaviour programmes as a means of rehabilitation, and the dissonance between what happened in the classroom and life on the prison wing. In relation to prison staff, although the men believed that staff corruption and violence took place, it was not part of their direct lived experience. The critical representation of prison staff nevertheless emotionally resonated with their own experiences of everyday injustices, indifference and misuse of power. The audience responded to much that was authentic and emotionally resonant, but it was largely a reality they recognised as being lived by other people in prison, rather than a representation of their own lives.
Jamie Bennett, Victoria Knight

4. We Are Monster: Race in Prison

Abstract
We are Monster is a film dramatisation focussing on 20-year-old Robert Stewart, who murdered his 19-year-old cellmate, Zahid Mubarek in an unprovoked racist attack at Feltham Young Offenders Institution in 2000. The audience generally expressed that the film did not represent their everyday experiences of race in prisons, which they described as characterised by generally benign multicultural relations. The film did, however, stimulate reflection on the racial dynamics of prison life. The men varied in their responses and their degree of comfort with candid discourse of race, power and racism. Black and Asian men were more open to engaging in this conversation and discussed experiences of hidden racism, including institutional and structural racism and unconscious bias. Some white prisoners were less comfortable with the depiction of explicit racist language and found it divisive and provocative, preferring to reject such stark racism rather than enter into discourse about it. The discussion revealed tensions below the surface of everyday multicultural relations. The men were appreciative of the attempt to represent Robert Stewart’s background and the root causes of his crime, rather than condemning him as a “monster”. The depiction of staff was welcomed for different reasons, in particular that it offered a critique of racism and exposed the everyday experiences of “uncare”.
Jamie Bennett, Victoria Knight

5. Screwed: Prison Work and Prison Officer Cultures

Abstract
Screwed centres on Sam Norwood, a new prison officer. He learns his craft, guided by more experienced colleagues, and becomes enmeshed in the culture, turning to colleagues for social connection and emotional support, becoming more detached from his wife and young child. Slowly, Norwood comes to realise that his closest colleagues are corrupt and are running an organised drugs ring from within the prison. The prisoner audience appreciated viewing a film that focussed on prison staff, particularly as it was not an idealised fantasy, but instead showed brutal, corrupt and harmful behaviours. Many of the men felt that this exposed real issues and validated their complaints. There were three significant themes discussed by the group. The first was prison officer culture and how this shaped the outlook and behaviour of prison staff. The second addressed corruption in prison, not only official misconduct, but also a more general critique of the perceived illegitimacy of penal authority. Finally, there was discussion of the harmfulness of prison work for those undertaking it, and the emotional response of prisoners to the experience of suffering by prison staff. Screwed elicited a powerful response from the audience, generating an intellectual critique of prisons and provoking uncomfortable, feelings about prison staff.
Jamie Bennett, Victoria Knight

6. Everyday: Families of Prisoners and the Collateral Harms of Imprisonment

Abstract
Everyday focusses on a family, with four children, over a five-year period during which the father, Ian Ferguson, serves a prison sentence while the mother, Karen, struggles to maintain the family at home. Three main themes emerged from the discussions. The first centred on the experiences of people serving long-term sentences, who suffered the pain of separation, where relationships could be dissolved, compromised and damaged. The second theme addressed the experience of family members. In particular, emotional strain, financial hardship and social stigma. The resilience and loyalty of loved ones were positively represented in the film and highly regarded by the audience. Finally, the audience responded to the film’s depiction of a family reunited after release. Many of the audience members were sustained by a hope that they too would be reconciled with their loved ones. They were nevertheless aware that such dreams could be illusory and that the reality of release could be difficult and uncertain. Everyday offered a means to reflect upon the painful effects of imprisonment for prisoners and their families. It was also a gateway into exploration of the emotional life of prisons.
Jamie Bennett, Victoria Knight

7. Conclusion

Abstract
This chapter draws together the main findings from an exploratory study in which five contemporary British prison films were screened to an audience of men serving long sentences in an English prison. At a macro-level, mediated images are a power resource that project ideological visions of justice. The audience recognised that representation was part of the power structures that enabled punitiveness. Although they applauded examples of alternative, critical perspectives they saw this is having limited impact in the face of hegemonic power. From the meso-level, the participants used these films to map the social terrain of prisons. The dominant representations conveyed a hegemonic ideal of what it is to be a prisoner. This was a form of symbolic violence that had implications for how people in prison are viewed by others but also how they construct their own lives. At the micro-level, media was deployed by the audience members as part of the ongoing process of constructing their self-identity. The chapter ends by considering the implications for research and practice. This includes the potential to use media productively, for example through film discussion groups and by engaging prisoners in media production. It is argued that as digital developments are rolled out in prisons, the end-user, prisoners themselves, should have an important role in design, content production and use.
Jamie Bennett, Victoria Knight

Backmatter

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