Interlude: dreams and transitions

We are in a medium-security facility built to house females who are awaiting trial and/or have a short sentence. So technically, it’s a transitional space. Though transitional does not necessarily feel transitory, even for those of us who arrive at 1 pm and leave at 3:30. And the jail itself feels like a kind of limbo, a state of inbetween, as during shift change when everyone freezes in place. You wonder how the birds skittering at the edges of hallways enter and exit these windowless spaces.

And you are learning/discerning the language of incarceration: security, facility, inmates, females, corrections, prisoners, offending, offenders, convicts, inside women, incarcerated women, ex-offenders, ex-cons, parolees, re-entry, recidivists, victims. Words like glue-paper.

The language of higher ed is not so sticky, more abstract: college and university, students, scholars, professors, academe, also rigor, assessment, achievement.

“The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program is a creative link between two of the largest and most highly-funded institutional and social structures in our country: academia and prisons.”1

At a higher education in prison conference, summer 2014:

Faculty #1: A big limitation in college programs is lack of internet access.
Faculty #2: The internet is the modern modality for exploring the world.
CO #1: We don’t want to re-victimize someone. Inmates can use the internet to get in touch with their victims. Unless you can guarantee me 100% that the internet won’t be used to hurt, I won’t grant access.
CO #2: This is what criminals do on the internet. They will abuse it. Criminal minds will use it for their advantage.
Alum: I want to problematize the language being used here. I am highly offended by what you said. Let’s check how we are having this conversation. How do you balance security and self-actualization?

Caught in the conundrum of other and self, inside and out, you follow your colleague’s direction toward porosity: a refusal or at least a reconsideration of the existence of self and other, inside and out. And you grope toward a conception of “self” and “other” as both distinct and not, or every body

a “multiplicity of multiplicities.” Every body is a heterogeneous and complex network of entities that is itself an entity or unit.…Far from being impenetrable castles with well defined boundaries defining what is inside and what is outside, bodies are permeable down to their most intimate recesses. Bodies are more like sponges than marbles. Even marbles are a sort of sponge….2

A college student entitles her posting “Fear the fear”:

ttong

I had a terrible nightmare after I came back from [my first day at] the prison that I dreamt about myself being a prisoner with death penalty, spending the last day of my life with my parents. The nightmare was not as scary as some of my other nightmares that I was chased by killers or my life was in danger yet it still scared me more than any other dreams.

I did not actually feel the difference between the class in prison and the class here in Bryn Mawr because both classes are engaging and thought-provoking. I was surprised by how women in the prison recognized their status and paralleled their experiences with class reading. However, I was shocked by my own dream that I suddenly realized deep in my consciousness, I was scared by the difference between them and us. I was further scared by how subtle our fear could be hidden and how much did our fear change us unconsciously. And I think that is exactly how culture works in our everyday life.3

Back at the prison: After you put your papers, pencils, books through the electronic scanner (all inside the transparent plastic bag, until they disallow this, before they again allow it, sometimes), you wade through the body scanner, then hands out to the sides, step closer for a patdown, shoulders arms torso legs, oddly gentle, get your hand stamped, and are buzzed inside along with your compatriots and others in uniform–an officer, black-robed chaplain, heavily veiled woman who runs Muslim services — through the first heavy-duty metal door and before the second, and you can still see back to the waiting room and glimpse the outside door beyond that. You are situated between these two, the outside and the inside… and it is during this time that you lose your capacity to speak lightly to your colleagues and to think of anything really except confinement.You are situated between these two, the outside and the inside… and it is during this time that you lose your capacity to speak lightly to your colleagues and to think of anything really except confinement. You are situated between these two, the outside and the inside, visible to other shadowy uniformed figures in a glassed-in techni-tower above and before you. You might get buzzed through again quickly, then move through the second heavy-duty door into the hallway and the next patdown and ultraviolet before the elevator takes you up. Or you could wait in this linoleumed square, maybe 5’ x 5’ for some immeasurable time, smelling a lunch of fish and something starchy mixing with ammonia and, faintly, hygiene products, and it is during this time that you lose your capacity to speak lightly to your colleagues and to think of anything really except confinement.

  1. The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program,” Temple University, 2016, accessed July 20, 2015.
  2. larvalsubjects (Levi R. Bryant), “Stacy Alaimo: Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality,” May 24, 2012, accessed March 1, 2016.
  3. ttong, “Fear the fear,”
    February 8, 2015 (1:49 p.m.), accessed May 20, 2016.