This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade's photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.
A 1992 study, The Dynamics of Recidivism, was cited by the Home Secretary of the Conservative government during the 1990s to support the political doctrine that ‘prison works’. This claim drew on qualitative data from pre- and post-prison interviews of 130 male offenders to uphold a narrow rational choice perspective that emphasised the perceived ‘costs’ of imprisonment to the offender. A ten-year reconviction study was carried out as a follow-up to the 1992 study. The subsequent criminal careers of the majority of the sample contradict an assumption that imprisonment has a deterrent impact. In the light of these findings, and an analysis of the differential impacts of subjective and social factors in the experiences of these ex-prisoners, this article reviews the limitations of ‘rational choice theory’ as a basis for understanding recidivism and desistance from crime.¹
The room in which you visit your man is square, as large as a high school cafeteria. The tables themselves are square, numbered with large stamps on their tops. 1 2 3 4... They align in ascending order in a row before another row begins.
Three people can sit at a time. Two visitors and one inmate. There are specific sides, rules to dictate where you can sit. They're not posted but are understood through the crowd, things taught to all over time. Inmates must sit on the lefthand of a row. Visiting women must sit on the righthand side. Visiting men may sit in the middle.
Correction officers overlook the tables from two corners, seated high in stands that appear borrowed from lifeguards. If you are a woman and you sit perpendicular to your inmate, as men can, defying the norms, you will be asked by a lifeguard to move. They have whistles and yells.
If, as a woman, you question this, ask the motive behind the movement, no reason will be given, besides, "Move. Because I told you to." Your man will laugh at your brazenness and say he might get shit for it later.
Vending machines line one wall, where frozen pizzas, cheeseburgers and popcorn can be bought and microwaved by visitors. Inmates are not allowed to use vending machines and must ask their visitors to bring them soda and food. Visitors bring dollar bills, which they place in wads on the table in front of them. Some bring games -- cards, checkers, things that don't have sharp pieces. Choosing to stay all day, it's hard to think of things to talk about for seven hours in one space. Over years, games become necessary.
Next to the vending machines stands a photo booth with galaxy background, where, for a bought token, you can take a picture with your inmate, the only way to commemorate time passing, to have visual memories.
It can be imagined to coincide with the side room of miniature tables and chairs, a children's visiting space. There aren't children here today.
As you visit, your inmate tells you that he's messy from playing softball in the rain with other men in the yard, that the COs don't care unless they have to get involved. He tells you that he feels better being on meds, which he hasn't taken for years spent homeless, medication for depression that helps his anxiety. Eventually, with more visits, he tells you he gets beat up because he's not an alpha male, that he's not doing heroin, though he sees it's available. So available with so many people doing it. There's so much here. But he doesn't touch it.
He stands to ask a CO to use the bathroom, a different one than you are allowed to use.
He returns, tells you he's done so much heroin years before, so much living on the streets, doing whatever he needed to do to whomever to buy it. This medicine made him feel as though he might not need it like before. That he could be OK.
He says he has an important job helping in the infirmary where crazy shit goes down, that in his spare time he reads the books you sent and that he wrestles in empty showers, another game men play to use their time.