Last week I saw an interview with Sara Shourd who has recently been released from prison in Iran after fourteen months of confinement. Sara along with two friends was captured and arrested while hiking, the group unknowingly and supposedly having crossed over onto the territory of Iran from Iraq, where they were visiting. Sara’s vivid description of her imprisonment made me wonder about the architecture of small, enclosed, barred places and what that entails, these thoughts in turn directly leading to my brief yet highly impressionable experience of attending New York public high school. The institutions of prison and school ideologically and socially are supposed to be on two different ends of the spectrum, the first expressing restriction, the latter symbolizing knowledge, choice and therefore freedom, yet on an architectural or spatial level they can be eerily similar. How then, might these opposing cultural concepts executed in unified spatial fashion might translate to the future generations interested in the 20th and early 21st century New York City? I would imagine that the physical data such as the ruins themselves, texts and visual data might be confusing and lead to such questions as: was the NYC public school designed with “bad” kids in mind specifically? Was there an understanding that kids from a low to average income class in NYC were naturally small criminals?
Being brought up in a culture of small schools, no school guards and open spaces I could not deal with metal detector doors, barred windows, security guards and restriction on leaving school premises between classes. Yet clearly lots of kids are able to function under these circumstances of seriously restricted freedom, perhaps it has to do with one’s exposure to such surroundings early.
Reminiscing about my teen years in turn made me think about the professional thief I used to know. Part of this mans’ coping methods were committing a crime every late fall and letting himself be caught by the law so he could spend the winter in jail. The crime however had to be just the right kind of a crime so he would be locked up all of winter but let out in the spring. He thought of prison as a retreat, good food, comfortable warm cell and stimulating company. Clearly, to some jail, far from punishment, in fact represents safety and comfort.
Casella, Elenor C. Landscapes of Punishment and Resistance: A Female Convict Settlement in Tasmania, Australia.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish. Part 2 & 3.
Holtorf Cornelius and Reybrouck Van David. Towards an Archaeology of Zoos.