solitary confinement

the prison system

Michel Foucault, on the Role of Prisons

13 years in solitary confinement: ‘I’ve lost my mind’

Corporal punishment used to be carried out in a businesslike fashion.

Bodies were branded, amputated, wrenched apart.

From the stake to the scaffold, from the pillory to the gibbet, physical suffering was produced with elaborate theatricality as an example to all.

Care was taken that no one should be unaware of it.

The King, as the Father of the country acted in the stead of God.

God, synonymous with Nature, is invariable and absolute.

Public theatricality came to a end in the second half of the 18th century.

The monotonous tumbling of locks and the shadow of the cell block have replaced the grand ceremonial of flesh and blood.

The condemned are concealed rather than being placed on exhibition.

We no longer want to cause the criminal pain;

we want to reeducate him;

we want to reorient his "spirit."

The change took place throughout Western civilization in less than a century.

The Middle Ages had prisons and jails but was unfamiliar with a rigid system of regimented, fastidious detention that developed between 1780 and 1820 as Europe and the New World became covered with penitentiaries.

The shock of corporal punishment and the silence of reclusion are not isolated and opposed phenomena; nor are their differences only on the surface.

This is a scaling transistion from one method of social control to another.

Rather than conceptualizing defying the authority of the King as defying God, defiance of the authority previously transferred collectively to the people is seen as a breach of the social contract between culture memebers.
People, no longer punished for apostasy, are instead excommunicated.

Society islolates them and 'reforms' them by carefully regulating every action.

Control through isolation requires rigorous regulation of space as security, rigid regulation of the use of time and regulation of physical movements.

"What is so astonishing," Foucault asks, "about the fact that our prisons resemble our factories, schools, military bases, and hospitals - all of which in turn resemble prisons?"

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