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Escape to Prison

Escape to Prison: Penal Tourism and the Pull of Punishment

Michael Welch
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Escape to Prison
    Book Description:

    The resurrection of former prisons as museums has caught the attention of tourists along with scholars interested in studying what is known as dark tourism. Unsurprisingly, due to their grim subject matter, prison museums tend to invert the "Disneyland" experience, becoming the antithesis of "the happiest place on earth." InEscape to Prison,the culmination of years of international research, noted criminologist Michael Welch explores ten prison museums on six continents, examining the complex interplay between culture and punishment. From Alcatraz to the Argentine Penitentiary, museums constructed on the former locations of surveillance, torture, colonial control, and even rehabilitation tell unique tales about the economic, political, religious, and scientific roots of each site's historical relationship to punishment.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96150-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. ONE Penal Tourism
    (pp. 1-25)

    The resurrection of former prisons as museums has caught the attention of tourists along with scholars interested in studying that particular pastime (Ross, 2012; Strange and Kempa, 2003; Welch, 2012a, 2013; Welch and Macuare, 2011; Wilson, 2008a). Unsurprisingly, due to their grim subject matter, prison museums tend to invert the “Disney” experience, becoming the antithesis of “the happiest place on earth” (Williams, 2007: 99). With that realization, it is fitting to situate penal tourism within a larger phenomenon known as dark tourism, in which people gravitate to sites associated with war, genocide, and other tragic events for purposes of remembrance,...

  6. TWO The Museum Effect
    (pp. 26-52)

    While in Seoul, South Korea, visitors are encouraged to discover the Seodaemun Prison History Hall. As its mission: “The museum preserves and displays Seodaemun Prison signifying the suffering and pain of Koreans during the modern period. Here, independence activists and pro-democracy activities were jailed and martyred” (Seodaemun Prison History Hall, n.d.). Descending into the basement of the first building of the tour, we are given a harsh look at colonial control. The “Underground Torture Chamber” is the actual space where Koreans were interrogated and tortured by Japanese Imperialists. Through the use of mannequins and careful lighting, scenes of various tortures...

  7. THREE Dream of Order
    (pp. 53-78)

    In the realm of punishment, notions of order are ubiquitous. Penal signs, symbols, and slogans all contribute to normative messages proclaiming “the way society should be.” Such visions of order have a wider appeal with respect to penal tourism, whereby the public visits former prisons refurbished as museums. While tapping into a popular curiosity about punishment, those sites deliver a didactic—and cultural—experience relating to incarceration. Among the archetypal meanings conveyed via penal tourism are lessons on order and how that ideal has been pursued over time. Michelle Brown observes: “Dead prisons reconfigure living prisons, not in a clear...

  8. FOUR Architecture Parlante
    (pp. 79-108)

    The façade of the early penitentiary was intentionally designed to say something bold about itself. Thatarchitecture parlante, or “speaking architecture,” is significant because it assumes an audience capable of being startled at the sight of a prison (Blondel, 1771–77; Kaufman, 1955). At Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) in Philadelphia, such visual statements resonate from the past into the present as tourists are drawn to the site of the “world’s first ‘true’ penitentiary,” according to a large plaque titled “A National Historic Monument.” There, visitors remain attentive to the enormity and complexity of the institution’s story. In 1829, the year...

  9. FIVE Religion and Governance
    (pp. 109-139)

    At the Melbourne Gaol museum, the most noticeable overlap between religion and governance is relayed through a commentary on the chaplain. The division of labor in the execution protocol is explained: “After the sentence of death was passed, the Sheriff took charge of the condemned prisoner’s body while the Chaplain took care of the prisoner’s soul.” For the Gaol, the Church of England appointed an official chaplain (though every major Christian religion was represented) who “supported the prisoner in the two or three weeks before execution, accompanied him on the scaffold and recited prayers as he was buried.” While the...

  10. SIX Work and Economics
    (pp. 140-166)

    A vast exhibition on work in the Hyde Park Barracks museum in Sydney gives tourists a multidimensional view of a thriving penal colony. Through the strategic use of placards and illustrations, the story of Australian economics benefits from the presence of curious objects. Among them is a miniature treadmill. The model shows a contraption with five convicts stepping in unison on a flywheel that rotates a crank and, in turn, grinds grain. Teams of workers alternated shifts with rest periods of twenty minutes per hour. A caption tells us: “This monotonous task was supposed to be a reformative punishment, unlike...

  11. SEVEN Suffering and Science
    (pp. 167-194)

    Many postmodern inquiries into dark tourism examine the ways in which the unethical use of science and technology contributes to human rights atrocities, the classic case being Holocaust museums (Dekel, 2013; Lennon and Foley, 2010). Similarly, many prison museums consider the extent to which authorities have tapped into the scientific and technological potential for maltreatment, torture, and execution (Welch, 2009a, 2011a; see Becker and Wetzell, 2007). The Melbourne Gaol, as one example, exhibits flogging by situating corporal punishment alongside anatomy and medicine. Standing nearly eight feet high, a daunting structure known as the lashing triangle is accompanied by a poster...

  12. EIGHT Colonialism and Resistance
    (pp. 195-222)

    Transportation, as examined in previous chapters, became the means for establishing a penal colony in Australia. Taken further, many of its advocates assumed that such an ambitious project would re-create the antipodes into a Western outpost for the British Empire (Finnane, 1997; Hughes, 1986). That twin narrative is recited at the Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney; however, the museum is careful to describe colonialism alongside its limitations as well as resistance. Turning attention to “Aboriginal Sydney,” the exhibit portrays the indigenous people as visible, active, and even engaging. Aboriginals milled freely among the townsfolk and “spoke to everyone with an...

  13. NINE Memorialization
    (pp. 223-248)

    As tourists walk deep inside the highly partitioned section of the Old Fort prison museum in Johannesburg, they discover an intriguing exhibit commemorating Nelson Mandela. The display, titled “466/64—Prisoner in the Garden,” makes reference to Mandela as the 466th prisoner admitted to Robben Island in 1964. Chronicling Mandela’s imprisonment on the island, as well as in the Old Fort, Pollsmoor, and Victor Verster prisons, the display offers a first glimpse of the hidden gems retrieved from government files and those in his own collection. The archive, a poster explains, is the first step in the long and exciting process...

  14. TEN Cultural Power
    (pp. 249-264)

    Winding down this carceral travelogue of sorts, it is fitting that we offer some concluding thoughts on cultural power as it pertains to penal tourism. In doing so, further consideration is given to what might attract visitors to prison museums. Once there, curators must craft their narratives in order to fulfill the institutional mission, whether that is to inform, educate, or even civilize tourists. Efforts to answer those questions benefit from added meditation on Durkheim, as well as Foucault, thereby sharpening a cultural sociology of punishment. Thus far, much of the Durkheimian interpretation has relied on a constellation of socioreligious...

    (pp. 265-282)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 283-286)