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prison imagery

sara.gladwin's picture

I know this is a late post about a voice visualization but I wanted to post regardless.

I found it striking that so many of the images that came up for “prison systems” under google represented some kind of interaction with hands. Often the sole focus of a picture would be on the hands of an unknown prisoner, holding tightly to the bars imprisoned he or she. I ended up looking up the definitions of “hand” OED out of curiosity and found that in several of the definitions, hands were seen in relationship to representations of power. One definition in particular was about the figurative nature hands can take on by simple implication of “…action performed with the hand, and hence (fig.) to action generally; thus, often = agency, instrumentality: esp. in phr. by the hand(s) of , by (a person's) hand.” Another definition talked about hands as being representative of the person’s identity or self: “In reference to the person who does something with his hands; hence often denoting the person in relation to his action.” I found this definition really interesting because to view hands in this way is to also believe the “hands” of the prisoner represent his identity; that whatever action performed could be a summary of self. This lens seemed to speak to the discourse which is centered around getting prisoners to recognize their own “hand” in their imprisonment, how their actions ultimately led to being incarcerated and therefore they are primarily at fault. There was also a strong relation of the word “hand” to skill and work; all implying action and a particular kind of productiveness. However, the most striking and relevant definition seemed to be “In reference to the use of the hand for grasping, holding, or retaining; hence used to denote possession, custody, charge, authority, power, disposal: usually in phr. in (into, to, etc.) the hands of , in other hands, etc.” The words that come to define this use of “hand” seem to also overlap significantly with words used to describe ways of “handling” prisoners, who are positioned at the hand of a higher, governmental authority.

The juxtaposition of the symbolic nature of hands and the bars seems to resonate strongly with what it means to be a Prisoner who is facing a loss of agency, their ability to determine their identity severely compromised.

Here’s a link to the definition of hands in the OED: