How many prisons used to be plantations
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The Louisiana State Penitentiary is the largest maximum security prison in the United States, with 6,000 prisoners serving an average sentence of 92 years. The prison is known as "Angola" because of the plantations that used to be in the area of this infamous detention center.
“The fact that making pralines was possible in a maximum security prison is surprising. Cooking them requires lots of ingredients, as well as pots, a hotplate and an oven. Complex on the outside, this would seemingly be impossible inside. ‘Prisoners are never powerless,’ says Wilbert Rideau, explaining an aspect of prison life that few on the outside understand. " - Richard Davies in his book “Extreme Economies: Survival, Failure, Future. Lessons from the world's limits. "
Aside from the tough everyday prison life, Angola has a flourishing informal economy. Some inmates offer grilled pieces of chicken, while others cut their fellow inmates' hair. This is theoretically not allowed, but is tolerated by the prison administration. Because in a prison there is not just one level of power and freedom. At the lowest level, when it comes to the interaction between individual prisoners, prisoners also have a high degree of self-determination. If this freedom were to be forbidden, insurrections and revolts would be the inevitable result. So the prisoners are granted freedom at the lowest level in order to maintain control on a meta-level.
“Man is no longer the one who is trapped, but the one who is in debt.” - Gilles Deleuze in his “Postscript on the societies of control”.
But these levels of freedom and power are not a phenomenon that only affects prisons. But on the contrary. The prison as a closed system is just easier to see through than a complex open society.
Gilles Deleuze describes in his well-known text about the control societies that we are not necessarily freer today than before, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to recognize our bondage. In the old disciplinary society with clear social and economic structures, people had to be locked up in a fixed system and disciplined. The factory is the best example here.
In today's control society, on the other hand, you have a lot of freedom - it is no longer so stringent about a company or factory. The factory was replaced by companies within and between which one can move freely. School is also no longer so strongly focused on discipline. Rather, it is about the fact that people continue to educate themselves - that is, to remain in control forever. This means that people seem to have more freedom, but they move within just as narrow a framework as in the past. Only that control is less visible than concrete discipline.
Your own understanding of freedom is shaped by the freedom that is guaranteed to you. So you don't even know what level of freedom and power you are on. You may only be in the bottom layer and feel free. But in truth you are moving exactly within the limits of the given framework.
The question that you have to ask yourself more often: what level of power and freedom am I at? What freedom is guaranteed in order to curb the striving for freedom on a higher level?
For further reading:
Davies, Richard: Extreme Economies: Survival, Failure, Future. Lessons from the world's limits. London: 2019.
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