‘It’s a Revolving Door’: Rethinking the Borders of Carceral Spaces

Vanessa Massaro (Bucknell University)

This paper explores the use of digital scholarship to understand the porous boundaries of the prison. I argue that the boundaries of a carceral landscape must be expanded to include the neighborhoods of incarceration. The consequences of an ever expanding prison industrial complex, including its perpetuation of racism and the “warehousing” of a surplus population are not distributed evenly across people and places. Rather, the experience of the prison industrial complex is uneven, impacting some communities much more than others. Yet, little work on the human experience of incarceration has considered the carceral experiences of the places that supply prisoners in the US. Specifically, this paper shows how neighborhoods like Grays Ferry, where most of the population is poor, African-American and under correctional supervision, are part of carceral space. Grays Ferry is one of many neighborhoods where the places and practices of incarceration extend beyond the prison walls to affect everyday life.  This paper builds on scholarship that exposes the expanding importance of the incarceration-business within a wider national and international context of militarization and prison-industrialization. My work builds upon this literature to show how incarceration works into the daily life and community spaces in inner city Philadelphia. In so doing, the paper draws on my ongoing use of digital scholarship tools to study the expansion of carceral spaces beyond bounded institutions and demonstrates how these spaces materialize through daily practice within the communities most affected by the criminalization and policing of the informal economy.

Vanessa Massaro holds a PhD in Geography and Women’s Studies from the Pennsylvania State University. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Geography at Bucknell University. Her research focuses on the way spatially-segregated racial minorities, particularly African Americans, navigate the intersection of racism with broader forces of economic injustice brought by the globalization of the capitalist economy. Her dissertation work examined the materialization of the global drug trade as local practice through attention to the daily experiences of the links binding informal to formal economies, illegal to legal activities, and the local to the global in the drug trade. Her current work traces the household costs and networks of care that stem from the illegal economy across the neighborhood/prison divide.


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