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Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison

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In this rare firsthand account, Lorna Rhodes takes us into a hidden world that lies at the heart of the maximum security prison. Focusing on the "supermaximums"—and the mental health units that complement them—Rhodes conveys the internal contradictions of a system mandated to both punish and treat. Her often harrowing, sometimes poignant, exploration of maximum security co In this rare firsthand account, Lorna Rhodes takes us into a hidden world that lies at the heart of the maximum security prison. Focusing on the "supermaximums"—and the mental health units that complement them—Rhodes conveys the internal contradictions of a system mandated to both punish and treat. Her often harrowing, sometimes poignant, exploration of maximum security confinement includes vivid testimony from prisoners and prison workers, describes routines and practices inside prison walls, and takes a hard look at the prison industry. More than an exposé, Total Confinement is a theoretically sophisticated meditation on what incarceration tells us about who we are as a society. Rhodes tackles difficult questions about the extreme conditions of confinement, the treatment of the mentally ill in prisons, and an ever-advancing technology of isolation and surveillance. Using her superb interview skills and powers of observation, she documents how prisoners, workers, and administrators all struggle to retain dignity and a sense of self within maximum security institutions. In settings that place in question the very humanity of those who live and work in them, Rhodes discovers complex interactions—from the violent to the tender—among prisoners and staff. Total Confinement offers an indispensable close-up of the implications of our dependence on prisons to solve long-standing problems of crime and injustice in the United States.


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In this rare firsthand account, Lorna Rhodes takes us into a hidden world that lies at the heart of the maximum security prison. Focusing on the "supermaximums"—and the mental health units that complement them—Rhodes conveys the internal contradictions of a system mandated to both punish and treat. Her often harrowing, sometimes poignant, exploration of maximum security co In this rare firsthand account, Lorna Rhodes takes us into a hidden world that lies at the heart of the maximum security prison. Focusing on the "supermaximums"—and the mental health units that complement them—Rhodes conveys the internal contradictions of a system mandated to both punish and treat. Her often harrowing, sometimes poignant, exploration of maximum security confinement includes vivid testimony from prisoners and prison workers, describes routines and practices inside prison walls, and takes a hard look at the prison industry. More than an exposé, Total Confinement is a theoretically sophisticated meditation on what incarceration tells us about who we are as a society. Rhodes tackles difficult questions about the extreme conditions of confinement, the treatment of the mentally ill in prisons, and an ever-advancing technology of isolation and surveillance. Using her superb interview skills and powers of observation, she documents how prisoners, workers, and administrators all struggle to retain dignity and a sense of self within maximum security institutions. In settings that place in question the very humanity of those who live and work in them, Rhodes discovers complex interactions—from the violent to the tender—among prisoners and staff. Total Confinement offers an indispensable close-up of the implications of our dependence on prisons to solve long-standing problems of crime and injustice in the United States.

30 review for Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Rhodes does a good job of avoiding the typical foucaultian categories in which marginalized groups (especially those in prisons) are so often constructed in our minds. She also treads very cleverly and coherently between the observation and criticism of the ways in which super max prisons "work." I find it funny that a lot of people have rated this book poorly, but have offered no review. I spoke to Lorna about this work a few weeks ago (I have the distinct pleasure of studying at UWash, where s Rhodes does a good job of avoiding the typical foucaultian categories in which marginalized groups (especially those in prisons) are so often constructed in our minds. She also treads very cleverly and coherently between the observation and criticism of the ways in which super max prisons "work." I find it funny that a lot of people have rated this book poorly, but have offered no review. I spoke to Lorna about this work a few weeks ago (I have the distinct pleasure of studying at UWash, where she teaches), and she told me that when she shared this book with the prison administrators about whom it was written, they immediately tied the stories she tells back to the conflicts that exist in their daily duties, rather than removing themselves a step away from their ontological ruts to re-examine the inconsistencies in it. In other words, they didn't get it. This book is written for and, I believe, approachable for the lay reader. If you get it, I don't see how you can dislike the work she has done here.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I didn't enjoy this book. I feel strange rating it a two, because it's hard to say why--Lorna Rhodes is well-educated and organized and she clearly put an immense amount of time into this book. To me, the book read like a 200 + page essay. She made a strong thesis in the beginning, she outlined what she was about to discuss (in detail), and then she moved into her "paper". I liked reading the comments from prison workers and inmates, though the theme of "this place makes you crazy," and "the pris I didn't enjoy this book. I feel strange rating it a two, because it's hard to say why--Lorna Rhodes is well-educated and organized and she clearly put an immense amount of time into this book. To me, the book read like a 200 + page essay. She made a strong thesis in the beginning, she outlined what she was about to discuss (in detail), and then she moved into her "paper". I liked reading the comments from prison workers and inmates, though the theme of "this place makes you crazy," and "the prisoners can't be trusted" was a bit repetitive. It seemed like I fell deeper into the sad, somewhat secret reality of prison life, but I felt like I was being hit with the same information. Rhodes also likes to analyze what she hears from staff/prisoners, and I would have rather just read about what happens there and made my own conclusions. Her lean was too direct for enjoyable reading, especially in the beginning--again, like an essay. I did like the last chapter on prison reform and reading the thoughts of the new administrator, Larson. I think his ability to listen to the inmates and have hope for them is beautiful. I don't consider myself naive about it, though some would disagree, but I do believe in giving people a chance. Larson was so interesting and thoughtful. Other than that, I was really glad to find that the last large section of the book was the bibliography/notes section. I appreciate Rhodes for her research and time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    i actually found this far more interesting than a "3" suggests (I generally don't get thrilled enough by academic writing to warrant a 5.) I had not really imagined the interior of max security prisons, let alone the interior mindset of those prisoners before, and she definitely lays that out in a clear way. She also shows how easily one's humanity can be constructed and taken away -- lessons useful not only about max security prisons. Most importantly, she illustrates how oppressive systems per i actually found this far more interesting than a "3" suggests (I generally don't get thrilled enough by academic writing to warrant a 5.) I had not really imagined the interior of max security prisons, let alone the interior mindset of those prisoners before, and she definitely lays that out in a clear way. She also shows how easily one's humanity can be constructed and taken away -- lessons useful not only about max security prisons. Most importantly, she illustrates how oppressive systems perpetuate cycles of violence and mental illness.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    A VERY informative, eye-opening book about prisons. However, to me it seems like the author uses complicated wording on purpose to sound intelligent. A lot of the time she would say the same thing multiple times in a row, just in different wording. A lot of repetition and a little dry but definitely worth reading if you want to study the prison system and know the true injustices that happen within.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mary Louise

    Living in a country that keeps building more prisons and has tried to perfect the business with degrees in criminal justice, everyone should read this book to see why Orwell is still right, after all.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chingchai Methaphat

    It is a wonderful and thought-provoking book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Halaska

    This is a really good ethnography of a total institution. Rhodes focuses on the inmate guard relationship in control units to show the irrationality of a rational system. Knowing Goffman's theory of total institutions will help the reader understand the analysis. Themes to look for: mutilation of the self, will, control, contexts of rationality and categories of madness. This is a really good ethnography of a total institution. Rhodes focuses on the inmate guard relationship in control units to show the irrationality of a rational system. Knowing Goffman's theory of total institutions will help the reader understand the analysis. Themes to look for: mutilation of the self, will, control, contexts of rationality and categories of madness.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sayema Khatun

    A powerful ethnography of the maximum security prison and psychiatric units of US prison complex.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Just

    Read for a class. Not terrible!

  10. 5 out of 5

    DOMINIC CHAN

    Great techniques and tactics towards confinement.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This compelling book was the first work that truly challenged me to consider the problem of mass incarceration, one that had been very effectively hidden from my experience as a upper-middle-class white. Between Rhodes' work and the writings of Angela Y Davis, I think the case for a move towards prison abolition is very strong. Lorna Rhodes is one of my anthropological heroes, and in this volume she presents a work essential to anyone who wants to understand what the prison-industrial complex is This compelling book was the first work that truly challenged me to consider the problem of mass incarceration, one that had been very effectively hidden from my experience as a upper-middle-class white. Between Rhodes' work and the writings of Angela Y Davis, I think the case for a move towards prison abolition is very strong. Lorna Rhodes is one of my anthropological heroes, and in this volume she presents a work essential to anyone who wants to understand what the prison-industrial complex is doing to vast swaths of the populace and how it deforms the society we all live in.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Becca

  13. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Watts

  16. 5 out of 5

    David

  17. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

  18. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Spadafora

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erica

  21. 4 out of 5

    Liv Stone

  22. 4 out of 5

    Matt Hahn

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alex Bahls

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ian

  25. 4 out of 5

    Liz Cartwright

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

  27. 5 out of 5

    Wanda Schw

  28. 4 out of 5

    Guoqian Li

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jayne

  30. 5 out of 5

    LA LoCigno

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