Monday, January 18, 2010

General Alarm!

Prisons have a decoration that few other buildings incorporate: alarm buttons.
These are dotted on each landing, office, classroom and outdoor area. Should staff require extra muscle, they hit the button and the call "General alarm at..." bleats from radios. Screws come a running from all directions like Pavlovian dogs.
Rarely, cons also hit these buttons. Should there be a medical emergency, for instance, we will happily hit the button. With greater hesitancy we may also hit it if a screw is being attacked and overwhelmed, but this is a morally ambivalent action.
Cons more frequently hit the alarm button out of mischief, boredom, or as an act to voice displeasure. I recall one prison where the wings were connected by a very, very long central corridor and great entertainment was to be had from arranging to hit alarm buttons at opposite ends of the nick. Watching fat, lazy screws wheezing up and down the corridor was not only entertaining but also informed staff that we were deeply unhappy about some perceived injustice or stupidity on the part of the prison.
It gives a glimpse into the nature of the struggles over power between staff and cons that a mechanism which is intended to reinforce control can be used as a tool by us to undermine it.


  1. yet another great blog post, keep em coming!

  2. Is this the prison equivalent of ringing the annoying neighbour's doorbell and running away? :)

  3. what fun you must have