11 November, 2022

Irregular Spaces

Among the many tidbits I absorbed during my insatiable reading as a curious kid, who labored to understand people and their motivations, was that interior spaces with geometrically irregular floor plans are more likely to be declared "haunted" than square or rectangular ones. A five-walled room, a room with sloping ceilings, a room with a crooked floor these are where, according to superstition, spirits are wont to play. Take one look at the weird geometries of the famous, supposedly haunted Winchester house, in California, and you can see how someone might be unsettled by architecture.

I don't know if real research has ever gone into the allegedly disorienting effect that bizarrely shaped rooms have on the psyche, but what firsthand effects I've experienced seem very real indeed. While I haven't seen any ghosts, I've felt the subtle yet undeniable pull of madness from occupying oddly shaped rooms for too long. No prison cell that's held me has been perfectly cubical. Plumbing seems to be the main reason for this. Modern cells are designed with an eye toward crude efficiency
efficiency of construction, not in terms of occupants' convenience. Closets housing pipes, valves, conduits, and cables impose themselves on our living areas in the form of diagonal walls. My cell alone has seven wall segments, which just seems excessive. My window looks more or less to the west how directly west I can't say. Another housing unit blocks my view of the sunset (and most of the prison yard). Nothing here runs north-south. For that matter, nothing even aligns with other features of the facility. Every building sits at a funky angle to every other one. The interior spaces defy reasonable dimensions. Hallways run at wonky angles. I have to assume that his design strategy is meant to impart a subtle but notable sense of disorientation in the prisoner population. Maybe its psychological warfare, but, more likely, it's a passive defense against escape attempts. I believe it succeeds on both counts. Windows in prison are a mixed bag. In the Hole, every cell window has downward-angled louvers bolted over it, so you can look outside and see a patch of grass, or maybe concrete, below you but nothing more. I don't claim to understand how this kind of deprivation is legal. In general population units, a window might just as likely look out on a wooded stretch or trees as on a concrete wall, a stretch of highway, a wastewater reclamation facility, or the prison's pickleball court. Not having a decent view is one thing; not having a bathroom is another. At least the cells at Crossroads Correctional Center, while identical in layout, featured bunks that ran at a 90-degree rotation and allowed occupants to hang a sheet and bisect the space for bathing or elimination purposes under lockdown conditions. These ERDCC cells are impossible to do that with. If you're after a bit of privacy, you can either ask your top-bunk cellmate to cover his head (and trust he won't peek) or build for him a blanket fort on the lower bunk. One way, he'll feel inconvenienced; the other way, he'll feel confined. Either is less than ideal.
Prison life is all about abstaining, making do, inventing, and improvising. Anyone who does enough time will experience all four in varying degrees. Despite the terrible architecture and ambiance, the human spirit finds a way to flourish here. Sometimes its as simple as covering a window or sewing a pair of pockets into your pants. Both can result in a conduct violation, but this doesn't stop people from doing them. We all crave order and are often willing to sacrifice a measure of security for it. If it were possible to rotate the buildings or create more efficient, comfortable routes from one part of the prison to another, someone would've done it, violation be damned. I know I would.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.