Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison

Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison

Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison

Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison


"Ethnographically rich, thick with gritty details and original insights, Rhodes's revelatory book about US prisons--those who are incarcerated in them and those who run them--should be read by everyone who cares about social justice and the nature of power."--Emily Martin, author of "Flexible Bodies

"Thank you, Lorna Rhodes, for taking us to where the 'worst of the worst' are kept out of sight and out of mind in the new millennium. This powerful ethnography of the correctional high tech machine reveals how institutional power suffocates individual agency and redefines rationality and insanity. Good, bad and evil fall by the wayside."--Philippe Bourgois, author of "In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio

"A truly remarkable book. The inside look at supermax confinement alone is worth the price of admission, and the prose sometimes verges on poetry. This is meticulous scholarship."--Hans Toch, author of "Living in Prison"


My interest in prisons began when a colleague invited me to join a small group of mental health professionals on a visit to a nearby state prison. Two moments during that carefully arranged event have remained with me over the ensuing years. One was a discussion with several officers who worked in a maximum security psychiatric unit. They were blunt about how poorly, in their view, psychiatric care fit into custodial containment. Behind the immediate content of what they said, I had a sense of pentup narrative energy: these prison workers clearly had more to tell than the format of our visit could contain. The second moment was when our tour took us to the outer gate of the prison's “supermaximum” or “control” unit. Our little knot of academics stood awkwardly in front of the double gates, able to see nothing more than an empty hallway and the edge of a heavy steel door. We had little idea what lay beyond, and we were clearly to be allowed no further.

This book is the result of my engagement as an anthropologist with the maximum security prisons I was so briefly introduced to that day. The visit was an early step in the Correctional Mental Health Collaboration, an association between the University of Washington and the Washington State Department of Corrections that began in 1993 and ended in 2002. This relationship between my university and the prison system made it possible for me to enter prisons and to carry out the ethnographic work . . .

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