Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

"It's a Race War:" Race and Leisure Experiences in California State Prison

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

"It's a Race War:" Race and Leisure Experiences in California State Prison

Article excerpt

... it could go down at any time and usually when it does it's racial. It's not really whites on whites, Mexicans on Mexicans, blacks on blacks. You know what I'm saying? It's basically a race war. Once something goes down, it's a race war. (Mark)

Upon incarceration, prisoners are shoved, haphazardly, into an unfamiliar, highly controlled environment with little support to navigate this experience. They no longer make daily personal decisions and must rely on the prison system to feed, clothe, and protect them from other prisoners (Lee, 1996). Surprisingly, they still have exceptional amounts of free time that they must fill with chosen sanctioned activities, in addition to navigating their new identities within the prison setting. Instead of floundering and willingly accepting the regulations imposed by the prison staff, the participants in this study described a peer-imposed system of power that guided daily behavior. The prison setting provides the much-needed opportunity to explore the intertwining topics of race, power, and leisure in an institutional setting. Studying leisure experiences in a controlled environment provides an opportunity to learn more about why leisure decisions are made (Frey & Delaney, 1996) and the role of race in decision-making.

Using prison as a setting, critical race theory as a framework, and the tool of semistructured interviews, we asked former prisoners to reflect upon their time spent in prison in an effort to generate greater understanding of their experiences. Constant comparative analysis resulted in the identification of patterns of data connected to a core dimension (Corbin & Strauss, 1990) we labeled Racially Organized Prison Politics or ROPP. The sub-categories of indoctrination, maintenance, and structural support all work together to maintain power and position as well as dictate leisure decisions, and are completely intertwined with the core dimension of ROPP (Corbin & Strauss, 1990). And though leisure was experienced differently within prison walls, rather than on the outside - free from the scrutiny of the prison staff and other prisoners; participants remembered the power and privilege derived from or afforded to whiteness on the outside and it had a lingering impact. We found the interconnected system of power and race, created and maintained by the prisoners, existed to promote, protect, and control themselves and others.

Within leisure scholarship, there is a lack of attention paid to institutionalized, structural and hegemonic power associated with both race and leisure. The complex relationship between ROPP and leisure provides researchers unique insight into the relationship between race and the prison experience.

Race, Leisure, and Prison

Race is a socially constructed term and the definition is constantly under theoretical scrutiny. The scrutiny exists based on new research developments, or the context in which the term is being applied. Researchers have discovered that differences do exist between white and non-white groups as related to leisure experiences. These differences reflect power structures that are not neutral and are not inclusive (Killian, 2001). Phillip (2000) found that places of leisure have become identified as racial locations. Groups and individuals chose activities or leisure spaces based on who has historically participated in these activities or spaces and what groups they may encounter when they leave the comfort of their homes in order to participate.

Leisure provides researchers with space to learn more about our fluid personal identities, based upon the subjectivity of the self (Jackson, 2004). The self we present to the world shifts from moment to moment depending on the context and the power of the persons involved. Race plays a large role in the development and maintenance of our personal identity. Depending on the situation, race can be used to generate more power for oneself, such as when employing the privileges attached to whiteness (McDonald, 2008). …

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