Amy B. Smoyer
Amy’s chapter in “Sensory Penalities” revisits fieldnotes from extensive research experience in correctional settings, to ponder what value lies for our understanding in revisiting the “The Everything Else”. She prompts us to consider “what is the price of sharing these visceral details? What is the
price of keeping them hidden?” and argues that “Sensory perceptions” allow us to “move forward with an intention to build a more authentic representation of our shared humanity”. These impressions, usually excluded after the data has been stripped and “consumed”, comprise not the “scraps” and left behinds as we commonly regard them, but are “the thickest cut that bleeds when you chew it, gets stuck in your throat, turns over in your stomach, and gives you a taste of what is actually being served” (Smoyer 2021: 202, full citation at the end of the piece).
As social scientists, academics, and activists dedicated to understanding, improving, and undoing correctional systems, we regularly travel through prison spaces. Our upcoming book, Sensory Penalties, describes some of these experiences touching, smelling, breathing, and hearing punishment. These observations of the inside become even more pressing and relevant today, as the COVID epidemic has pushed many of us to the outside, rendering correctional spaces invisible. And yet our work is deemed non-essential. Today, the inquiry persists outside, as we move through and with community, noticing the traces of prison all around us.
Research has found that the six months following release from prison are the most deadly, especially for women who live with opioid addiction (Binswanger et al., 2013). Was the woman who died in the park by the river several years ago on this pathway home? The news does not share this detail, but knowing that it is easier for a person who uses drugs in the US to go to prison than treatment, the scenario is possible.
Since the COVID lockdown began in March 2020, I have walked by her memorial countless times. Every once in a while, I will stop to see it. The memorial, which has been meticulously maintained through all the seasons over months and months, exudes a powerful love that shimmers with grief. Rainbow-colored mobiles capture the wind, mirrors and glass reflect light, knickknacks suggest an inside joke, candles build warmth. I have never seen anyone tend to the memorial and imagine a brigade of fairies building the project by moonlight.
Last week, I could barely make out the latest additions to the monument because the sun shone directly into my eyes and I was hesitant to stand too close. We see what and when we want to. The river was still, the park was quiet, and the cold air smelled like distant snow. I imagine her as a newborn baby, covered in goo; a child raising her hand in class, heart pounding; a young person in love, sweating; a desperate person causing harm, surviving; a grown woman waiting in the prison med line, impatient. I imagine her sitting next to the tree, mind focused on one destination, distant from fairies who would tend to her spirit when she departed.
Binswanger, I. A., Blatchford, P. J., Mueller, S. R., & Stern, M. F. (2013). Mortality after prison release: Opioid overdose and other causes of death, risk factors, and time trends from 1999 to 2009. Annals of Internal Medicine, 159(9), 592-600.
Smoyer, A.B., (2021) “The Everything Else” in Herrity, K., Schmidt, B., Warr, J.J. (eds) Sensory Penalities: Exploring the Senses in Spaces of Punishment and Social Control, 195–202. Sensory Penalities is now available here: https://books.emeraldinsight.com/page/detail/Sensory-Penalities/?K=9781839097270.