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Environment Green Criminology

Commissions of Injustice in Rio de Janeiro: Indigenous preservation and resistance

Janine Ewen


“Everyone assumes that the favelas are all unliveable, but they are bound together by close community ties. [Favela residents] had no choice but to make life as liveable as possible since the State turned a blind eye… Some of these evictions are corrupt, [looking] to gain the best areas in Rio de Janeiro.” (James Freeman, Professor of the University of Concordia on the strategic mega-event thinning of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas)

In February 2014, I was carrying out fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro less than two months before the FIFA World Cup commenced. I had been invited to an International Mega Events and Cities Conference to join discussions on human rights, urbanisation, public policy, law, violence and security, accompanied by a tour of the primary site of discussion, the Maracanã Stadium, which was due to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. I still remember the words from the keynote speaker, Carlos Vainer, Professor at the Urban and Regional Planning and Research Institute at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (IPPUR/UFR): “There are winners and there are losers in life; this is also in the same context as any soccer match. We are yet to determine who will win or lose between the government and the Brazilian people.”

The Brazilian government was involved in greed, corruption and, as you might expect, a lack of consideration for the people of Rio through rapid urban transformations (which the image below vividly depicts). From exploring Rio, I could feel the intensity of the mega-event developments from the explosion of street protests, FIFA-themed resistant art and the noise resulting from helicopters hovering over Rio’s favelas and the stadium construction. The increased occupancy of the UPP stations (“Unidades de Policia Pacificadora”) maximised and militarised security by restoring state control in the favelas and integrating the favelas to address urban violence and disarm drug traffickers. In other words, the government wanted to set the stage for a global audience: a problem-free and glamorous Rio de Janeiro, but with a high price to pay for those not invited to the match.


One of many street visuals that popped up across Rio de Janeiro during the World Cup 2014 developments, representing overbearing greed, corruption and a gold stadium in darkness.

Manguinhos, a favela In Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone.

The Aldeia Maracanã is a sacred, multi-ethnic village and resistance space in Rio de Janeiro that sits next to the Maracanã Stadium. The area has been occupied by indigenous urban people since 2006 and is the site of Brazil’s first indigenous museum, a building abandoned since the 1970s. Between 2006 and 2013, the Maracanã village bloomed into a community that became home to over thirty indigenous people from 17 different ethnic backgrounds. The indigenous people now had a vibrant space for rituals, fairs, cultural classes and bioconstruction to disseminate ancestral knowledge and demystify prejudices that indigenous people “do not belong” in the city. There have been numerous eviction attempts, with many of the community living in constant – and ongoing – threat of violent removals. The village faced brutality in the preparations for the World Cup and Olympics. In 2013, a military operation stormed the indigenous village using tear gas, pepper spray, stun grenades and physical violence. Brazil’s colonial past has created a socio-political disintegrated landscape in which both race and ethnicity remain problematic. Brazil’s 1988 Constitution, and the ILO Convention 169, ratified by the government in 2002, offers protection to indigenous and quilombola groups. However, the reality suggests otherwise. An example of this is the non-existent land rights and a lack of building ownership for the indigenous Indians in Rio de Janeiro. The defence of tribal land rights are under enormous pressure from the current right-wing President Jair Bolsonara as Indigenous leaders have been fighting against Bolsonara’s man-led genocidal policies of environmental destruction of rainforests, including the Amazon.

https://www.youtube.com/v/H1mHrXZQs2s?app=desktop


An exhibition of violence at the Aldeia Maracanã in 2013

The building stands vacant in the aftermath of the Aldeia Maracanã

Participants in the International Mega Events and Cities Conference, including myself, visited the Maracanã site with a local guide who lived close to the stadium. We were also taken to the Aldeia Maracanã.

The above picture shows the front of the indigenous home. On approaching the sacred building, I was met with an eerie sense permeating the space, and of what had been left of the Aldeia Maracanã from state-sanctioned violence, even though this visit occurred a year after the attack. The eeriness increased as I stood in the largely empty space in the aftermath of the tragedy. I began to picture a lively image and spirit of the indigenous community nurturing a home and school of sanctuary; creating art through painting, music and laughter. I also saw a garden in bloom with colourful vegetables and fruit, having the power of spoken words to educate the people of Rio on their traditions, and perhaps, creating common ground in a shared world where violations of residents’ rights led to thousands of Rio’s poorest being evicted for the games.

This was a life lived on guard against the threat of outsider raids – the violence nearing, not waiting or knocking, but forcing through their home. The air was stale and silent, despite being beside the stadium construction, and the windows represented dark, empty eyes on the inside, as if presenting a witness to the disappearance of indigenous life. Once we drew closer to the building, the display of the murals covering the Aldeia created a sense that theindigenous movement would return and that we are to view the murals as a visual message of presence, pain and resistance – “Commissions of Injustice”.


The local guide explained that the police were suspicious of visitors around the Aldeia Maracanã

The building, standing like a skeleton, provides the framework for an indigenous man’s head; a gaunt portrait of what has been left in the ruins. The man’s eyes hold no fear as he looks directly at the viewers, who have no choice but to stare back into the windows of a now shattered shell. The portrait, painted on a crumbling plaster façade, is like a Giotto fresco. The image was not, however, paid for by a rich family like the Medicis. Instead, it came at a higher price, the cost of displaced indigenous families. Ruby war paint, a red cross in battle, covers the indigenous man’s nose, mouth and forehead like markings of blood and violence enveloping his sense of smell, vision and future insight. The arch of his eyebrows and nose opens into wings like the tail of a bird. Unlike a dove of peace, it leads to a pathway cut out by the disfigurement of his ebony raven locks—a shaved centre parting carved across his skull with a phoenix descending into a yellow flame.

On the corner of the Aldeia, the face of an indigenous child is crying heavy tears of blood as if they will drown in them, creating a pool of redness around the edge of the chin that does not leave the child’s face. The red eyes represent what the child may be seeing and experiencing; the battle against their family and community members, suffering, perhaps anger, but most certainly danger, as shown by their small mouth gaping in horror at the display of violence. The child’s hair is missing from the middle, deep enough to have been pulled out by the roots. With more harm inflicted from the missing part of their head, they will not forget this, even if it represents the onset of becoming invisible after the battle. The vulnerability remains beside the boarded fence which prevents the viewer from seeing beneath; a stick of sorts is either diagonally going into the child or being held up in defence. It is difficult to look away from the indigenous child’s trauma.

The perimeter of the Aldeia has the appearance of a prison with high steel fencing, wire and the reflection of the security camera indicating state control and monitoring of the sacred building. The chain padlock on the fencing adds another element to the atmospheric mix of distrust and control. The government is determined to prevent indigenous freedom and does so by keeping away and shutting out culture, diversity and Mother Earth. This is a village and university in survival mode floundering in a sea of tension due to war and encroachment on sacred space by the government. Indigenous people are not “urban rubbish” that can be discarded, and they are not losers in the games played by FIFA. A reinstatement of ancestral territory ownership will be reborn. The collective fight will return.

Alongside studying criminology and finishing my copy of Sensory Penalties, I have attempted to breathe life into my field notes that sat untouched in a drawer; scribbles on how I felt, what I saw and what I imagined by sharing the whole experience when I visited the Aldeia Maracanã. I believe I received a learning gift from indigenous communities in standing up to and epitomising injustice as fully as possible. I have opened the sensory aspects to a space and building where indigenous life had forcefully disappeared – and I was moved by the absence of the community and the after-effects of the military police ‘storm’ tactics of grenade bangs, weapon whacks and shots of pepper spray that left stale air and stone-cold silence. The initial unease of ghostly eeriness on approaching and standing in front of the Aldeia Maracanã acted as a trace to the brutality of 2013 and the outside remains, the murals, allowed me to resist a simplistic interpretation of the Aldeia as a vacant ‘haunted like’ building, but one in which Indigenous preservation and resistance are still present.

Categories
Comparative Penology power Sensory Penalities

A Taste of… Ethiopian Notes

Ian O’Donnell

Ian O’Donnell’s chapter in “Sensory Penalities” describes the assault on his senses that characterised a series of visits to a prison in southern Ethiopia. Foregrounding facets of the research experience that are seldom given the benefit of sustained academic attention it addresses themes of going, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, being, reflecting and comparing. What follows is a collection of excerpts from the chapter, with the addition of photographs which are not included in the book (full citation at the end of the piece).

Going

In 2016, Paddy Moran, a missionary priest, invited me to accompany him to a prison in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional State of Ethiopia, where he had been working for many years. The brief was fairly loose. I was to make a visit, see what struck me and prepare a short report in conclusion. These were unusually unspecific instructions (but none the less welcome for that) for one who is used to being trammelled by the bureaucratic demands of grant-making bodies. I updated my travel insurance, arranged for the necessary vaccinations and set off.

I had visited prisons in Europe, the United States and Australia but never in Africa, and it was difficult to prepare in advance by reading – a particular disadvantage for a bibliophile – as the pertinent literature was virtually non-existent. In short, I had no sense of potential pitfalls or pratfalls. For someone who had been studying prisons for almost 30 years, this was a reminder of early days in the field when uncertainty reigned.

Seeing

The prison that I visited (for a week in 2016 and for a few days in each of the two following years) resembled a small and bustling village with a population of around 2,000 men and 100 women. It was located in a large town, a short drive from the main thoroughfare with its traffic honking and braking, drivers shouting and waving, livestock wandering, in a weirdly crash-free synchrony. There was a steep and potholed hill up to the prison where progress was slow and pedestrians waved and greeted Fr Moran and myself as we progressed – swervingly – towards the prison gate in a battered jeep.

The immediate vicinity was busy with traders touting for business, the ubiquitous three-wheeled, blue-liveried, bajaj taxis whizzing around collecting and delivering passengers, sometimes perilously overloaded, children walking to school and playing. A metal sign had been erected just inside the gate upon which one of the prisoners had painted an almost life-size representation of a member of staff in camouflage-style uniform. The sign requested visitors to stop and cooperate with any security checks. The figure in the painting offered a respectful salute, suggesting an ethos of cooperation rather than coercion. Not being able to read the official language, Amharic, was a challenge that I had neither the time nor the talent to overcome. It was impossible for me to make sense of the written word, its mystery adding to its elegance in this stranger’s eyes.

Touching and being

The heat and humidity were bearable but whenever I sat down with my interpreter to speak to prisoners in a dormitory a crowd soon gathered, sitting, standing and crouching around us. They were curious, never menacing; always keen to listen to the discussion and to offer their own observations. There was little in the way of natural light and when the group in attendance grew large the atmosphere could be somewhat stifling. I was an object of some curiosity in a place where Irish professors were seldom, if ever, encountered. There were some challenges for my kinaesthetic sense. Sitting on impossibly small stools conducting interviews was not conducive to comfort for a gangly researcher with a notebook on his knee. I needed to watch my step walking on the compound’s uneven mud paths; they were dry during my visits which made them less hazardous than they would otherwise have been. A sense of always being in a racial minority was a novelty for me – I was told that I was the first white man to visit the prison farm – but this difference was not denigrated. I had a sense of being out of place linguistically, culturally, geographically and also temporally

Not long before going to Ethiopia I visited a supermax prison in the United States. It is difficult to imagine a wider sensory gulf than that existing between the sterility and stimulus-poor environment of the supermax and the vibrancy and all-out assault on the senses that was the Ethiopian prison compound.

O’Donnell, I. (2021) “Ethiopian Notes” in Herrity, K., Schmidt, B.E., Warr, J. (eds) Sensory Penalities: Exploring the Senses in Spaces of Punishment and Social Control, pp. 203–216. Sensory Penalities is now available here: https://books.emeraldinsight.com/page/detail/Sensory-Penalities/?K=9781839097270

Categories
Emotions power prison research sound

‘Feeling’ feelings

Kate Herrity

Privileging the sensory has implications for how we understand how we know as well as what we know. The process of working with our patient, pioneering contributors has been a lesson (as we hope to discuss elsewhere) in the kind of editors we want to be as well as how significant a departure this presents from academic convention. As the most junior and least experienced of the three of us this was particularly valuable for me. I have contributed to edited and reviewed works but never before assumed this role. For me it has been formative; an intimate process of collaborative and supportive exploration rather than distanced and dictatorial. I hope this is reflected in people’s engagement with the book. I am not about to reflect in depth on the editorial process here but rather a particular, recurring, issue that prompted further interrogation.  I have spoken about the distinction between feeling and feelings before[1]. I may well do so again as I try to better understand the role of the sensory in prison social spaces, though there are broader implications here for epistemology and emotion in criminal justice and criminology.

Foregrounding the sensory brought the distinction between senses and emotion, as well as between privileging the sensory and reflexivity in to stark relief. Prompting academics to reflect on this more sharply demarcated the distinctions between these facets of knowledge and experience, and in so doing added clarity to both. There are linguistic obstacles as well as cultural ones that must be vaulted or circumvented when asking of someone “what did that ‘feel’ like?” but reaching further than whether they were happy or sad, safe or unsettled to what was mediating those emotions in the social world they sought to understand, and what reflecting on ‘feeling’ those ‘feelings’ taught them about those spaces. Rather than drawing on research on the complex relationship between emotion and sensory perception[2], I want to reflect on rather more direct demonstrations of this relationship by using a couple of examples of the surprising ways this has manifested.

I was in the second year of my PhD when I presented at the carceral geography conference in snowy Birmingham:[3] https://carceralgeography.com/conferences/2nd-international-conference-for-carceral-geography-11-12-dec-2017-university-of-birmingham/conference-programme-2017/1b-health-and-wellbeing/. I was nervous at finding myself in such illustrious company. This was one of few presentations I had given at that point, and, I think, the first time I attempted to illustrate the significance of a focus on sound by banging on furniture. I had pillaged our kitchen for suitable tools – a pestle and a souvenir bottle opener – for makeshift percussion. I reached the appropriate point in my talk and dutifully banged out the different rhythms of cell-door banging as a means of exploring the meanings they signified. Sound, I argued was a site both of symbolic violence and power contestations, a means of expressing dissent or warning from those captive and invisible (though not inaudible) behind the door. I had failed to appreciate quite what potency this might have for someone in the audience suddenly transported back to prison by my amateur banging on the table. He taught me a valuable lesson that day about how sound can traverse time[4]. He also taught me about my insensitivity. I was torn between trying to offer comfort and carve him space to process his visible emotion. He was keen to impress upon me that he was not in a negative place, but rather that the banging had “taken him back there” with a forcefulness he had not anticipated any more than I. What I interpreted as distress was, rather, a man fielding a sudden deluge of memories, smells, textures, sounds, of a time he had left behind but was with him still.

Approaching the end of my fieldwork I attended a conference (the Crime and Control ethnography symposia are always worth it if you can[5]). Many of my friends were there and one in particular, a year behind me, was struggling with her fieldwork. She felt uncomfortable in the prison space but couldn’t work out why. She felt guilty when it came time to leave and struggled to reconcile that with the genuine relationships she had forged throughout her time as both researcher and volunteer. Others speak far more eloquently than I about the contradictions of drawing on your stranger status and humanity to equal if conflicting degree as researcher. In the context of prisons where emotions of all in the community run so very high, this can be painfully intense. If ethnography is about stories then the doing of it is surely about the relationships and meanings they serve to underscore. I wanted to offer her comfort. I do not think it is incidental that I drew on sensory experience, the feeling, in an attempt to offer comfort and support to her emotional state, her feelings, as a way of telling her she was not alone:

https://leicester.figshare.com/articles/Rhythms_and_routines_Sounding_order_and_survival_in_a_local_men_s_prison_using_aural_ethnography/762884 [6]

Leaving (for M)

Emerging from the airlock
Metallic clunk; The freedom signal
Ringing in my ears
Quickening pace
My nostrils hungry for that biting burst of evening air
I speed to slough that lingering scent
The burning afterimage of this place
That clings beneath the skin I vainly scrub
With soap and wine.
Is this enough?

I stand in shitty remnants of your rage
I walk your vale of cries and shouts
Your bangs and crashes
Laugh too loud
My pleasure in your company clear
I hope for better futures for you
Far from here
And yet I fear
This isn’t going to be enough

Wandering aimless through the streets
I see your face on cardboard-cloistered,
Doorway bundles
Watch your ghostly presence weave amongst
The living
As they mindless tread
My memories scar those grubby pavement beds
And now you haunt my fitful sleep
I know

This cannot ever be enough

The sensory is both source and conduit for an array of knowledge, as well as a powerful medium of emotion. Sound – and the sensory more broadly – offers a means of collapsing distance in time, space and between people, evoking shared memories and experience. Privileging the sensory creates a site for scrutinising the social function of shared emotions summoned by it. The relationship between sensory and emotional realms is intimately intertwined but closer interrogation demands we expand our vocabulary to recognise they are nevertheless distinct. Only in so doing are we able to get within, amongst and underneath these facets of our social world, to develop our ability to interrogate the ‘feel’ of our ‘feelings’.


[1] Herrity, K. (2020) “Some people can’t hear, so they have to feel”: exploring sensory experience and collapsing distance in prisons research” Early Career Academics Network Bulletin, Howard League for Penal Reform January 2020, No. 43 https://howardleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ECAN-Autumn-2019-final-draft-2.pdf

[2] E.g. Kelley, N.J.,Schmeichal, B.J. (2014) “The effects of negative emotions on sensory perception: fear, but not anger decreases tactile sensitivity” Frontiers in Psychology, Vol.5, Pp942. Goodman, S. (2010) Sonic Warfare: Sound, affect and the ecology of fear. Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press

[3] This is an audio recording of a talk given at the Second Carceral geography conference (Herrity, K. (2017) “Sound, Space and Time: A rhythmanalysis of prison life” 2nd Carceral Geography Conference, University of Birmingham, December 2017.

[4] David Toop (2010) speaks explores this in Sinister resonance: the mediumship of the listener. London Bloomsbury. Sound, he argues, is a haunting.

[5] https://crimeandcontrolethnography.wordpress.com/2018/06/19/crime-and-control-ethnography-symposium-2018-call-for-participants/ Here’s a link to the 2018 call in Glasgow which was class.

[6] Soundfiles accompanying my thesis (within the thesis the reader is directed to listen at specific points of the discussion. I include them here for those who have not heard a prison soundscape: Herrity, Katherine Zoe (2019): Rhythms and routines: Sounding order and survival in a local men’s prison using aural ethnography. University of Leicester. Dataset. https://doi.org/10.25392/leicester.data.7628846.v1