Degrees of permeability: Confinement, power and resistance in freetown’s central prison

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This article deconstructs a binary that has arisen between prisons as, on the one hand, ‘total institutions’ of exclusion and, on the other, ‘carceral continuums’ that incorporate marginalized urban livelihoods. The experiences of four inmates at Pademba Road, Freetown’s male prison – which accommodates inmates with sentences from one year to life – illustrate that prisons belong in neither camp. Instead, inmates’ unique responses to their imprisonment show that both a prison’s continuity and its exclusionary mechanism are situational and gendered as crime, social standing, capital and agency coalesce. Following Michel de Certeau’s examination of people’s reappropriations of culture in everyday life, this article analyses how inmates’ tactics to reinforce and bend prison walls work to either strengthen or undermine the carceral system’s strategies and influence the prison’s permeability. Inmates’ embodied experiences allow for a nuanced understanding of the inside/outside relationship of imprisonment and of the space between mobility and stasis, subjugation, embrace and resistance.</jats:p>
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-104
Number of pages17
JournalThe Cambridge Journal of Anthropology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • prison
  • confinement
  • Sierra Leone
  • resistance
  • carceral continuums


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