Consumption Restriction in a Total Control Institution: Participatory Action Research in a Maximum Security Prison

Ronald Paul Hill, Justine M. Rapp, Michael L. Capella, and the Gramercy Gentlemen
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Key Takeaways
​Prison life is experienced as dehumanizing without the institutional will to help rebuild a more positive self-identity.

Incarcerated men suffer mentally and physically as a consequence, and seek ways to either self-medicate or enhance their sense of self using their resources.

One coping strategy is to use the informal inmate marketplace as a way to gain agency and eschew the formal delivery system.

 

​​Article Snapshots: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing

The purpose of this research was to uncover how incarcerated men find ways to meet their ordinary consumption needs within a maximum security prison context.

"​The artistic creativity and entrepreneurial inventiveness of the men come alive in this alternative marketplace, allowing for the development of new skills from cooking to drawing to 'lawyering'.”

"The men at Gramercy seem to grasp the idea that life behind bars is not, and should not, be designed to meet or exceed their previous consumption lives. Yet such approaches are viewed as mostly punishing for the purpose of punishing rather than serving a return to society."


Research

Restrictions on consumption are widespread in society, and we contend that looking at an extreme example will help us understand the processes of restriction, their impact on those who are restricted, and their coping strategies.

Method

We used an ethnographic approach to data collection that occurred over an 18 month period. It was fashioned in a Participatory Action Research framework so that the men involved were able to seek their own ends throughout the research process.

Findings

Incarcerated men in this study felt they were dehumanized and commoditized for the purposes of punishment over rehabilitation. Restrictions on consumption were all-encompassing and often unnecessary, making prison life more onerous. Suffering was emphasized over enhancement, leading to even more difficulties reintegrating into society. The men often sought out ways to rise above their circumstances by seeking personal development and agency through informal prison markets. 


Figure: ​Representation of Themes

Implications

The primary conclusion is that prisons built on retribution over rehabilitation will continue to drive higher recidivism rates and ill-being. If the political will exists to change from mass incarceration to incarceration when necessary, then society must look for ways of eventually reintegrating these men, women, and children back into society. One possibility is to only place restrictions on incarcerated persons when necessary to protect themselves, the people around them, and the general public. Otherwise, they should be free to experience life in ways that foster their development into persons who can give back to the society that they have previously damaged.


Questions for the Classroom

  • What are the primary reasons for the incarceration of men, women, and children?
  • How are retribution and rehabilitation similar and different?
  • How would you describe the consumptive lives of men who are incarcerated?

Full Article:
Ronald Paul Hill, Justine M. Rapp, Michael L. Capella, and the Gramercy Gentlemen (2015), "Consumption Restriction in a Total Control Institution: Participatory Action Research in a Maximum Security Prison," Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 34 (2), 156-172.




Ronald Paul Hill is the Richard J. and Barbara Naclerio Chairholder in Business and Professor of Marketing and Business Law (e-mail: ronald.hill@villanova.edu), Villanova Business School, Villanova University.



Michael L. Capella is Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Professor of Marketing (e-mail: Michael.l.capella@villanova.edu), Villanova Business School, Villanova University.



Justine M. Rapp is Assistant Professor of Marketing, School of Business Administration, University of San Diego (e-mail: jrapp@sandiego.edu).



The Gramercy Gentlemen are held in a maximum security prison.​​


Author Bio:

 
Ronald Paul Hill, Justine M. Rapp, Michael L. Capella, and the Gramercy Gentlemen
Ronald Paul Hill is the Richard J. and Barbara Naclerio Chairholder in Business and Professor of Marketing and Business Law (e-mail: ronald.hill@villanova.edu), Villanova Business School, Villanova University. Michael L. Capella is Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Professor of Marketing (e-mail: Michael.l.capella@villanova.edu), Villanova Business School, Villanova University. Justine M. Rapp is Assistant Professor of Marketing, School of Business Administration, University of San Diego (e-mail: jrapp@sandiego.edu). The Gramercy Gentlemen are held in a maximum security prison.
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