Indefinite stuckness: Listening in a time of hyper-incarceration and border entrapment

AuthorEmma K Russell,Maria Rae
Published date01 July 2020
Date01 July 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Indefinite stuckness:
Listening in a time of
hyper-incarceration and
border entrapment
Emma K Russell
La Trobe University, Australia
Maria Rae
Deakin University, Australia
New technologies for recording, reproducing, and disseminating sound are increasingly
accessible and provide important opportunities for listening to accounts of confine-
ment. Through a politics and practice of ‘earwitnessing detention’, this article explores
experiential patterns and distinctions between immigration detention and imprison-
ment. By ‘tuning in’ to radio and podcasting emerging from and through carceral spaces,
we argue that both detained asylum seekers and Aboriginal prisoners in Australia
narrate an experience of ‘indefinite stuckness’. Indefinite stuckness is an existential
condition within a carceral continuum that is both spatial and temporal, and charac-
terised by massive racial inequalities. For detained asylum seekers, indefinite stuckness
manifests in the absence of a set release date, whereas for Aboriginal prisoners, it is a
cycle of criminalisation and re-incarceration in the colony. This important distinction
shapes how detention is represented: as torturous and abusive, or as an opportunity
for respite from the ‘chaos’ outside. Linking these sometimes-divergent accounts of
confinement are themes of friendship and community as forms of survival and resis-
tance to the abjection that frequently accompanies indefinite stuckness.
abjection, carceral continuum, confinement, earwitnessing, mobility, stuckness
Corresponding author:
Emma K Russell, La Trobe University, Plenty Road and Kingsbury Drive, Melbourne, Victoria 3086, Australia.
Punishment & Society
2020, Vol. 22(3) 281–301
!The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1462474519886546
Attention to sound offers useful inroads to exploring carceral spaces, precisely
because sound itself is increasingly mobile. Significant advances in the accessibility
of sound recording technologies and audio dissemination platforms create new
avenues for listening across carceral boundaries. This is important, not least
because carceral regimes are notoriously secretive (Nethery and Holman, 2016).
In a time of ‘hyper-incarceration’ (Cunneen et al., 2013) and entrapment at the
border, ‘earwitnessing detention’ (Rae et al., 2019) takes on renewed urgency for
researchers, activists, and others concerned with the proliferation of carceral vio-
lence. Much like contests over visibility, struggles over who or what can be heard
are central to attempts to ‘humanize carceral subjects’ (Brown, 2014) and resist the
escalation of carceral power – both within the nation state and at its borders. In
this article, we ‘tune in’ to ‘the qualitative story’ of incarceration (Simon, 2014: 3)
to contribute to the larger political task of critical carceral studies: to expose and
challenge the punitive logics and effects of carcerality (Brown and Schept, 2016).
We do this by listening to two examples of attempts to amplify incarcerated voices
through radio and podcast production: Beyond the Bars and The Messenger.
Beyond the Bars is a series of live prison radio shows broadcast across Australia
over one-week in July each year. It is produced by a team of Aboriginal broad-
casters from Melbourne’s radical community radio station 3CR, who visit multiple
prisons across Victoria to make radio with Aboriginal prisoners. Established in
2002, it holds the distinction of being the first live broadcast from prison in
Australia and is now heard across the country. Beyond the Bars features the stories,
poems, songs, opinions, and conversations of Aboriginal people in the Victorian
prison system. The broadcast plays an important role in sustaining ‘inside-out’
relationships (across carceral boundaries) through the ritual of ‘cheerios’ or ‘shout
outs’ to loved ones that takes place at each prison (Anderson, 2013) during a week
that is culturally significant to Aboriginal communities (NAIDOC).
Beyond the
Bars has the benefits of the ‘liveness’ and immediacy that accompany traditional
radio broadcasting, the permanence of CDs that are freely distributed at the public
launch of the broadcasts each year, and the versatility of digital archiving online
for later and repeated use. The broadcasts play an important role in 3CR’s project
of ‘amplifying communication for social change’ (Fox, 2019).
The Messenger is a 24-episode podcast that was produced in 2017 and made
possible by a smuggled phone and a stream of thousands of jumbled voice mes-
sages sent between freelance journalist Michael Green in Melbourne and detained
refugee Aziz Abdul Muhamat on Manus Island. In 2013, Muhamat flew from
Sudan to Indonesia and boarded a boat to seek asylum in Australia. The boat
was intercepted and Muhamat was forcibly transferred and detained by the
Australian government on Manus Island. Green was given Muhamat’s phone
number and made contact in 2015. For the next 18-months, the pair ‘spoke’ on
most days by exchanging 30-second voice recordings using the encrypted
WhatsApp application on their phones. The award-winning podcast The
282 Punishment & Society 22(3)

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