The company installed turnstiles on one side of the clock shed, bright metal turnstiles with thick, horizontal bars that met you at eye, chest, crotch and shin level. A union steward told me the company planned to wire the turnstiles to the clocks so the turnstiles would open only when you clocked in at the beginning of shift and when you clocked out at the end of shift. They’d stay shut the rest of the time and we workers would be trapped inside the shipyard with fencing and barbed wire on one side of us and the river on the other. Like a prison.
One day I looked at that fence, that barbed wire, those turnstiles that locked us in. I was in a prison, but it felt ordinary, typical, even natural, and I thought about why that is.
It’s as though these pieces – the razor wire, chain-link fence, cop, helicopter, identification papers – were waiting to be assembled into an enormous and inescapable prison. Who’s to say they aren’t already assembled? What evidence is there to prove otherwise? Maybe the prison was assembled long ago and we couldn’t see it because we’re born into it and it felt natural. Maybe all prisons feel natural after enough time has passed.
But a prison isn’t just a collection of razor wire and cameras. I could stack all of the pieces in a pile and they wouldn’t make a prison. Adding a cop and a guard won’t turn them into a prison either. Even adding you and me – as prisoners – leaves something out.