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O'Brien, Cyrus James

Grant Type
Dissertation Fieldwork Grant
Insitutional Affiliation
Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. of
Completed Grant
Approve Date
Project Title
O'Brien, Cyrus James, U. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI - To aid research on 'Carceral Conversions: Discipline and Religion in a 'Faith- and Character-Based' Prison,' supervised by Dr. Paul C. Johnson

CYRUS O'BRIEN, then a graduate student at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, was awarded a grant in April 2015 to aid research on 'Carceral Conversions: Discipline and Religion in 'Faith- and Character-Based' Prison,' supervised by Dr. Paul C. Johnson. This research centered around a 'faith- and character-based' prison in Florida and involved prisoners, prison staff, community volunteers, and former prisoners. The research investigated how religious practices and ideologies impact the experience of being incarcerated, as well as how religion shapes the structures of imprisonment. It documented prisoners' near-constant concern about the prospect of becoming 'institutionalized' and recorded an array of techniques prisoners practiced to cultivate what they perceived to be their true, non-institutionalized identities. Prisoners saw themselves in a constant struggle to define themselves as individuals, rather than accepting the categories that the prison placed upon them. Prisoners used the term 'institutionalized' disparagingly to indicate a failure to fashion one's own subjectivity. Volunteer programs were one of the few social spaces where concerns about being a creature of the institution were less pronounced. Prisoners called interactions with community volunteers 'my lifeline' and pointed to volunteers' blindness to institutional categories as having a humanizing effect that affirmed their cultivated subjectivities. The research also found that, after the fact, prisoners and staff often ascribed events to the prison's institutional logics, thereby making all human action vulnerable to charges that it was animated not by individual will but by institutional forces.