October 11, 2009
Update: This is a record of one recent night’s stay in a generic motel room in LaSalle, Illinois, where I was attending an advisory board seminar sponsored by a foundation I’ve been involved with for years and years.
The only time I watch TV is when I am in a motel room, and invariably, I regret it. This time I caught myself hypnotized (in a mode both agitated and agitating) by a televised documentary about Stateville Prison — excuse me, that’s Stateville Correctional Center — in Joliet, Illinois.
Stateville is a prison most everybody has seen in some American film or other, whether they know it or not. One of the cellblocks is on the panopticon model, with a guard’s roundhouse in the center of the circle and tier upon tier of cells stacked around it. That block has been used for location filming of scenes all the way from late-1940s noir movies to Natural Born Killers, and I even think that some of the editions of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish feature a photo from Stateville by way of illustrating the panopticon notion.
What appears on the TV screen in the photo is an image of the bars of a Stateville cell. The observation I quoted by way of a title (“This type of place will break you down, man”) was uttered by one of the men locked up there.