"Being in the wrong place at the wrong time"Ethnographic insights into experiences of incarceration and release from a Mexican prison

  • Carolina Corral Paredes

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the moral life worlds of people who have been imprisoned in Mexico, while considering how they incorporate the fate of imprisonment into the story of their lives through cognitive, discursive, sensory, affective, recollective and imaginary processes. The midst of a war on drugs in Mexico confirms that structural factors like political premises and poverty, as well as class backgrounds and racial discrimination largely determine who goes to prison. However, this research is not only confined to a structural analysis, since prisoners also explain their imprisonment in relation to other contingent encounters and coincidences occurring in their every day life. As such, imprisonment seems for prisoners like an unimagined possibility and a latent daily risk. Using a variety of ethnographic methods and modes of representation, this research sheds light on how imprisonment is related to stories of love, treason, memories and hopes. I draw from prisoners and ex-prisoners' personal sources of expression like their writings; I recur to eliciting their memories through their objects and crafts; I pay attention to the role of the gaze in crafting identities in prison; I also draw attention to prisoners and ex-prisoners' expressions of feelings and emotions. I argue that such sources and sensorial realms and methods offer relevant insights into their existential experiences. They are also important devices to represent stories from below. Through inmates' narratives and practices my work offers stories, explanations and effects of incarceration alternative to the official reasons legitimating incarceration.Central to my work is my film Time will Tell that documents the lives of three ex-prisoners and represents their every day duties, and the sensory and corporeal implications of the aftermath of imprisonment. Film has been a central piece of my ethnographic research since it allows audiences to engage with realms of experience that go beyond the one offered by language and text; so as to also help evoke - and not only illustrate- the whole of the journey out of prison as an ontological and sensuous experience.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAndrew Irving (Supervisor), Paul Henley (Supervisor) & John Gledhill (Supervisor)



Cite this