prison center


Stateville Correctional Center (SCC) is a maximum security prison for men, located in Crest Hill, Illinois, about 38 miles from Chicago.  SCC was built in 1925 with an original inmate capacity of 1,506 inmates, and expanded over time to accommodate over 4,300. SCC is notable for its “F-house” cell block, which was designed after the panopticon concept. Also referred to as a “roundhouse”, the F-house cell block features four tiers of cells in a circle, with an armed tower in the center. Since the 1990s, F-house has been the only roundhouse cell block in the United States. In December of 2016, the Illinois Department of Corrections announced that F-house would be closed permanently, as part of an effort by Gov. Bruce Rauner to repair the Illinois prison system. Prison watch dog and advocacy groups have called for F-house to be shut down for years, amidst concerns for inmate safety and the long-term effects of the “cage-like, chaotic” nature of the cell block. All sounds were amplified by the high ceilings and cement, creating a “sensory nightmare”, and inmates were not able to determine if they were being watched by the guards in the tower or by other inmates at any time, so had to live as if they were always being watched. The structure will remain standing due to its historical significance, but will never house inmates again.

Notable inmates at Stateville have included:

Richard Speck – In 1966, Speck tortured, raped and murdered eight student nurses from the South Chicago Community hospital. His sentence of death was overturned and he was given eight consecutive life sentences instead. Speck died of a heart attack in 1991.

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb – Of the famed Leopold and Loeb, two wealthy University of Chicago students who kidnapped and murdered a 14 year old boy, because they believed their wealth and superiority allowed them to commit “the perfect crime.”

In 1994, serial killer John Wayne Gacy was executed at Stateville.

Designed by architect Josef Hohensinn in 2004, the Justice Centre Leoben is located in Styria, Austria and houses both a court and prison complex. Aimed at rehabilitating offenders, the huge building houses a maximum number of 205 inmates at a time and offers access to a range of facilities considered luxuries. To name a few, these include: private bathrooms and balconies attached to each cell, outdoor ping pong tables, televisions, a gym and a basketball court. Around the perimeters of the prison, there are inscriptions which translate to “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” as well as "All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect.” The ultimate aim of this system is to provide prisoners with an incentive to pursue good behaviour and productive lifestyles once released back into society.

I ask you to give me two minutes of your time.

For many today is a normal day, for me that I am Chilean is an important day, were the presidential elections in my country.

I was born in a military government, I  born in dictatorship and one of the most horrible in the history of Latin America

When I was born there were concentration camps, torture centers, people disappeared without their relatives to this day not knowing where they are. They told us what to do, what to say what to think and what to feel. All those who considered themselves undesirable for the country were killed and in the best of cases they were exiled.

Today Mr. Sebastián Piñera won, a person who is in favor of that dictatorship, a person who is willing to close the prison centers to defend the soldiers who tortured and murdered men and women, because today “those people are old and for the they should not pay for their actions”, a person who is accused of embezzlement, evasion of taxes, fraudulent invoices, zombie companies in the virgin islands and caimanes, and a thousand other things, is against Equal marriage, of homoparental adoption, of the gender identity law that protects transgender children, wants to abolish the abortion law, and expel many foreigners who arrived illegally trying to save their families.

Mr. Piñera used what we call in “the campaign of terror”, and Fear won today and panicked people vote for him, a man who promises work and money for all (Trump) but more than money we need human progress , have kindness, love and sweetness, but a day like today we just have  to remind the world that justice, equality and freedom are more than words as I heard somewhere.

My heart is broken but I have preferred to talk about impossible things today,tomorrow and always because we know too much of what is possible, I have preferred a blow in the street of his collaborators, from time to time, because the indolence eats my bones, hope, We must never lose it or deliver it, we should never let it take away from us, to those who are reading me I tell them life can be beautiful, we should not turn our back on freedom or take it for granted, hate will pass and reintegrate goodness , we have the power in our hands to create happiness, but we have to fight for it.

I do not know if in this group there is a Chilean or if you feel related, I’m going to steal some words I heard out there, “to all those who have felt oppressed, discriminated against and judged, I want you to understand what I mean when you I say that although I do not know you, and although I may never get to see you, to laugh with you, to cry with you or to kiss you …, I love you, with all my heart …  ”



Idaho State Correctional Center is a penitentiary for men, located in Kuna, Idaho. The facility has a capacity for over 2,000 inmates, and has housing units for minimum, medium and maximum security. It is the largest prison in the state of Idaho, and was the first private prison in the state. ISCC opened in July of 2000 by the Corrections Corporation of America, a company based out of Nashville, Tennessee that owns and operates private prisons across the country. The prison perimeters are patrolled by guard dogs – mostly German Shepards, Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and Boxers who freely roam the space between the inner and outer chain link fences that surround the prison grounds. These guard dogs are recruited from shelters, and have been deemed too violent to be considered for adoption. Instead of being euthanized, they are granted a reprieve in the form of acting as prison security. ISCC is the only prison in the United States to use  dogs as a major security measure. By 2014, ISCC had gained a reputation for being a “gladiator school”, which is a term that describes a prison that is overcrowded, understaffed, and plagued with violence and gang activity. Countless gang-related assaults, combined with total inaction by prison staff created a “kill or be killed” environment which applied to both inmates and staff. An investigation conducted by the FBI found that CCA knowingly falsified documents which exaggerated the amount of staff members they had on duty at any given time. Time sheets were doctored to show that correctional officers were on duty for 48 hour shifts when those staff members were not present or did not exist at all. Initially the Department of Corrections and the Governor denied the allegations in the report, but eventually promised to take over operations of the prison when the state’s contract with CCA expired.


Is That the Sound of Freedom?

WATCH Miguel Releases a Powerful Video about Immigration (Detention Centers) Prisons

“Is it Shakespeare, or is it hip-hop?” British poet, rapper, and educator Kingslee James Daley, who goes by the stage name Akala, likes to recite a passage and then challenge his audience with this question. Even an acclaimed Shakespearean actor like Sir Ian McKellen can’t always answer correctly.  

Since 2009, under the auspices of his “Hip-hop Shakespeare Company,” Akala has been going to community centers, prisons, and schools in immigrant and underserved communities, using the tools of hip-hop to spread an understanding of the relevance of Shakespeare’s poetry.

Made with SoundCloud

The Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) is a minimum, medium and closed custody prison for women, located in Gig Harbor, Pierce County Washington. The facility opened in 1971 and currently houses approximately 740 inmates. WCCW is bordered by the McCormick forest park and state route 16, leading to the Tacoma Narrows bridge. Signs along the highway are posted every couple of miles, warning motorists against picking up hitchhiking escaped inmates, although no escapes have ever been reported at WCCW.

Eligible inmates at WCCW are able to participate in the Sustainability in Prisons project, a collaboration between the Washington State Department of Corrections and the Evergreen State College in Olympia. `These programs focus on environmental literacy, sustainability, conservation, greenhouses, horticulture, bicycle repair, dog training, farming, beekeeping, quilting and fabric crafts, recycling/composting, and raising chickens.

WCCW’s Residential Parenting Program allows inmates who give birth in custody and are serving terms of no more than three years to keep their children with them while incarcerated, until they are released or the child turns 2.5 years old. WCCW also offers expectant mothers access to trained doulas, who coach them through the birth process and offer advice in child rearing in their current restrictive environment, and beyond. The Doulas are members of an Olympia-based doula group called The Birth Attendants.

Mary Kay Letourneau served time at WCCW in 1998 after violating her plea bargain.

“In Communism, prisons will be humane centers established with the aim of keeping murderers and other dangerous people in a safe place where they can’t harm others and where their destructive behaviors can be gently sublimated or altered.”

are u so sure about that

i mean let’s look at the historical record, [state-capitalist] communists love to make big scary CRIMINALS do all the dirty, hard, dangerous labor until they die or can be “re-educated”

almost like… capitalism


¡PRESENTE! The Young Lords in New York
On view July 22, 2015 – October 17, 2015

¡PRESENTE! The Young Lords in New York explores the legacy of the Young Lords in East Harlem, the Bronx and the Lower East Side, focusing on specific political events that the Young Lords organized in these locations.

El Museo’s exhibition draws from works in the museum’s own collection including copies of the Young Lords weekly newspaper, Palante. It also explores the legacy of the Young Lords and the relationship between art and activism. Images by photographer Hiram Maristany that feature the Young Lords’ Garbage Offensive, their take over of the First Spanish Methodist Church of East Harlem (later renamed by the Young Lords as The People’s Church), their free morning breakfast program, the rerouting of a TB-testing truck and the funeral of Julio Roldán will all be highlighted in the exhibition.
Paintings and political prints (Antonio Martorell, Domingo García, and Marcos Dimas) from El Museo’s permanent collection will be on display. Works commissioned specifically for this exhibition by Coco Lopez, JC lenochan, Miguel Luciano, and Shellyne Rodriguez are also featured.

¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York will be exhibited at The Bronx Museum of the Arts (July 2 – October 15, 2015), El Museo del Barrio (July 22-October 17, 2015), and Loisaida Inc. (July 30 – October 10, 2015). The exhibition is co-organized by all three institutions. 

At El Museo del Barrio the exhibition is made possible with Public Support from Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the New York City Council.

Katniss and Love

The heart is a weapon the size of a fist - Palestinian Proverb

papofglencoe’s edit Katniss and the Four Types of Love got me thinking about love and the Hunger Games, specifically with respect to Katniss. 

If you are any fan worth your salt, you know that Katniss is moved by love, even when she is unaware of it.   However, Katniss does not love the same way all the time. Her circle of concern begins small until her love is great enough to encompass an entire nation. 

Love in Panem is an act of rebellion, as seen by the way the Reaping and the Games themselves are designed to actively break the bonds of family, friendship and community.  Katniss’ greatest acts of rebellion are her continued willingness to put others before herself, in direct defiance to a system that encourages loyalty only to the state, at the expense of all other human ties.

Keep reading

These States are Still Putting You in Jail for HIV

Between 2008 and 2013, there were 180 prosecutions of people accused of spreading HIV under antiquated laws passed long before we understood the disease, according to the Center for HIV Law and Policy. These laws can put an HIV-positive person in jail for biting someone, spitting at someone, or even just having consensual sex (regardless of whether protection is used). We know now that you can’t get HIV from biting or spit, of course, but 32 states still have those laws on the books, and people are still being sent to prison for violating them.


Spring Creek Correctional Center is a maximum security prison for men, located in Seward, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska - about 125 miles south of Anchorage. Built in 1988, Spring Creek is the only maximum security prison in the state, and houses its most violent inmates. The prison is surrounded on all sides by the vast Alaskan wilderness.

Notable inmates at Spring Creek have included:

Robert Hansen - Known as “The Butcher Baker”, Hansen was responsible for the abduction, rape and murder of at least 17 women, and was believed to have assaulted more than 30. Hansen grew up in rural Iowa, and had severe acne which left him with noticeable scarring on his face, and he also struggled with stuttering, which caused him to be painfully shy and awkward. He was bullied at school and was shunned by girls, which left him with feelings of intense hatred towards them. In his high school years, he took up hunting as a hobby as well as a refuge. He moved to Alaska in 1967 with his wife and two children, and seemed to settle into an ordinary life. By Hansen’s admission, he began abducting young women in 1971, but he was not caught until 1983. Hansen was incarcerated at Spring Creek until May of 2014, when he was moved to the Anchorage Correctional Complex, where he died.

Evan Ramsey - On February 19th, 1997, Ramsey shot four people, (killing two) at Bethel Regional High School, where he was a student. Ramsey’s upbringing was tumultuous, and he spent much of his time in different foster homes, where he was abused. At Bethel High, Ramsey was picked on and bullied by other students, some of whom would only address him as “Screech”. Ramsey planned out the shooting in advance, and more than 15 students knew of his plans in the weeks before it happened. Many of them watched and filmed the shooting from the balcony of the library that overlooked the commons.

After his arrest, Ramsey told police that he didn’t understand what he was doing at the time of the shooting, or that his actions would cause people to die. His trial was delayed for more than a year while the prosecution weighed their decision to try him as a juvenile, or as an adult. Ultimately, he was found guilty of two counts of first degree murder, three counts of first degree attempted murder, and fifteen counts of third degree assault, for which he was sentenced to 210 years in prison. Following an appeal, his sentence was reduced to two 99 year sentences. He will be eligible for parole in 2066.

Jack’s Immigration- Part 1

 Wow, this one is a long one. This is part 1 on how Jack met Mark. 

Jack ran into the glass, hurting his shoulder in the process but ignoring it in favor of getting out. But despite his best efforts, the glass remained intact. The same could not be said for his shoulder, however.

“Holy hell!” He grabbed his shoulder in pain. The last hit had been so hard it pushed the bone out of its socket, leaving Jack even more vulnerable. He lowered himself to the floor and held onto his shoulder making sure it didn’t move. He knew it had to be reset, unfortunately he didn’t know how to do it.

Suddenly, everything around Jack started to shake. Jack bit his lip in pain, refusing to cry out knowing humans were nearby. He did his best to keep his arm still in the shaking, a sigh of relief left his lips when it stopped despite knowing what was coming next. His glass prison was lifted by two enormous hands on either side of the glass. Jack planted himself in the middle, not wanting to get anywhere close to them, even with a shield of glass separating them.

Two humans looked down at him, both male. The one not holding him looked him up and down, making him shiver at the scrutiny.

“Looks fairly young, and definitely a male. Kind of skinny, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” Jack gulped. Wondering what was going to happen to him. There were three possibilities for people like him. Pets, test subjects, and jobs. And honestly none of them sounded appealing to Jack, but some more than others.

“We’ll have the doctor look him over and get him ready,” The man holding him said. Jack found his prison being carried toward a fairly large building. Once inside Jack took notice of all the white. White walls, white machines, white… lab… coats. Jack’s eyes widened. Out of all the possibilities, test subject is probably the worst one. And by the looks of things that’s where he was heading towards.

The men entered a room and set his prison on a table centered in the middle. They left after a few remarks that had nothing to do with him and Jack suddenly found himself alone. He took this moment to ignore everything and instead focus on his injured shoulder. He winced as he saw a dark purple start to form around his shoulder. It hurt, but was nothing compared to his fears of what was going to happen to him. The only thing that eased him slightly was that his family was safe.

A whooshing sound, the sound of the automatic door opening, caught Jack’s attention and he looked up to see a girl, probably around his age, wearing one of those white lab coats. He noticed that she had long dark brown hair and green eyes and a tag hanging around her neck that said Doctor Avery. Jack figured this was the doctor the other two must have been talking about. Doctor Avery looked over a clipboard in her hand and looked up, catching his eyes in her own. She smiled at him.

“Hello, little one.” Her voice was soft, quiet. Not at all what Jack was expecting.

“My name is Doctor Avery, but I’m guessing you knew that already,” She lifted up the tag around her neck, before letting it fall against her chest.

“What’s your name?” Jack refused to speak. Partly out of refusal to do as they said, partly out of fear, and partly because he was afraid if he opened his mouth all that would come out would be whimpers of pain. The Doctor saw that he wasn’t going to speak and moved on.

“Alright that’s fine, you can tell me later.  But I’m here to give you a checkup and get you all set and ready to go. Alright?” Doctor Avery moved toward him and unhooked the lock on his prison, sliding the front part open. Jack shivered at the fact it took nothing for them to open the cage, when he sprained his shoulder over it. Humans were far too big for their own good.

“Alright, mystery boy, care to step out for me,” The name caught him of guard, and despite her friendly demeanor up to this point he still refused to move.

“Come on tiny, I don’t want to but if you don’t come out on your own I’ll have to do it for you,” Jack’s eyes widened. He did not want to be held, no way. So he stood up and hesitantly made his way toward the exit. Once he was on the table, the Doctor moved the cage out of the way. Jack looked around, realizing he was the only thing left on the table.

“Great, now for the checkup. When I came in I noticed you holding your right arm, mind if I check it out?” She asked. Jack bit his lip, scared at the thought of being touched, but nodded anyway. Knowing in the end it would probably happen anyway.

“Awesome,” She got closer and leaned down. He watched as her hand came up slowly toward him and Jack had to force himself to not move. The fingers gently brushed against his shoulder and he let out a small shriek at the sudden pain that shot through it. The Doctor frowned in concern.

“Oh dear, it looks like you managed to pop your shoulder out of its socket,” She bit her lip. “Okay, this is going to hurt, but I have to fix it or else it will only get worse. Alright?” She looked him in the eyes and Jack realized she was asking him. And something else told him she wouldn’t do anything unless he said so either. With this in mind he looked at his shoulder and then back up at the Doctor and nodded. She smiled apologetically.

“I’m really sorry about this,” Her hand came up from behind Jack, supporting him from behind and Jack flinched, but otherwise remained still. Her other hand held the tiny shoulder.

“On three, one—“ Jack screamed in pain as she pushed in, the hands left and Jack crumpled to the floor. After a few moments, he gathered himself back up into a stand realizing his shoulder still hurt, but more like it was just sore instead of on fire. He looked back up at Doctor Avery, who was smiling.

“You should be all set there, just try not to do anything strenuous for a few weeks,” Jack nodded, not wanting to go through any of that again.

“My names Jack,” Jack said, which sort of surprised himself. It seemed to surprise Doctor Avery to, because her eyes widened before she smiled.

“Nice to meet you Jack, now if you’ll allow me. I need to proceed with the checkup,” The rest of the checkup went well. All she did was look him over more closely, checked his heartbeat, and his blood pressure. She also made sure he didn’t have any other injuries.

“Have you ever had any previous injuries?” She asked, clipboard out and ready to write what he had to say. Jack shrugged.

“Um, I cut my eye before and it became all green and stuff. Other than that, not really.” She wrote it down.

“So you had a septic eye huh. Heh, I should call you Jacksepticeye,” Jack tilted his head at the name.

“That doesn’t sound half bad actually,” he mostly mumbled to himself. As he watched her write stuff down, he couldn’t hold back a question that had been burning since he got here. Gathering the courage, he asked.

“W-what’s going to happen to me?” She stopped writing and looked down at him, a small sad smile on her face.

“You’re being sent to a shop,” she said. Jack gulped, he was going to be a pet, at least it was better than being a test subject, right? Or, was it really? He had heard stories, none too nice stories, horror stories of some of the people tinies ended up with. He refused to cry, but some tears started filling his eyes.

“I—I don’t want to,” The Doctor looked at him with pity. She had to deal with this all the time, and yet it always saddened her, seeing the tinies like this.

“I really am sorry, but I did my best to put you in the lesser of the two evils. You’re a young man, fit, skinny sure, but that won’t be for long. You’re basically perfect as a pet,” she stated, trying to cheer him up the best she could. Jack sniffed, still refusing to let the tear fall. At least the rest of his family wouldn’t have to deal with any of this.

“Anything else you need to do before I’m sent off?” Knowing he didn’t want to talk about it anymore, she dropped it for the moment and looked back at her clipboard.

“You’re going to need a few shots, but after that you’ll be good to go,” Jack’s eyes widened and he back up in fear.

“S—shots as in needles and crap?!” Doctor Avery opened a drawer and pulled out a few of the syringes, already full of liquid. Each were drastically smaller than anything used on a human, but still fairly big compared to Jack. Jack continued to back away at the sight.

“It’s okay, it won’t hurt too bad. These were specially designed for tinies like you. Besides, you need this so you don’t get any major sicknesses,” Jack knew that, but he really didn’t want to do it. He sighed. He knew in the end whether by choice or force, it was going to happen anyway. He hated this, so much. At the very least, he was thankful the Doctor wasn’t cold and mean. Though even so, she was still apart of all this. She was still sending him off to become a pet for another human. She was far from innocent.

Eventually, Jack ‘allowed’ her to give him the shots, they hurt, but thankfully not as bad as resetting his arm. After that was done, she wrote some more in the clipboard and then brought back his glass cage to the table. Jack didn’t even bother, and just stepped right in, the exit shut and locked behind him.

“All set to go, don’t worry I’m sure you’ll find a great owner,” Yeah, right Jack thought. The Doctor picked up the cage and started walking. As they walked Jack thought up another important question.

“So, where in Ireland am I being taken to?” Without stopping she looked down at him for a quick second before focusing back to what was in front of her.

“Oh, you’re not staying in Ireland. You’re being shipped to America,” Jack tensed and put his hands in his face. He wasn’t even going be in his home country anymore, the place he grew up in. He was being sent overseas. A few tears dropped to the floor, what was actually happening finally hitting him. Somehow, not staying in Ireland made it ten times worse.

He barely noticed when the Doctor got inside an open jeep with another person driving. His cage sat in her lap and they drove for a few minutes before reaching a plane being filled with cargo. Jack realized that’s where he was going. Doctor Avery opened the cage up for a second and dropped a bag inside before closing it again. She looked at Jack while she walked up to the plane.

“Everything you’ll need for the flight is in the bag. Food, water, a few bathroom jars. It should hold you over until you get there.” Jack nodded, but he felt numb.

“Good luck out their Jack,” She said and gave him to another man who placed him inside the plane with the rest of the cargo. A sticker was placed on the top of the glass with something he could only assume was the address to wherever in America he was going. Before he knew it, the plane closed up and he was left in the dark. As he heard and felt the plane take off, he finally allowed his tears to fall. Silently sobbing into the dark.


Roughly seven hours later, Jack was awakened by the sudden light pouring from the outside and he had to turn away lest he blind himself. He silently watched as humans came and went, picking up box after box and taking them outside. Finally, he was picked up and taken back outside. The sun shone brightly in the sky and through his glass prison, he could feel the heat. The man placed him in a truck and he was once again shrouded in darkness. Though this time it wasn’t for seven hours. Before Jack knew it he was being taken out again and into a fairly big shop. A tinies shop.

An exchange was made between the man and the woman at the front. With a laugh the man left and the woman took him and placed his smaller glass prison into a bigger one. The door was opened and he exited out without a fuss. The smaller cage was taken away and the top of the bigger one was closed. He watched as the woman walked away.

He huddled himself in the far back corner, taking in the sights around him. There must have been thousands of tinies in this one shop. He wondered how many were from far away like him. As he watched the shop, the tinies, the workers, and especially all the people that came in, he prayed to God no one would notice him.

Unfortunately, fate just had to be cruel.

Shows that give at least one shit about queer people: for the clexa fans.
  1. South of Nowhere- this show stars a young lesbian in high school who loves and has relationships with girls, none of whom die.
  2. Carmilla- I’m sure you’ve heard of it but it stars a lesbian in college who falls in love with a vampire who (spoilers) does not die.
  3. The L Word- Centered around a group of queer friends so even if one of them did die there would still be like 13 more. Enough gays to go around. Very sex-centric.
  4. Queer as Folk- Another queer group show, but mostly focused on gay males, although there are queer women in it. They give a shit about queers tho and thats my #1 standard really.
  5. Orange is the New Black- I’m sure you’ve heard, this is a prison dramedy centered around queer women. Again, im pretty sure one or two of them die but in this case there are still a million others to love.
  6. Wentworth- it is much like orange is the new black, a few less laughs and more drama. Basically prison lesbians with accents.
  7. The Fosters- A family who’s matriarchs are an ass kicking pair of lesbians who do not die even a little. They are an inspiring lesbian couple and one of their youngest sons is gay and I love him. 
  8. I’ve heard some gay whispers about Person of Interest, The Shannara Chronicals, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and there is some gayness in How to Get Away With Murder. I mention these as an afterthought because I’m not yet sure if any gays die. 

The Federal Detention Center, SeaTac (FDC SeaTac) is a federal prison for men and women, located in SeaTac, King County Washington. Located between Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, FDC SeaTac opened in 1997 and houses inmates sentenced to serve time for federal charges as well as individuals who are awaiting trial in Federal court in Western Washington, and immigration detainees. The facility was designed to hold 1000 inmates, but usually houses around 600-700. The facility housed Colton Harris-Moore, otherwise known as “The Barefoot Bandit” while he awaited trial, and crypto-anarchist Jim Bell.

The Sacred, the Profane, and Pokémon Go

Before I start, I’d like to thank my friends Kate (ABD, Early Modern Jewish History at the University of Maryland), Trish (MA, Modern Middle East + MLIS at the University of Maryland), and Thomas (ABD, Modern European History at the University of Maryland) for putting out ideas and arguments about this that helped me gather and center my thoughts for this post.

So, I am not here to tell you why it’s disrespectful to play Pokémon Go at the Holocaust Museum or wherever. Frankly, if you need to be told why, you’re too far-gone for anything I say to have any impact. So let’s just skip past my pearl-clutching and moral assessments and move on to meaning; what does it mean to play Pokémon Go in spaces with commemorative meanings assigned to them?

Before I go any further, and for those of you out of the loop (like my mom, who thought this game involved following clues to people dressed like Pokémon), Pokémon Go is a cell phone game which, using the mobile device’s camera and GPS, allows players to catch, train, and battle Pokémon in the physical environment , transformed within the augmented reality of gameplay. 

Oh hey look, there’s a Squirtle chilling in my office with my freshly processed papers.

Once a Pokémon is spotted, the player has to throw a Pokéball within the game and make a successful catch. And if the player catches all the Pokémon lurking in their immediate vicinity, they have to get up, and walk around their city, town, or local park to find more. If a player wants to buy supplies or battle with other players, they have to walk to a PokéStop or a Pokémon Gym, typically located at identifiable landmarks like monuments, local strip clubs, and some dude’s converted church house (no but actually).

I’ve thought a lot of about different spaces where gameplay could be perceived as tacky or inappropriate, and I’m going to focus on three sites: Auschwitz, where 1,100,000 Jews and 200,000 Romani, gay men and women, people with mental and physical disabilities, Resistance members, dissidents, and POWs were tortured, abused, executed, and tossed into the ovens; Tuol Sleng (previously known as Security Prison 21/S-21), a former high school used by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge regime as a prison, torture and execution center; and the September 11 Memorial and Museum, the site of death for nearly 3,000 people, and the grave of those whose remains were never identified.

Installation at the September 11 Memorial and Museum between the footprints of the towers. Behind this wall is the Office of Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York, where unidentified human remains are stored. Image courtesy of the September 11 Memorial and Museum.

The women’s barracks at Auschwitz. Image courtesy of Yad Veshem.

The Khmer Rouge photographed every S-21 incoming prisoner, and here are a fraction of those images on display at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Image courtesy of said museum.

NOTE: The images I chose to represent Auschwitz and Tuol Sleng are comparatively tame. I could have chosen much more disturbing ones, but I find those extremely triggering, and I have no desire to spring that on anyone.

I choose these three because these are inarguably sites of human suffering, murder, and/or torture. That legacy cannot be assigned; it’s intangible. These sites are not in any way spatially divorced from the horrors they commemorate. 

I don’t think the game has been released in Cambodia (yet) so my use of Tuol Sleng is hypothetical. But it has been released in Poland and the US and yes, people have and are playing Pokémon Go at Auschwitz and at the September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Here someone plays the game one of the two September 11 Memorial Pools, which lie in the footprints of the two towers. Image courtesy of Time Magazine.

So again I had to ask myself, what does this mean?

Screen-cap of the Auschwitz gameplay. Image courtesy of the NYMag twitter.

Pokémon Go’s gameplay allows users to assert augmented reality over their surroundings. They engage as people on the game board of Pokémon Go, not as people taking in the meaning of the space around them. The game takes what exists, and projects itself over it. Thus, in these spaces I’m discussing, that is no longer a room where a Khmer Rouge official tortured a librarian, or where Jews were forced to huddle together like cattle before the slaughter,or where unidentified human remains still lie, but simply wallpaper; just the setting of a game.

Superimposed Pokémon lurking outside the entrance to Auschwitz. Image courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

To play Pokémon Go at these sites is to divorce them of all meaning, wrest them away from the hideous pasts they and all visitors must bear witness to. And I guess I lied; I have to extend moral judgement here, because that act?-is pretty profane.

At a site like the Vietnam War Memorial*, it’s a much more ambiguous relationship. This is a memorial to lives lost on a battlefield across the sea. It’s meaningful because we, as a society, have made it meaningful. People bring to it their grief and trauma and memories, and in doing so imbue it with  meaning. Or to put differently, the meaning of the Vietnam War Memorial is a constructed, but it’s a meaningful, important construct.

It is a symbolic site of mourning which means different things to each of the millions of people who visit it. One person could see playing Pokémon Go at the Vietnam Memorial as a horrific insult to fallen soldiers and veterans suffering from trauma, while another could see at as a tribute to a fun-loving grandfather, or never-met uncle. Because it is not on the site of death, the meanings of augmented reality gameplay at the Vietnam Memorial are too fractured for me to be able to make any definitive statements about them.

There’s a lot more to say here. About playing this and other augmented reality games at sites like cemeteries, war memorials, monuments, museums, art installations, gentrifying spaces; about space, interaction, memory, and human geography. I have really just begun to scratch the surface, and I welcome contributions.

*I used the Vietnam War Memorial as an example here, but this discussion can apply to any number of cemeteries or memorials or monuments located away from the site of death, or violence.

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