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Critical Studies in Media Communication ISSN: 1529-5036 (Print) 1479-5809 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcsm20 The voice of the prison and “wars of position”: a discourse analysis of a Venezuelan prison newspaper Cory Fischer-Hoffman To cite this article: Cory Fischer-Hoffman (2019): The voice of the prison and “wars of position”: a discourse analysis of a Venezuelan prison newspaper, Critical Studies in Media Communication, DOI: 10.1080/15295036.2019.1658884 To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/15295036.2019.1658884 Published online: 22 Sep 2019. Submit your article to this journal Article views: 65 View related articles View Crossmark data Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at https://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=rcsm20 CRITICAL STUDIES IN MEDIA COMMUNICATION https://doi.org/10.1080/15295036.2019.1658884 The voice of the prison and “wars of position”: a discourse analysis of a Venezuelan prison newspaper Cory Fischer-Hoﬀman Lafayette College ABSTRACT ARTICLE HISTORY This article examines how a Venezuelan prison newspaper challenges hegemonic representation of prisoners and the prison crisis through constructing new meanings of the prison and new subjectivities of incarcerated peoples. In my research, I utilize qualitative methods such as textual and visual analysis of the August 2014 Venezuelan prison newspaper La Voz, unstructured interviews conducted with the authors and supporters of the paper, and observations made during a prison visit in February 2015. Through discourse analysis, I examine how the authors use the prison newspaper in an ideological battle to construct new forms of common sense about prisons; this struggle is what Gramsci calls “wars of position.” While the article aims to illustrate the ways in which power is diﬀuse—as embodied through language and meaning—I do not ignore the fact that power is also highly centralized—as illustrated by the prison itself. I argue that the Venezue; lan prison newspaper rejects prevailing hegemonic rationalities that people are in prison because they are being punished for a crime; instead, the newspaper represents prisons as illegitimate institutions that intern and punish poor people. Received 21 March 2019 Accepted 17 August 2019 KEYWORDS Prison; Venezuela; prison newspaper; outsider journalism; discourse analysis Introduction For over a decade political polarization and high levels of violence have shaken Venezuela. Competing narratives about “reality” are part of a profound ideological battle constituted by the underlying class struggle within the oil-rich nation. In representing their own class and political interests, media outlets, including international press, the private press, state media and community media clash in this “struggle for meaning” (Volosinov, 1986). Venezuela’s community media movement has its roots in the early 1990s, but the 2002 coup attempt against former President Hugo Chávez—dubbed the ﬁrst “media coup” in history—made access to the airwaves “a critical theater in the political and social conﬂict” in Venezuela and launched hundreds of community media projects throughout the country (Leary, 2009). Community media, while a “heterogeneous” terrain, has served as a tool for marginalized communities to challenge the ways in which they are represented and to oﬀer an alternative to the highly scripted narratives of the private press and state media (Fernandes, 2010b). CONTACT Cory Fischer-Hoﬀman firstname.lastname@example.org © 2019 National Communication Association 2 C. FISCHER-HOFFMAN La Voz de la Prisión—as I call it in this article, and henceforth, La Voz—is a newspaper that was authored, edited and initiated by people interned in a prison located in an interior state of Venezuela. The ﬁrst and only edition of the paper was printed in August 2014 and following its release, I went to the San Mercedes prison to interview the authors about the publication and to investigate how La Voz challenges the hegemonic representations of prisons and prisoners in Venezuela.1 Prison newspapers “oﬀer a valuable record of prison life as lived and interpreted by those closest to the experience;” but they are also “sites of ideological struggle over the meaning and consequence of prison in society” (Novek, 2005, p. 298). This ideological struggle is what Gramsci referred to as wars of position; a battle to create hegemony. While a wide array of institutions aid in the construction of hegemony, Gramsci notes that the press is “the most dynamic part of this ideological structure” (Gramsci, 1996, p. 53). He argued that although the elite create a dominant commonsense—adopted by the masses—that subjugates the subaltern classes and serves elite interests, hegemony can also be utilized as a positive force. Unlike the Marxist concept of ideology, Gramsci envisioned a revolutionary potential in the construction of counter-hegemonic narratives that could undermine the “active consent of subordinate groups” (Gramsci, 2007, p. 168). This article examines how the incarcerated authors of La Voz build counter-hegemonic representations that aim to withdraw prisoners’ consent to be ruled. Through examining how La Voz discursively constructs counter-hegemonic representations of Venezuelan prisons, my research engages with central questions of power. Foucault’s extensive works theorize power in diﬀerent yet complementary ways to Gramsci. Foucault’s concern with the “omnipresent” role of power, which extends beyond the state, and regulates everyday conduct—what he calls governmentality—is part of how he relates the centrality of language and ideas to knowledge/power (Burchell, Gordon, & Miller, 1991; Foucault, 1990). Foucault argues that beyond punishing deviants, the prison is a technical institution that couples with a carceral ideology and hence, studying the prison illuminates “the power of normalization and the formation of knowledge in modern society” (Foucault, 1995, p. 308). Discourse analysis provides a means of analyzing more diﬀuse forms of power and speciﬁcally how language signiﬁes structures, agencies, and subjectivities (Bourdieu, 1992). While this article aims to illustrate the ways in which power is diﬀuse—as embodied through language and meaning—I do not ignore the fact that power is also highly centralized—as illustrated by the prison itself (Sum, 2009). In order to demonstrate how the prison newspaper challenges hegemonic representations of prisoners and the prison crisis, I will provide background information on how carceral self-rule (a form of prison governance) functions. Afterwards, I will explain the methods that I used to systematically collect and analyze data, the deliberative choices that I made, the signiﬁcance of my research, and a brief outline of the article. My ﬁndings show how La Voz’s representations of Venezuelan prisons expands the political agency and subjectivities of prisoners and proposes an alternative penal common sense. I argue that through examining both why and how power operates, La Voz oﬀers an example of incarcerated people establishing their agency within the wars of position that Gramsci describes, but this is not without contradictions. The “struggle for meaning” waged by the subaltern, as I posit the newspaper to be an example of just CRITICAL STUDIES IN MEDIA COMMUNICATION 3 that, co-exists with a violent and hierarchical penal order that prisoners operate in, maintain and, in some cases, beneﬁt from. I argue that La Voz must be analyzed within the context of carceral self-rule. In conclusion, I demonstrate that the counter-hegemonic representations advanced by the incarcerated authors of the prison newspaper portray prisons as illegitimate institutions that function to intern and punish poor people; hence, the prison is not represented as an instrument of justice but as a site of structural injustice and class violence. Background: Venezuelan prisons and carceral self-rule Venezuelan prisons have many commonalities with penal institutions throughout Latin America; they tend to be underfunded, understaﬀed, are overcrowded with insuﬃcient infrastructure, have a poor record of human rights abuses, lack of access to medical attention and they incarcerate high rates of pre-trial detainees (Dammert & Zúñiga, 2008; Darke & Garces, 2017; Mariner, Bochenek, Brown, & Vivanco, 1997). Many prisons are internally managed by organizations formed within the interned population. While the private media tends to refer to these as “gangs” and “maﬁas,” there is wide debate among scholars on the topic (Darke & Garces, 2017). Some researchers contend that “inmate self-rule” does operate under the control of gangs (Dias & Salla, 2017), others theorize internal prison governance as “self-governance” (Weegles, 2017), a “proto-state” (Carter, 2017), and a “co-production” between the state and incarcerated peoples (Darke, 2019). In the case of Venezuela, Antillano (2017) argues that while gangs may control certain territories within a prison, he describes carceral self-rule as a more extensive apparatus that includes “a cultural code regulating inmate activities” but also a political structure built on internal governance and an “economic order” that regulates markets and can provide material support to prisoners (p. 27). In most Venezuelan prisons, the governing body overseeing carceral self-rule is called the Carro, and the highest-ranking person within the Carro is the Pran. In the absence of resources from the state (such as food, cleaning supplies, educational programs, and staﬃng) the Carro is responsible for all aspects of the internal administration of the prison (Antillano, Pojomovsky, Zubillaga, Sepúlveda, & Hanson, 2016). Since the ruling organization receives little or no direct funding from the state, the Carro taxes the inmate population to cover the costs associated with governing, extracting any surplus. It is obligatory for all incarcerated people to pay this weekly tax (la causa), and to follow the other established rules (la rutina); deviation from la rutina or failure to pay la causa is punishable by humiliation, torture or, in extreme cases, death. Due to the considerable pressure for incarcerated people to pay la causa, this requirement ultimately spurs a boisterous internal prison economy based on the buying and selling of commodities, crafts and services. Since the Carro is dependent on generating this tax from the inmate population, businesses are encouraged. The Carro provides loans to people who want to start an income-generating endeavor (like selling coﬀee) and can negotiate with prison authorities about purchasing tools, supplies, and materials needed (e.g. a percolator, coﬀee, sugar, milk and a thermos). This internal economy is essential for the daily survival of incarcerated people; not only does it provide access to basic goods (at a cost) but it also spawns a means of developing a livelihood. In order for this prison economy to grow, inﬂuxes of money from external sources, such as visitors, 4 C. FISCHER-HOFFMAN are necessary. For many prisoners and their families, who tend to come from humble backgrounds, coming up with cash every week is a hardship. What makes Venezuela distinct from almost every other country in Latin America is that the internal organizations in Venezuela have amassed arsenals of military issued weapons that are not commonly found in prisons in Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Andes or the Southern Cone (with the exception of Brazil). While knives, blades and the occasional handgun may be commonplace throughout the region, the Carros in Venezuela have armed forces that maintain a monopoly on violence inside the prison and they are capable of mounting a veritable defense in the face of an armed assault led by government forces. The presence of ﬁrearms contributes to the high levels of violence within the prisons. On average, more than one death a day has taken place in Venezuelan prisons from 2006–2016, making the rates of fatal violence in Venezuela much higher (both in real terms and relative to the prison population) than in other Latin American countries (Dammert & Zúñiga, 2008, p. 104; Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones, 2016). To combat the growing problems in prisons, which received wide media coverage in both national and international media outlets, President Hugo Chávez created the Ministry of Penitentiary Services (MSP) in 2011. This act was part of a widespread political process that diverted revenue from oil rents into social programs to beneﬁt the poor, dubbed the Bolivarian Revolution. In addition to the redistributive policies advanced by the Bolivarian government, the process was also marked by a rhetorical and ideological shift within the government. By criticizing the overtly racist and classist discourses and practices of the past ruling political class, the Bolivarian Revolution oﬀered a remaking of Venezuelan citizenship that discursively included the poor and rejected aspects of neoliberal capitalism (Fernandes, 2010b). However, the oﬃcial state discourses about people in prison tended to reﬂect liberal notions of citizenship, rather than more radical imaginaries of the subaltern. While the MSP attempted to change the narrative on incarceration and improve Venezuela’s standing in the international press, it simultaneously attempted to take control of the prisons under carceral self-rule; the conﬂicts at El Rodeo prison (2011) and at Uribana prison (2013) being iconic examples. Through these bloody battles, the government has gained control of many prisons since 2011, but some prisons in Venezuela remain under carceral self-rule at the time of this writing. Methodology: discourse analysis and power To build an account of counter-hegemonic representations of Venezuela’s prison crisis, I employed qualitative research methods to collect and analyze data. The August 2014 Venezuelan prison newspaper, La Voz de La Prisión is the primary source that I analyze in this article but I also draw from unstructured interviews and observations made during a visit to San Mercedes prison in February 2015. While my central method is discourse analysis, I also analyze the content of the paper. All translations of the text and interviews from Spanish to English are my own. I use visual image analysis of the graphics, drawings and cartoons; this means peering beyond the superﬁcial to “uncover the image’s multiple layers of culturally informed meanings that represent socio-cultural phenomena” (Montgomerie, 2017, p. 110). Stuart Hall used semiotics as a way of studying culture. He argued that cultural images and signs do not simply represent, but that “representation is a practice, a kind of ‘work’” CRITICAL STUDIES IN MEDIA COMMUNICATION 5 that uses the symbolic function of material objects to create meanings that reconstruct the ideologies and systems of those who create them. Therefore, since the material world can never simply be re-presented, the analysis of discourses allows us to examine the very process and nature of the construction of knowledge and practices (Hall, 1997, pp. 25– 26). Discourse analysis is particularly useful for understanding how power is socially constructed; for example, how “prison maﬁas” becomes a signiﬁer that establishes racialized and classed associations with criminality to naturalize the use of violence against people in prison. This method helps to show how power operates through a hegemonic “common sense” constructed on claims of objectivity; and therefore how La Voz creates cultural signiﬁers in which taken-for-granted assumptions are challenged and associative meanings of words are altered through the construction of new meanings (Hall, 1997, p. 26). I also use data gathered from unstructured interviews that I conducted with the three main contributors of La Voz—a disgruntled socialist, a tattooed hip-hop artist and an aging poet, as well as the Pran who ﬁnancially backed the project. These interviews all took place during a visiting day in February 2015. To protect the identity of the authors, I have changed the name of the prison and all names that appear below are pseudonyms. To enter the prison, I had to pass through a strip search and was prohibited from bringing paper and a pen, let alone an audio recorder or cell phone. My interview style was extremely informal and the narrators whom I interviewed, understandably, had many questions for me. It was helpful that I had my own experience as a community media maker around criminal justice issues; I had co-founded a radio storytelling program around the politics and impacts of the criminal punishment system in New York State (an experience that the authors of the newspaper were particularly interested in discussing). In this article, I summarize conversations and I reconstruct some dialogue based on my ﬁeld notes (I did gain access to paper and a pen shortly after I entered the prison). An obvious risk of studying social constructions of power is that they can be divorced from the structures and social relations of the prison itself. To overcome this, I highlight the material reality of the San Mercedes prison, drawing on my own observations and the interviews that I conducted as well as empirical studies of prison conditions in Venezuela. In responding to the call for communications scholars to focus on mass incarceration (PCARE, 2007) my research engages with important debates in communications and media studies; and through engaging with power in both discursive and material formulations, my scholarship is also in dialogue with critical cultural studies and cultural political economy. In her formulation of a Cultural Political Economy, Ngai-Ling Sum (2009, n.p.) argues that through a “productive dialogue” between Gramsci and Foucault, it is possible to synthesize the structural (“materiality”) with discursive practices (semiosis) and therefore more accurately account for how “power is both dispersed and centralized with uneven impact upon class, gender, nature and place.” My scholarship embraces this method (which Sum insists is a “Gramscianizing of Foucault,” and not the reverse) in which Gramsci helps to demonstrate the why and Foucault explains how power operates (Daldal, 2014; Sum, 2009). The media has been a fertile terrain of both conﬂict and analysis in Bolivarian Venezuela (Sapiezynska, 2017; Tedeschi & Arce, 2014). Scholars, researchers, and documentary ﬁlmmakers have conducted investigations on media ownership (Weisbrot & Ruttenberg, 2010), the role of television in the political conﬂicts between the Chávez government and the opposition, particularly during the 2002 “media coup” (Leary, 2009; Power, Bartley, 6 C. FISCHER-HOFFMAN O’Briain, & Zoido, 2015; Stoneman, Power, Bartley, & O’Brien, 2008), the community media movement (Fernandes, 2010a; Schiller, 2018), and media representations of the “masses” (Duno Gottberg, 2004). But there has been no substantial scholarship on prison newspapers in Latin America. While political prisoners incarcerated under various dictatorial regimes in Latin America created and circulated newspapers, the papers themselves have not been systematically preserved and archived or analyzed. Scholars investigating “jailhouse journalism” in the United States have traced its history (Morris, 2002) and analyzed the contributions of the “penal press” to outsider journalism (Baird, 1967; Novek, 2005; Stepanov, 2017). Yet they have also cautioned readers from utilizing them as sources on prison life or the politics of prisoners, because they often function as a mouthpiece of the prison administration or are highly censored (Goﬀman, 1961, p. 96). While La Voz does not represent “the oﬃcial view of the functions of the institution” (Goﬀman, 1961, p. 96) vis-à-vis the state (since it is not an oﬃcially condoned project), the content of the paper is subject to scrutiny by the incarcerated leadership in San Mercedes. By drawing from an example exterior to the United States, my research contributes to the analysis of prison journalism through a case study in which the state has less power over the daily operations of the prison and thus cannot censor the content of the paper. I assert that within this context prison journalism is a venue for understanding the politics of prison and the wars of position advanced by incarcerated authors. In line with my theoretical approach, my aim for placing scholarly literature in communications in dialogue with prison research is to account for how power operates through discursive and concrete material forms. By operationalizing this analytical approach, my research adds to the growing ﬁeld of Cultural Political Economy (Sum & Jessop, 2015). In the following section, I will analyze how the authors of La Voz use the newspaper to reshape the meaning of prison, prisoners, and imprisonment. They do this by reconstructing a vision of socialism that includes those who “commit errors” and by humanizing incarcerated peoples through acknowledging their family ties and recognizing their collective struggle against injustice. By oﬀering an alternative penal common sense, La Voz rejects pathologizing and monsterizing prisoners and instead points to the systemic failure of the penal system, thus representing the prison not as an instrument of justice but as a site of structural injustice and class violence. A prison newspaper and counter-hegemonic narratives of the “prison crisis” Reconstructing socialism “Organized, we will speak together” are the ﬁrst words printed on the front page of La Voz. To the left there is a sketch of a man with a backwards cap, he is clinging to the prison bars and yelling “tend to us already!” I entered San Mercedes prison on a visiting day: I showed up on a Sunday, paid to store my bag, purchased approved food items sold by the vendors outside, waited in a line sectioned oﬀ by metal dividers, invented a name of the person I planned to visit, handed over my passport and went through an extensive search. While the prison is full of “contraband” ranging from drugs, laptops, televisions, furniture, weapons, refrigerators and cook stoves, the internal prison leadership has more eﬃcient CRITICAL STUDIES IN MEDIA COMMUNICATION 7 means of traﬃcking these items than relying on visitors to do so. By centralizing the distribution mechanism of goods, the prison leadership cements their own authority and aims to curb potential challenges to their rule, and so they too rely on the thorough searches of visitors. Prison administrators and members of the National Guard receive payment for their role in traﬃcking goods but in turn, they rely on the Carro to manage the prison and prevent people from escaping (punishments for escape attempts are quite severe). While the regulations on prison visitation are unclear, inconsistent, and non-uniformly enforced, visitors can only bring in certain approved food, clothes, and personal hygiene products. When I walked through the gates, I asked if anyone knew who was involved with the newspaper and someone pointed me towards two men sitting at a plastic table, each with two pistols and three cell phones in front of them. These two men, who were also involved with the paper, introduced me to the two main writers and editors of La Voz: Roberto and Poeta. Roberto was serious, smart, and suspicious of me. Born and raised in the city of Barquisimeto, Roberto said that as a young person he did his fair share of robberies to help cover the living costs of his family, although he had never actually been caught for any of those incidents. One police oﬃcer used to stop him in an attempt to get a bribe. Roberto paid the ﬁrst time, the second time and the third time. The fourth time, he was so infuriated that he refused to pay. The cop planted a weapon on him, which got him sent away to prison for 10 years. He was interned in Uribana prison in Barquisimeto but after the National Guard led an armed assault on the facility in January of 2013, he was transferred to San Mercedes. While the oﬃcial death toll of the standoﬀ at Uribana was just upwards of 50 people, Roberto estimated it to be in the hundreds (this range was corroborated by other eyewitnesses that I interviewed). Roberto’s experience of being wrongfully sentenced to prison and of witnessing the massacre at Uribana prison changed his perspective of the government; he felt like underneath the rhetoric of Socialism, they maintained a policy that didn’t value the lives of the poor. He was angry and unlike many people who criticize the government from below, or from the left, he was extremely outspoken. “What are they going to do to me?” he asked, “put me in prison?” Throughout the newspaper, the editors and authors position themselves as supporters of socialism, but opponents of government penal policies. Their goal is to use language to connect with two distinct audiences; by embracing a class analysis and remaking the term “socialism,” the newspaper speaks to the chavista base as well as the popular classes marginalized from the political process. The paper simultaneously criticizes the government for failing to provide basic rights for the poor within its prisons. Through this criticism, the authors challenge the government’s self-identiﬁcation with socialism and re-present the poor as inclusive of those marginalized through incarceration. In an article entitled “The Socialist Future,” the authors demand the right to education for people in prison, claiming this to be an embodiment of socialist policies. Despite the proliferation of redistributive social programs and services that deﬁned the Bolivarian Revolution in the prior decade, the government’s failure to provide the most basic necessities to prisoners was proof of a painful contradiction that Roberto thought was necessary to highlight. During my visit to the prison, he rhetorically asked me: “Where is the cultural programming? Where is the food? Where did the money that the government budgeted for the prison go?” In San Mercedes, neither the government 8 C. FISCHER-HOFFMAN nor the Carro provided meals; all food had to be purchased at one of the many restaurants inside the prison or brought in by visitors. Roberto thought that the government’s claim to Socialism was a farce but this was a point of contention with the other co-editor of La Voz. Poeta, an elder in the prison world, wore a gray beard and gentle smile, and he maintained an optimism that was rare in such diﬃcult conditions; he was also sentimental. Poeta wanted to take me to the place “where it all began.” Behind one of the main buildings in the prison, past an open sewer stream, next to a chain-link fence there was a quiet corner with a solitary wooden school desk attached to a chair: “this is it; this is where I do my writing.” Prior to working on the newspaper, Poeta had published poems for short publications, some of which had landed in local newspapers. To him, writing was an art form, a creative expression, but nonetheless he saw its strategic ends: “I like this system, I like socialism, but there are things that have to change and the ultimate objective [of the newspaper] is to change hearts and minds of people as a way of changing prison policies.” Humanizing the carceral collectivity: oppressed masses and fathers With the goal of agitating for reforms of the system, La Voz represents incarcerated peoples as part of the oppressed masses, instead of as people with individual failings, who are violent or have a poor moral compass. They do so by drawing from symbolic historical ﬁgures that fought against injustice; most of whom were persecuted or imprisoned as a result. These include Jesus Christ, Hugo Chávez, and revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara; they cite Fidel Castro’s speech “when men carry the same ideals in their hearts, nothing can isolate them—neither prison walls nor the sod of cemeteries.” This representation emphasizes human resilience and the capacity to survive prison, especially when motivated by ideals that demand dignity and an end to injustice. This theme is also invoked by the words of Jesus Christ, who, as presented in La Voz, stated that those “who have a hunger and thirst for justice” will be “satiated.” The authors of La Voz claim to speak in a uniﬁed voice on behalf of “la masa penitenciaria.” Their paper is a polemic that calls for unity among “the organized penal population” as a means of constructing a shared identity capable of collective action. Since the private media often portrays armed conﬂicts within prisons as turf battles between rival gangs, the representation of incarcerated people as political subjects capable of organized rational action and unity challenges hegemonic constructions. While both La Voz and the private press portray “the prisoner” as somewhat homogenous, lacking the complexity and diversity actually present within the interned population, the representations serve diﬀerent ends. The private media aims to create a perpetrator/victim construct or focus on the story of an individual, whereas La Voz consciously avoids inter-prison conﬂict to call for unity among those interned. The centerfold of the newspaper contains a drawing of a man sleeping on a mattress on the ﬂoor (see Figure 1). While he has a small pillow, he rests his head on his right arm, which is adorned by a watch (representing the passage of time). He dreams of hugging his son. His son is saying “I love you a lot,” and he responds “me too, son.” The private press rarely represents fatherhood as it relates to incarcerated people; La Voz humanizes people in prison by creating the subjectivity of the incarcerated father. By drawing a child into the frame, it is more diﬃcult to dehumanize and justify violence against people in CRITICAL STUDIES IN MEDIA COMMUNICATION 9 Figure 1. An image from La Voz Newspaper, August 2014. An incarcerated father is dreaming about his son is saying “I love you a lot,” and he responds saying “me too, son.” prison. This image constructs a subjectivity that functions to humanize people in prison but also to socialize the impacts of incarceration and to highlight prisons as a social problem that transcends individuals. The failings of the system (not the individual) In another drawing, four men are sitting in a dingy corner with a barred window and cement blocks behind them and they appear to be playing cards or dominos. In a speech bubble, someone says “the Minister Iris Varela says that she has put an end to idleness but look where they have us.” This picture communicates how the authors want to represent the quotidian. While life in prison is often portrayed by the private media as violent, dangerous, hellish, exciting and in constant conﬂict, these constructions fail to represent the extreme boredom that many people in prison experience. The news trucks, which only go to the exterior of a prison when there is violence and controversy, do not reﬂect the unending and chronic boredom of the prison routine. The cartoon also clearly calls out the Minister of Penitentiary Services by name, pointing to a disjuncture in 10 C. FISCHER-HOFFMAN government rhetoric and policies, and directing that blame onto Iris Varela who signiﬁes the Bolivarian government. In a period when rates of incarceration were on the rise, the authors represent the growing prison population as a reﬂection of the “follies” of the system, not as a response to growing crime rates. This representation is supported by scholars that posit that increased rates of incarceration are more likely due to a backlog in the criminal proceedings than they are to a dramatic change in crime or policing (Santiago & Birkbeck, 2017). By emphasizing the high number of pre-trial detainees, the injustices in the criminal proceedings, and the backlog of hearings and trials, the prison crisis is represented as a broader crisis of justice; not a problem of crime or poor infrastructure. La Voz demonstrates how the slow legal proceedings and “the system” is to blame for the prison crisis, not the individual, not prison gangs. Carceral subjectivities: from monsters to political actors Mateo was the Pran of San Mercedes when I visited; he supplied funding for the printing costs of La Voz. He said that he was displeased with how the media represents prisoners and especially the maﬁas and gangs. Mateo self-identiﬁed as a líder positivo and explained that being in his position—as top dog of the prison—was a “grandota” responsibility. He spoke of his burden as if he were the father of 1300 quarrelsome children whose conﬂicts he had to resolve and to whose needs he had to tend. Mateo rejected the media portrayals of wealth and glory often associated with being Pran. He noted that the organizational role of the Carro and the work of establishing rules, order, expectations, and conﬂict resolution goes unacknowledged by the press. He argued that “monsterizing” incarcerated people serves to justify the conditions within. Instead, he dwelled on the responsibility of the incarcerated prison managers under carceral self-rule, and the risks associated with being such a visible target. Mateo felt misunderstood by the media and he wanted to set the record straight; supporting this newspaper was a means to do so. Through Mateo’s desire to engage with the “struggle for meaning,” various contradictions emerge; he is the commander of a violent and hierarchical penal order that he proﬁts from yet he is still a prisoner, and thus marginalized. The newspaper criticizes the government for its penal policies and practices but does not even mention the Carro, which largely shapes the day-to-day management of the prison. While these dynamic tensions highlight the complex and contradictory paradigm for prisoners under carceral self-rule in Venezuela, it does not delegitimize the newspaper as a voice of the subaltern. It does, however; demand that the paper be understood as a product of its context and that, as Goﬀman (1961) warned, some forms of censorship are at play, even if not by prison administrators. While Mateo was less involved in the writing and creative vision behind the newspaper, his support was necessary to bring it to fruition. At the time of writing, Mateo may have already been released from prison, and at the point when I interviewed him he was preoccupied about who would be his successor: “this is not a job for just anyone,” he explained. I wondered if one of the candidates for this position was Gorrión, the young guy who sat to Mateo’s left during the interview; both of them occasionally reaching for one of their many cell phones. Gorrión was a lucero (armed guard) and an active member of the group who started the newspaper; he also had an online presence through a Twitter page and various YouTube videos of his hip- CRITICAL STUDIES IN MEDIA COMMUNICATION 11 hop group. With ﬁnancing from Mateo, they had started a record label and they released one album from prison under the label. Gorrión insisted that hip-hop was a venue to “do good things with bad experiences” but he also saw it as a tool of “consciousness raising.” Collectively, this editorial-author trio embodies the multiple identities capable of reaching the target readership of the newspaper; Gorrión appeals to urban youth; Roberto speaks to the class-conscious popular sectors that identify with the Bolivarian Revolution; Poeta utilizes Christian undertones to create a vision of what a new, more merciful, system might look like. In La Voz, the authors suggest doing away with what they call the “cycle used for the old politics” of prisons, in which people accused of crimes were sent to prisons. Instead, they suggest the abolition of the very concept of crime and prison, which they argue only serve to punish the poor; instead they suggest a “cycle of the new politics” in which individuals who “commit errors” have the possibility for redemption in “centers of hope and correction.” Borrowing from the popular discourse utilized by the evangelical church, La Voz emphasizes the Christian concepts of mercy and redemption. These alternative visions were to be the focus of the second edition of the newspaper but due to widespread shortages throughout the country, they could no longer access newsprint or a printing press. Unlike the “experts” interviewed by the private media who rattle oﬀ statistics about prisons, the authors of La Voz construct their authority on diﬀerent grounds. Roberto constructs his own subjectivity in opposition to journalism; “I am not a journalist, [and] I am not a writer,” he writes in the newspaper. He rejects the trappings of professional journalism and instead of the commonly associated credentials, he constructs his own positionality based on his life circumstances such as growing up poor, having incurred grave injustices, and witnessing state repression and human suﬀering. Consistent with the tone of other outsider journalists, he makes it clear that he is not someone gazing in and he need not hide behind a veil of objectivity (Howley, 2003). He has a very clear stake in what happens in Venezuela’s prisons. Counter-hegemony: the construction of an alternative penal common sense Just as Novek explains the role of a newspaper created in a women’s prison in California, the authors of La Voz “do much more than describe the bleak realities of prison. Through discourse, they construct multiple meanings of prison life for themselves and their audiences” (Novek, 2005, p. 287). For example, the authors of La Voz alter the subjectivities of people in prison by constructing incarcerated peoples as oppressed masses facing unjust persecution. Their representations of incarcerated peoples as fathers seeks to humanize people in prison and also to highlight how incarceration breeds social repercussions that extend beyond the individual accused of a crime. The authors invoke the Christian concepts of mercy and redemption to advocate for the legal, political, and social rights of people accused of crimes. While they recognize that individuals commit errors, they do not portray those who have done so as monsters but instead as people who have faced great hardship, have made mistakes, are suﬀering and yet are creative, resourceful, and resilient. La Voz rejects the focus on individual behavior as the explanatory factor for the existence of prisons. Echoing Foucault (1995), the newspaper counters the hegemonic narrative that blames incarcerated individuals, thus justifying their poor treatment while simultaneously absconding the system that interns them. Utilizing the printing press 12 C. FISCHER-HOFFMAN Figure 2. Image from La Voz prison Newspaper, August 2014. Armed National Guards members are running towards a prison, “They have very dangerous weapons,” a speech bubble coming from behind the wall states “Yes, their ideas.” within the “wars of position” between the elite and the subjugated, La Voz withdraws the consent of subordinate groups by challenging Venezuelan penal common sense. Conclusions Despite the ways in which power is diﬀuse, as Sum (2009) reminds us, it is also highly centralized; and people in prison are particularly subjected to these forms of structural power. Incarcerated people are subject to racism, abuse by the police, poverty, exclusion, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination based on nationality; but in addition to these widespread structural forms of oppression, violence perpetrated by state functionaries has been aggregated by predation by one’s fellow inmates. The code of conduct within carceral self-rule determines the daily existence and material reality within prisons but it is itself a product of abandonment by or collusion with the state and therefore is an extension of government policies. La Voz represents prisons as illegitimate institutions that intern and punish poor people by denying them not only their right to mobility, but also access to food, water, decent shelter, education, familial love, and dignity. This counter-hegemonic construction of Venezuela’s prisons seeks to withdraw the consent to be ruled by the elite from the “penitentiary masses” and other oppressed peoples. While not overt, this formulation also challenges the Carro—an internal elite order within the prison—in addition to the government and the owning class (who rarely end up in prison). CRITICAL STUDIES IN MEDIA COMMUNICATION 13 As the political struggle over State power rages in Venezuela, Gramsci reminds us that power is constructed not only by force but also through wars of position. This battle for hearts and minds will likely play a role in determining the outcome of the current attempt to replace President Maduro with the U.S. backed self-proclaimed President Juan Guaidó. The wars of position are poignantly illustrated through a cartoon on the ﬁnal page of La Voz (see Figure 2): two National Guard members are running away from the prison, one says to the other “They have very dangerous weapons,” a speech bubble coming from behind the wall states: “Yes, their ideas.” Through this cartoon, the artist-author suggests that power is not simply created by force but constructed through meaning and language. Despite the fact that some incarcerated people have used weapons to extract surplus, make threats, administer punishments, regulate markets, and manage internal prison disputes, the guns have not served as tools to approximate real forms of justice. The cartoon highlights how, perhaps, ideas are better suited to do so. My research demonstrates how power operates in concrete, but also dispersed ways such as through discourses that make and unmake agency, that clarify or obscure how structures function, and that re-center and reconﬁgure marginalized subjectivities into masses capable of organized collective action. La Voz newspaper functions as a weapon within the wars of position that inform and construct penal common sense in Venezuela. The authors of La Voz reject the association of prison with crime and instead create an associative meaning of prison with human suﬀering due to a systematic operation of class violence. By using a prison newspaper to assert political agency and present a counter-hegemonic vision from the perspective of people who are incarcerated, the authors shape what solutions seem pertinent and possible. Note 1. This research received IRB approval. 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