Prison is a study field in which everyone – inmates, guards, and prison researchers – experiences powerful sensory stimuli comprised of sounds, sights, and smells in a crowded, closed space. Yet traditional academic research has socialized researchers to “wash away” their physical and emotional feelings for fear they would jeopardize the scientific nature and validity of their studies. Nevertheless, at times in a prison setting, the researchers’ bodies are the only tool that enables them to document what goes on; so much so that ignoring their bodies and emotions leads to a loss of valuable information. Using embodied autoethnography (EA), I have examined bodily experiences in prison as reflected in the staff's conversations about the prisoners, how the prisoners speak of themselves, and the researcher's own prison experience while facilitating theater and study groups in an Israeli prison. I contend that the staff treats the prisoners' bodies as one would a messy body, which then becomes a metonymy for the prisoners' criminal personality. Although the prisoners internalize this standpoint, they continuously undermine it by boasting bodies that are both aesthetic and tidy. In conclusion, I claim that prison inmates are attentive to the self-body of all those with whom they interact. They use performance and physical gestures to build relationships while expressing vulnerability and empathy. Prisoners forge mutual emotional ties with researchers they identify as having a psychic deadness and with whom they are able to engage in a process of emotional bartering. The study sheds light on the incarceration experience and effects of human bodies in prison, emphasizing the importance of the use of qualitative methodologies that give voice to body, senses, and emotions.


embodied autoethnography, autoethnography, embodiment, incarceration, prison studies

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Shulamit Kitzis is a faculty member in the Department of Education at Al-Quasemi Academic College and a teaching fellow in the Department of Theater and the Cultural Studies Program at the University of Haifa, Israel. Actress and artist. I have no known conflict of interest to disclose. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to shularos@qsm.ac.il.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.




https://orcid.org/ 0000-0002-5186-4197



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