Essay Commissioned for ERNEST's Wapato Jail Social Practice Project
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Surveilling Emptiness at Wapato Jail
Unlike most empty prisons, Wapato Correctional Facility’s 525 beds are not haunted by ghosts, instead pristine pillows rest atop heinously cheap and hideously green mattresses that have never been slept in and do not hold indentations made by the weight of past trauma. There are no stains, no hairs, no traces of human suffering. Completed in 2004 the Multnomah County jail has stood empty till today and while it has often been described by locals as an albatross, it might more fittingly be considered a physical manifestation of Jeremy Bentham’s conception of the Panopticon. For, like Bentham’s Panopticon -a conceptual structure that, never actually housed any prisoners- Wapato Jail’s surveillance cameras perpetually watch over constant emptiness.