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An abolitionist planner.

  • Jun 08 2023
  • Carceral Time Working Group
    is composed of a group of 20 students (Jacob Bertilsson, Jacob Bolton, Severine Chapelle, Ayana Enomoto-Hurst, Georgia Ferguson, Omar Hmidat, Ana Lopez Sanchez-Vegazo, Andrea Macias-Yanez, Marvi Mazhar, James Moss, Ginevra Naldini, Miguel Ramos Hernandez, Giovanna Reder, Duncan Salkovskis, Caterina Selva, Elara Shurety, Sanjana Varghese, Nikki Vieler, Ollie Zhang) of the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths.


"From your prison cell you can't see the moon. Looking out the window, up in the darkening sky, the curving brick wall cuts the horizon, the tall neighbouring buildings fill the framed view. Suspended in the sky one can imagine a new moon, a growing moon, a full moon. An opaque sphere illuminated by the rays of a hidden sun, a shape shifting moon in the time of the outside.

You can't reach that moon when you are inside. But then it happens that some neighbours, some observers of the night sky, cut out a moon for you. One that enters your constricted visual field. And you can see the moon hanging there, between shadow and light, and the moon can come in through the glass, and you can imagine its light on the cold floor."


Power relations are intimately bound up with time. Prisons—as well as the actors and bodies which make up the carceral system—allocate, redistribute, divide up, split, modify, share out, and seize time for particular groups of people. Within prisons, there are often allocated times for recreation, for meals, for unwaged labor, for communication with loved ones and people “outside” of the prison. In taking away time from individuals as part of their “punishment”, the state and carceral systems seek to make something like an irreversible change to the trajectory of individuals and communities. But this is not the whole picture— incarcerated people often experience many forms of carceral time, often alongside experiences of non-carceral time.

HMP Holloway (the women's prison which was closed in 2015 in North London) is the starting site for this project. In thinking about Holloway Prison as a site that structures and allocates time—not just in the past, but also in the present and future—we aim to unravel the different temporalities that are woven into the carceral experience, in order to provide diagnostic and interventionist tools and to generate a counter tempo. 

Since it was built in 1850, HMP Holloway has been a crucial site in the development of carceral systems in the UK. It has undergone many lives, often at the forefront of prison expansion and the “transformation of the prison estate.” In the 1980s, its formerly imposing gothic structure was razed and rebuilt in a “modern form,” so as to blend more easily into the changing urban landscape. These changes were part of a shift towards a more “liberal” understanding of the prison in general, and a greater emphasis on the value of rehabilitation—which in turn led to a legal framework which increased sentence lengths for offenders. HMP Holloway is also a paradigmatic case of women's prisons in the UK. In the words of Rachel Seoighe and Carly Guest, Holloway encapsulated the "conflicting aims of punishment and care" which typify the prison estate for women. In 2015, then Justice Secretary of the UK Michael Gove, announced that HMP Holloway would be shut down, saying that it was inadequate and antiquated, and that the government would be “investing in 21st century solutions to the problems of criminality.” Since then, the land that Holloway was on has been sold to the Peabody Association for £82 million. There is an ongoing consultation about the future of the site, involving community groups such as Community Plan For Holloway, Reclaim Holloway, Sisters Uncut (who occupied the site after it was decommissioned in 2016) and other stakeholders. 

In this planner, we seek to reframe carceral systems and institutions as structures which allocate and seize time as a form of punishment. We hope to first diagnose how time is woven into carceral experiences, and then to move towards undoing these forms of carceral time between ourselves and society at large. If the prison system uses duration against people, we propose to use duration back against the prison system. One issue with abolitionist activism is that something happens that prompts a wave of support (such as the events of 2020), but then it dies down again. This is a tool to provoke a sustained engagement, a method of making the move towards abolition a habit.


“The proliferation of carcerality exposes the nation's dependence on crime futurity.”

-  Tamara Jamil

Preemptive time is the way in which the state constructs and ensures carceral futures for specific groups of people, often based on race and class. Through methods such as predictive policing and targeted surveillance, it treats prison as an inevitability for particular people, rendering the time before they enter the prison as a prologue to it. But preemptive time is not just something that has emerged with these new technologies. Schools and social services can become sites and agents of these processes, as can courts and custody. For the subjects in question, preemptive time isn’t confined to a handful of separate sites; the shops, the streets, the home, the park, the bus, can all become spaces in which preemptive time is experienced, felt, and constructed. 

As abolitionist scholar and poet Jackie Wang says, predictions are much more like constructions of the future, through the present management of subjects categorised as threats or risks.” This predictive management of “risky” and “threatening” subjects then becomes an essential component of the state’s carceral project. 

☾ Exercise

Preemptive time exists across many levels, and is, like carcerality, expanding. As geographer and abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore states, "So many public agencies—education, healthcare, and so forth—have absorbed policing functions." 

Spend some time listing different places and different ways in which preemptive time is constructed and enforced. Make a list of some different ways in which carceral futures become likely for individuals.

☾ Reflections

That’s that network. That little matrix that they have . . . They know that people who I know have been arrested for drugs, so they assume that I’m going to have drugs on me.”

- Bill, 14 year old arrested twice in one week, on Met Police's Gangs Matrix Database, in London

In 2019, Liberty Human Rights reported that 14 UK police forces had used or intended to use computer algorithms to predict where crimes might be committed and by whom. These used two main approaches: predictive mapping and individual risk assessments. The first uses preexisting police data to identify “hot spots” for future patrolling, while the latter predicts how likely someone is to commit a crime, often using personal characteristics including age, gender, and postcode.

Jackie Wang writes "predictive models are only as good as the data sets they use to make predictions, so it is important to interrogate who collects data and how it is collected. Although data has been conceptualized as neutral bits of information about our world and our behaviors, in the domain of criminal justice, it is a reflection of who has been targeted for surveillance and policing. If someone commits a crime in an area that is not heavily policed [...] it will fail to generate any data."


Prisons structure time and rhythms through rigid management and scheduling. Within Holloway, this refers to the scheduling and planning of staff shifts, internal logistics (patrols, inspections, food preparation, laundry, cleaning, or building maintenance), and the daily routines of the prisoners. Bedtimes, outdoor time, mealtimes, childcare time, time spent moving through security procedures—these were all regimented by those in positions of authority, yet experienced on an embodied, subjective level.

Managerial time also shapes and assaults the social fabric of the prison: from allocating time able to be spent on social activities (as well as space allocated to them), to the routine removal and transferral of people to different prisons around the country. This process of transferring people from facility to facility is one of recurring social disruption, weaponised against hints of the "good time."

☾ Stories

The stories of those who spent time at Holloway make clear how decisions of authority figures manifested in lived experience, how daily rhythms were dictated by others. "Initially, stripped of your belongings, (women were allowed to wear their own clothes), drug tested and photographed for your ID card, you are escorted to either the first night centre or to H1 the Health Care landing that supported those detoxing from drugs or alcohol."

"Getting out of your room for any form of activity becomes the focus of each day. Education, Exercise, Doctors, the Gym, visits, meal times and association were the main reasons that you could escape your confines. Personally, the gym was my saviour, somewhere you could work out your stresses and keep fit, especially relished was time in the swimming pool (when it was open and enough PEI Officers to staff the activity)."

"As time passed you would be able to move landings and be unlocked for longer periods of the day, D0 a workers landing was unlocked from 7:30am until 17:30 pm, then moving up to D2 you would be unlocked until 20:30pm, this landing was reserved for those that would be allowed to go out on Day Release or ROTL (Release on Temporary Licence)."

"Being separated from family and children is probably the most difficult; phone calls are expensive, as are stamps on a limited budget. There were Kids Visits in the gym for 5 hour sessions once a month, other than that you were allowed 2 or 3 hour long visits a month in the visitors centre."

Quotes from "Postcards from Prison," copyright

☾ Exercise

Think about what parts of your time are managed by others. This can be in the workplace, at home, in school, or education. How is that time structured for you? What are the times you have most agency over? How would you structure it differently if you could?

Now, imagine a highly regimented schedule in which all of your hours are defined by someone else—with mealtimes, access to phones, visits with family, highly controlled. How would that make you feel? What would be difficult about it?


Outside time highlights the oscillation between how time passes outside and how it passes inside the prison. It is how time is experienced and lived by people and how it structures sociality in the outside world. Outside time is transmitted and mediated by family visits, letters, news, phone calls, magazines, movies,  screens, windows, walls, and views from balconies. These two different temporalities, the outside and the inside, affect and effect each other. Once one is dissociated from the outside world through incarceration, outside time might start to fade away, with the “real world” feeling further and further away. It might be seeing life of the people outside as passing much faster than the ones inside who experience a different speed and velocity, a different tempo, as prison abolitionist, poet, writer, and performer Jackie Wang defines it. Outside time might also be what keeps you going, the “real” one clings and holds on to, and refuses to lose contact with. 

Outside time is also how people living outside the prison are affected by carceral and juridical time structures: schedules changes for relatives by having to adjust to in-prison rhythm via visiting times or phone calls, canceled hearings, appeals that are not responded to, logistical and managerial changes affecting the outside community. Outside time is the time one returns to at the end of the sentence or the time one has to negotiate when the sentence is physically spent out of prison through the mechanism of probation and license monitoring. Outside time is also the time Holloway Prison is returned to after closure and demolition: the fluctuation between the memories of carceral time and the daily struggles of the community campaigning for the land and the future development, the different tempos of reminiscences and direct action, consultation, planning.

☾ Stories

My daughter has been in Holloway prison since December 2010 and it has been a struggle to get visits ever since she has been there. I was told that prisoners are entitled to a visit every 14 days but that rarely happens. The visits were for 1½ hours but because of the slow process of security checks (which would only begin 5-10 minutes before the visit was due to start), they would rarely start on time and my visit has started up to 20 minutes late, even after I had arrived 1½ hours early! Some families travel miles to see their wives, daughters, mums, etc and it can be a very stressful and distressing time. Although the visits are for the prisoners to maintain family ties, for their emotional well-being and to help rehabilitation, the visits are also for the family members who have committed no crime.

— Edited from Testimony From Inside Time Reports

Some of the women we visited away from the group setting would be in shared cells. Sometimes it wasn’t possible for an officer to unlock the women. When we saw women in this circumstance, we would talk to her through the hatch of her cell door. The hatch is a small window with a flap, big enough to see the middle third of someones face when up close. I spent many hours supporting women in this scenario. Talking and listening through the hatch.Those through the hatch visits were difficult, but so worth doing. (Katie)

— From Holloway Prison Stories

These visits are very important to me and my family. The freedom we have together, away from other prisoners is the main reason. (It) helps to bond with your children on a better level. (Resident at HMP Norwich.9 

— From Spurgeons Children Charity

☾ Exercise

After Holloway Prison was shut down in 2016, the site was bought by Peabody Housing association. Holloway Prison could be returned to the Outside Time, to the community, after years of incarceration and violence. Reclaim Holloway, Community Plan For Holloway, Sisters Uncut and other groups have campaigned and continue to do so, to ensure the construction of affordable housing, green spaces, and a Women’s Building on the site. But the inside carceral time of the prison might continue to affect the Outside Time: the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime (MOPAC) is working with the housing association to finance and direct the construction of the site.

The Women's Building can be the engine for change: not a probation center but the place for community, inclusivity and transformation towards an abolitionist time of care and support.

  • Think of the Women's Building on the former site of Holloway Prison: how do you envision it? What would it look like; feel like? Who would be there? Who should not be there? How would the stories and testimonies that you have read on this planner affect the building?

  • Take a moment to imagine other spaces that could transform the way carceral time affects outside time. What are these spaces in your community? What other ways can we imagine to provide care and to challenge the carceral justice system?


“Abolition is a theory of change, it’s a theory of social life. It’s about making things.” — Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Prisons and Class Warfare.”

The Good Time is what carceral systems always block, and what abolition always works towards. The Good Time is the collective enjoyment of conditions, conditions that must be communally produced. The Good Time could also be thought of as abolitionist time. It is outside of institutions, a fugitive time carved out beyond the reach of carcerality, a time that has no need for carcerality. It looks different for different people. Abolition is first and foremost a creative act: not just about tearing down prisons, but about creating a world in which prisons and the police are utterly redundant. If prisons structure and allocate time, then abolition could be seen as a project of creating and generating the Good Time at scale. Carceral systems determine who gets time and who doesn’t, who may enjoy their time and who may not, whose time is valuable and whose isn’t. In the political economy of time, the prison is something like a modern commercial bank: hoarding, expropriating, exploiting. To counter it, we must generate new ways of assuring each other, new forms of community mutuality. In the unfinished introduction to his final book, Mark Fisher points out that “[i]nstead of seeking to overcome capital, we should focus on what capital must always obstruct: the collective capacity to produce, care and enjoy.” When we look at carceral systems through this, the prison is the capital in question: the modes of time this capital produces include prison time, untime, embodied time, managerial time. The Good Time is the time in which we can produce for one another, care for one another and enjoy one another.

“What is, so to speak, the object of abolition? Not so much the abolition of prisons but the abolition of a society that could have prisons, that could have slavery, that could have the wage, and therefore not abolition as the elimination of anything but abolition as the founding of a new society.” – Stefano Harney & Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study

☾ positionality statement 

We adopt a collective voice, not to shirk individual responsibility or accountability, but to reflect our approach to this project, as an exercise, among other things, in collective imagining.

This work was produced across several months at the start of 2021. Not only is the future of the Holloway site uncertain, but the landscape of policing and prisons within the UK is ever-changing. By the time you use this planner, many of the statistics or information within it may no longer hold true, or may have gained new relevance. We encourage you to use it critically, and use the text in its own way as a window through which to examine and unpick any changes that might have occurred.


The contribution undoingtime_ an abolitionist planner is a shortened version of a broader and more generous project of the same title. To delve into its website and download the printable version of the planner click here.

Special thank you to Ghalya Sadaawi, Tomas Percival, Rachel Seoighe, Carly Guest, and Pablo Allison.



    HMP Holloway, 2021.



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