An in depth discussion about the book "Prison Architecture and Punishment in Colonial Senegal" by S.C. State history professor Dr. Dior Konaté took place in Nance Hall Auditorium on the university campus on Nov. 29 as panelists and the author offered analysis and insight into the work.
Delving into the six-chapter book was a panel consisting of other S.C. State professors.
Dr. Stanley Harrold, a history professor, analyzed the beginning chapters of the book.
“Chapter one’s title is ‘Building a Colonial Government in Senegal: 1817-1950.’ It discusses the motives of the French Colonial government that launched the Senegalese prison system in 1820,” Harrold said.
He highlighted the writings of Konaté that stated the first official prison system in Senegal began in 1841.
“White prisoners could be sent to France because of the unsanitary conditions in Senegalese prisons. Konaté describes these prisons as they existed between 1841 and 1863. She calls them makeshift disciplinary facilities with no architectural soul and no institutional identity,” Harrold said.
The formation of the prisons was used by the French to reshape the social, political, cultural and economic organization of Senegal, he said.
Panelist Dr. Benedict Jua discussed the middle chapters of the book, commending Konaté for her work.
“Konaté’s work benefits from the reach and painstaking textual analysis of documents available in the archives in Senegal and France," Jua said.
Dr. Larry Watson took a look at the ending of the work, saying, “I found the book fascinating.”
“Chapter five begins with what I think is a fascinating account of the last Laptot,” Watson said. “These were native African people who enlisted in the military, especially in the Navy, as intermediaries and interpreters and laborers. They were native Africans who interacted with the natives on behalf of the French, and therefore, they considered themselves, for the most part, a privileged group."
“The real purpose that chapter five has is to show how the prisoners themselves transformed the colonial prison,” Watson noted.
He said the prisoners “exploited their physical environment, forcing architectural changes in colonial prisons in order to improve their conditions and possibly to escape.”
“That means that they became very knowledgeable of the physical nature of their surroundings and determined where the weak spots were so as to exploit them,” Watson said.
Dr. Learie Luke, acting provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at S.C. State, said during the discussion, “Today is a great day here at South Carolina State University. It’s a great day where we can celebrate the accomplishments of our colleague and faculty, and even our students. I am privileged to have been the chairperson of the Department of Social Sciences who hired Dr. Konaté in August 2006."
“I hope that the accomplishment of Dr. Konaté, her scholarly prowess, inspires you to see beyond the prison walls of society or of your own reality," Luke told the students attending. "I expect that you will excel by finding your own agency and following in Dr. Konaté's fruitful footsteps."
He praised Konaté for her “commitment to the history of her native country, but more so to the body of knowledge to the continent of Africa.”
Konaté detailed parts of the process she followed to write the book, noting that she visited five prisons in Senegal and talked to 40 prisoners, half of them men and half women.
“I was just trying to write the history of prisons in Senegal because it’s near to me. I’ve been doing research on the subject for the last 23 years,” she said.
“We can learn a lot from prison, and that’s what I was trying to do in this book,” Konaté said.
“In this country (United States), you have three million people behind bars. We have a current discussion of prison reform because prisons are the reflection of society,” she said.
“This book, the history of prison, was simply a reflection of the French colonial rule in Senegal.”