Public Secrets –MSA

Amy Klemm
Sharon Daniel, Public Secrets

Public Secrets is essentially a fully textual/auditory piece that is unlike much of what we have “read” experienced so far this semester. Part of the reason that I chose this piece is to have a conversation about the ways in which this might now seem like an unusual digital literature to us this late in the semester. There is nothing flashy about this piece in any visual way. The text all comes from actual interviews with prison inmates (all women) who are serving time in California’s State Prison System at the Central California Women's Facility(CCWF). Sharon Daniels was able to interview the women inside the prison by being part of a non-profit organization where she was labeled as “legal advocate” so she was able to record the interviews. The laws had changed over the years to prohibit the women having any contact with computers and by allowing family members recording anything, as well as restrictions on who is allowed to visit inmates. There are a few ways in which to navigate the piece, you can read a whole page of excerpts from one individual or a page that has pieces that are connected with each other.

Textual Features:
  • Text boxes that show the first few words of an interview from each inmate. These can appear within a page all about one inmate, or floating as a part of a larger connected narrative.
  • A short Biography of each woman when you go to their page. This is how you can learn that some women have gotten out of prison, while some remain incarcerated.
  • As a part of one woman’s page, you learn that her story is part of a book that her sister is working on, so this text leads you to other textual representations about the women.
  • Prison “dialect”: The terms used by the women become a part of their own interconnected language, and only those in “the know” will understand it all.

Media Features:
  • Auditory “sound clips” from each interview that accompany the text.
  • “Soundtrack:” The sound of closing doors that the inmates would know all too well is played whenever one enters a new section or reads about a new person.
  • There are tabs on the side to read pieces, or text boxes that float by to click on a new story. The pages with one woman’s story resemble maps with grids that can be clicked on and read/listened to.
Reading/Auditory Experience:
What I gathered from this piece is that there comes to a point when you realize the overwhelming amount of information that Sharon Daniels is providing the reader with and you have to come to terms with the fact that you might not ever get to read each piece form each woman. What I tried to do was to navigate the piece through the connections to get a broader sense of what Daniels was trying to accomplish through the piece. Sometimes I would get caught up in one woman’s storyline and then end up reading/listening to everything from her. It isn’t explicitly laid out that when you get to a page with a woman’s name that their current status is found by clicking on their name. I stumbled onto that accidentally, but then I went back to all the other women I read to see how they all ended up. By allowing these women to tell their own stories in their own words, I felt like Daniels was attempting to give as honest an insight as possible into the inner-workings of the prison system.Most of the other pieces we read for this semester tended to deal with an interactive element, except for the flash videos with no user interaction involved. In this piece, there is a limited amount to user interaction, yet it controls the whole piece. This is not a Jason Nelson piece where it appears to have a game quality to it, and users have to interact in order to “survive” or “win” the game. Instead, it is up to you how much you want to read of this piece. You may only make it through one set of connections, or two women’s pages. If you choose, you can literally spend an entire day observing and experiencing this piece. The amount of information seems endless, even though I know there has to be an end somewhere. The interviews took place from 2003-2006 as far as I could tell, so there is a large body of text to navigate through. It reminded me of the reading we did from Kenneth Goldsmith when he recorded himself for a whole week. There was so much there for each day that it felt overwhelming.This is the same feeling I got when I realized after four hours that there was still more women I had not read about yet.
Part of what troubled me about this piece was the disconnect of the authorial intervention and the auditory inclusions from each woman. There were moments when I was reading this piece when I could clearly notice that what was being heard was not what Sharon Daniels had recorded in the text that I was also reading. It seemed odd to me that sometimes there was such detail in the responses that she captured each um, uh, and stutter of words, and then there were other times that whole sentences or words were missing. There are a few pieces when the auditory element was not available and then we have to rely on her as narrator to trust that this is what they actually said. Some pieces seem to not match up with the text that is displayed as well.This piece is unlike a lot of what we read for this course in that is a text heavy piece and the text is displayed clearly and in clear sentence/paragraph form. I am interested to see if this now seems to stick out as an unusual digital literature piece than other things we have looked at and now expect to be the “norm.” This is a piece of non-fiction text that is designed to give an unbiased glimpse into the prison system in California, yet clearly Daniels and all the women have a skewed perception of the system. Most of the women are fighting against the injustices they face every day, and calling into questions the officials who have a say in their release and sentences. Of course they will be jaded against what is happening to them and others around them because they face these harsh brutalities on a daily basis. It is clear that Daniels has a certain viewpoint of the system that she is trying to share. There is a clear moment when Daniels is hoping that people will be moved enough by this piece to be called into action. She gives information on how other people can join the fight to end this abuse.
Discussion Questions:
  1. What do we make of the fact that most of the women seem to have education and are well-spoken and articulate? Does this take away or bring a new perspective to Daniels piece? Is it a question of who she picked to feature in this piece?
  2. What is our agency in this piece? Does it call into question an element of voyeurism since we might be simultaneously appalled and compelled to read these stories? (Think of the pieces that were the most effective in getting you to read/listen to more)