Three metro stops and two bus rides brought us across the city from my hostel to Lecumberri prison, or what was once Lecumberri, anyway. The former jail now holds government archives, all of which are open to researchers, but limited areas of the building are open to non-researchers as well, i.e. to Professor Gómez and I. Uniformed officials take visitors’ bags at the door, usher them through metal detectors, and issue I.D. cards on lanyards to everyone who enters the building. I assume my I.D. card entitled me to the lowest ‘visitor’ clearance level in the building.
Once we were through security, we proceeded down a mail hallway to a wide, high, circular room at the center of the compound. The prison was built on the panopticon model, an architectural design that, from above, looks something like a spider: a central, circular room sits at the center, and several long, corridor-like extensions protrude on all sides from this main, domed hall.
Between the corridors sit additional watch towers, and thus the prisoners may be constantly observed from one of several towers but – and this phenomenon interested Foucault in particular – the prisoners have no way of knowing when a guard is looking out of the towers at them, only that a guard may be looking at any time day or night. The psychological effect on the prisoner, therefore, can be somewhat destabilizing and certainly discourage escape attempts.
Many 1970s resistance fighters and anti-government activists were held at Lecumberri, including ex-guerrilla fighter Elia Hernández and former resistance activist Gladys López, both of whom attended the ex-guerrilla insurgents conference.