From the Autobiography of an Imprisoned Peon
(1904), the memoirs of an indentured slave, to Jack Henry Abbott's In the Belly of the Beast
, this collection presents sobering accounts of American prison life throughout the century. The stories come from all perspectives--innocent and guilty, comical and terrifying--but their common thread is the dehumanizing nature of prison existence. Sometimes poignant, sometimes violent, sometimes even funny, these stories are consistently disturbing and sobering glimpses into the incarcerated life. Prison Writing in 20th-Century America
speaks for a largely silent but growing population. As the percentage of Americans who are incarcerated continues to climb, the stories in this book--and their testimonial to the depths to which both the jailed and the jailers can sink--become all the more urgent. --Lisa Higgins
From Publishers Weekly
Harrowing in their frank detail and desperate tone, the more than 60 selections in this anthology of writings about the prison experience in America pack an emotional wallop. According to Wicker's outspoken foreword, "prisons and the violence and despair they symbolize... are a blot on American life and history." The U.S. penal system contains a population greater than that of New Hampshire, and even the pretense of rehabilitation was long ago subsumed by the need to punish. Beginning with accounts of the victims of Jim Crow and Black Code laws in the segregationist South and going through the contemporary journalism of Dannie Martin and Mumia Abu-Jamal, these views from behind the bars should be required reading for anyone concerned about the violence in our society and the high rate of recidivism. Franklin, in his introduction, argues that the institution of slavery has its modern counterpart in penal servitude While he sometimes seems stuck in the clich?s of a New Left rhetoric, he has done a fine job of rediscovering the prison writers of the 1920s (a period of real flowering among convict writers, supported by H.L. Mencken's American Mercury magazine) like Jim Tully, Chester Himes and Ernie Booth. In this context, the more famous works of writers such as Nelson Algren, Malcolm X and Jack Henry Abbot, gain a fuller resonance. The book also highlights writers, like Piri Thomas, who are alive today but neglected. If the test of an anthology is whether it makes the reader want to pursue the works of the authors it presents, this provocative volume definitely qualifies.
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