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Challenging the Prison-Industrial Complex

Challenging the Prison-Industrial Complex: Activism, Arts, and Educational Alternatives

Edited by Stephen John Hartnett
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 312
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    Challenging the Prison-Industrial Complex
    Book Description:

    Boldly and eloquently contributing to the argument against the prison system in the United States, these provocative essays offer an ideological and practical framework for empowering prisoners instead of incarcerating them. Experts and activists who have worked within and against the prison system join forces here to call attention to the debilitating effects of a punishment-driven society and offer clear-eyed alternatives, emphasizing working directly with prisoners and their communities. _x000B__x000B_Edited by Stephen John Hartnett, the volume offers rhetorical and political analyses of police culture, the so-called drug war, media coverage of crime stories, and the public-school-to-prison pipeline. The collection also includes case studies of successful prison arts and education programs in Michigan, California, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania that provide creative and intellectual resources typically denied to citizens living behind bars. Writings and artwork created by prisoners in such programs richly enhance the volume._x000B__x000B_Contributors are Buzz Alexander, Rose Braz, Travis L. Dixon, Garrett Albert Duncan, Stephen John Hartnett, Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, Daniel Mark Larson, Erica R. Meiners, Janie Paul, Lori Pompa, Jonathan Shailor, Robin Sohnen, and Myesha Williams.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09016-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Empowerment or Incarceration: Reclaiming Hope and Justice from a Punishing Democracy
    (pp. 1-12)
    Stephen John Hartnett

    Stacked atop one another on the same page on the same day, juxtaposed clues to a catastrophe, two New York Times articles illustrate some of America’s obsessions, fears, and blind spots regarding crime, violence, and punishment. The top story tells the tale of Gilberta Estrada, a twenty-five-year-old Mexican immigrant who hanged herself and her four children. Recently separated from her long-time partner, working the morning shift at a Wendy’s, living in a trailer park outside Dallas, raising four children by herself, and “struggling with depression,” Estrada’s days were difficult. Then something snapped one night, as Estrada took her eight-month-old baby...


    • Chapter 1 Building an Abolition Democracy; or, The Fight against Public Fears, Private Benefits, and Prison Expansion
      (pp. 15-40)
      Erica R. Meiners

      Several years ago, at St. Leonard’s Adult High School, where we offer adults a second chance at earning a high school diploma, we started a college and career night to provide students with information about accessing postsecondary education. Students—men and women with still raw, or in some cases old, histories of incarceration—usually want to hear from representatives of local community colleges, drug and alcohol-abuse counselor training programs, truck-driving schools, or other trade apprenticeships and job-training initiatives. Our students make no requests for information about medical, law, dental, teaching, or business schools; if we had south-facing windows in our...

    • “Another Day in the Champaign County Jail”
      (pp. 41-42)
      Dennis Mansker

      An original member of the Writing Workshop at the Champaign County Jail, in Champaign, Illinois, Dennis Mansker responded to the challenge to write detailed and realistic poetry with this poem chronicling the monotony of a day in jail; this piece was published in Captured Words/Free Thoughts 1 (Summer 2006).

      Another day another tray

      That’s how my world begins

      6:30 every morning

      The speaker bellows Trays! Trays!

      And you can rest assured

      It will be like all the other days

      A carton of milk

      A cup of instant coffee

      The usual oats grits or farina

      Maybe a hard-boiled egg

      Then it’s...

    • Chapter 2 Militarizing the Police: Officer Jon Burge, Torture, and War in the “Urban Jungle”
      (pp. 43-71)
      Julilly Kohler-Hausmann

      “Our community is under occupation,” Jesse Jackson told reporters at a press conference on February 18, 1982. “Our community is very tense. It is a war zone.” Days earlier, in an effort to apprehend the murderers of police officers William Fahey and Richard O’Brien, the Chicago Police Department had initiated one of the largest manhunts in the city’s history. Police saturated the African American community where the crimes took place, broke down doors, and rounded up scores of witnesses and suspects, many of whom were beaten, some of whom were tortured. Lieutenant Jon Burge led the search and apprehension of...

    • “Gotta Be Careful Where Ya Plant Ya Feet”
      (pp. 72-72)
      Marvin Mays

      A member of a writing workshop founded by Hispanic Americans for Progress (HAP) in the New Jersey State Prison, in Trenton, New Jersey, Marvin Mays writes poems portraying the harsh realities that lead to crime and punishment; this poem (and five other pieces by Mays) was published in Inside/Out: Voices from New Jersey State Prison, ed. Kal Wagenheim (Livermore, CA: Wingspan Press, 2009).

      All tears ain’t weeps, all closed eyes ain’t sleep,

      So ya gotta be careful where ya plant ya feet.

      Ya homeboy was gleamin,’ riding low and leaning,

      Gettin’ crazy money and his hustle was screaming.

      Jump in...

    • Chapter 3 Killing Democracy; or, How the Drug War Drives the Prison-Industrial Complex
      (pp. 73-104)
      Daniel Mark Larson

      On June 9, 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed H.R. 11143 into law, creating the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) and entrusting the Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, with the responsibility of establishing the first federal organization whose sole purpose was to rid the nation of illegal narcotics. When the bureau opened its doors on July 1, 1930, Mellon named former vice counsel with the State Department and recently displaced assistant commissioner of Prohibition, Harry J. Anslinger, as the FBN’s acting commissioner. Two weeks into his new position, the heat of this new charge was already singeing Anslinger, as South...

    • “Another Day”
      (pp. 105-105)
      Erika Baro

      A member of the Writing Workshop at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, in Denver, Colorado, Erika Baro writes strong poems about survival and moving on in the face of hardship; this poem became an anthem for our workshop, as we all pledged to try to follow its sage advice; the piece was published in Captured Words/Free Thoughts 6 (Spring 2009).

      Laying in a pool of tears

      Hidden by darkness

      I wander lost between the hundreds

      Of stars that decorate the night sky

      As my voice whispers strangely

      Driving me deeper into a madness

      I cannot escape

      I drift farther and...

    • Chapter 4 Teaching You to Love Fear: Television News and Racial Stereotypes in a Punishing Democracy
      (pp. 106-123)
      Travis L. Dixon

      Because I am one of the few African American professors my students have ever met, I am often asked to speak to various student groups about my life and work; one of the questions I address regularly is “why do you study racial stereotypes in the media?” I usually respond that my scholarly work is inspired by my personal experiences, for I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, that Hollywood symbol of projected racial stereotypes and fears, and later attended a college where I encountered white students who had been taught by the media to see me as a...

    • “In Search of Salvation”
      (pp. 124-125)
      William T. Smith

      A member of the Writing Workshop at the Champaign County Jail, in Champaign, Illinois, William T. Smith writes poems full of religious imagery and a wry sense of personal responsibility; this piece was published in Captured Words/Free Thoughts 1 (Summer 2006).

      O Lord, you say Far too long

      have I been absorbed with

      the destructive manners of man

      for the spirit stands willing

      but the flesh is weak

      and though I am covered with sin

      you peer beneath to see

      the lost child running wild

      running from truth salvation

      and the purity of thy word

      running headlong into oblivion


    • Chapter 5 Diagnosing the Schools-to-Prisons Pipeline: Maximum Security, Minimum Learning
      (pp. 126-146)
      Rose Braz and Myesha Williams

      In the course of 24 hours in May 2007, without holding a single public hearing, much less a public vote, the California state legislature passed the largest prison-expansion plan in U.S. history. The law, AB900, will add 40,000 new prison beds and 13,000 new jail beds and will cost the state $15 billion for construction and debt service; that stunning price tag is deceptive, however, for it does not include future operating costs, which will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars for generations to come. Of this $15 billion, interest payments on the bonds that will be sold to...

    • Illlustrations
      (pp. None)

    • Chapter 6 “A Piece of the Reply”: The Prison Creative Arts Project and Practicing Resistance
      (pp. 149-178)
      Buzz Alexander

      Nate Jones passed away the evening of May 31, 2007. On April 25 I had helped him celebrate his fifty-eighth birthday by bringing him a huge cake—his doctors had ordered him to eat a lot of rich food—and taking him out to breakfast, where he devoured a waffle covered with strawberries and cream. I knew him as a prisoner, an actor, a writer, a student, a teacher, a social worker, an associate of the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), and a friend. Once a week during his last months, we met for breakfast or lunch, and amid tears,...

    • “The Poet’s Corner”
      (pp. 179-180)
      George Hall

      Founded by Buzz Alexander, the Poet’s Corner is a long-running group of writers who gather once a week in the Jackson Prison, in Jackson, Michigan; in this poem, the seventy-three-year-old George Hall celebrates how the Poet’s Corner offers him a space of redemption; the piece was published in A Crack in the Concrete: Writings and Art by Michigan Prisoners for World Environment Day, ed. Buzz Alexander, Jean Borger, Mica Doctoroff, Thylias Moss, and Rachel Nelson (Detroit: LeAdfooT Press, 2005).

      The times I have been at peace

      are almost beyond my memory’s reach

      and sometimes I ask myself

      have I ever...

    • Chapter 7 Each One Reach One: Playwriting and Community Activism as Redemption and Prevention
      (pp. 181-200)
      Robin Sohnen

      As Santos lay bleeding to death in the public bathroom where he had been shot, he scrawled “open your eyes” on the floor with his own blood. When told of his deathbed command, most of his gang members thought he was telling them to nail the crazy vato who had gunned him down—they thought his final wish was for revenge, for more blood, for another hit in the endless cycle of ghetto violence. But the play’s hero, Solo, believed the blood-scrawled message meant something else: He thought it was a desperate call to open his eyes to life’s possibilities,...

    • “Devil Talks”
      (pp. 201-202)
      Robert “Chicago” McCollum

      A member of the Writing Workshop at the Champaign County Jail, in Champaign, Illinois, Robert “Chicago” McCollum writes hard-hitting poems about the violence and betrayal that marked his life as a young man growing up in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods; this piece was published in Captured Words/Free Thoughts 2 (Autumn 2006).

      It’s as if he seen my ability ta get dough radiate off me

      as he drove by in his cheap but expensive car

      He said MOE I know you like shinin’

      cause I see that spark in ya right eye

      Cum Fuck witcha boy—’n you could be...

    • Chapter 8 Fostering Cultures of Achievement in Urban Schools: How to Work toward the Abolition of the Schools-to-Prisons Pipeline
      (pp. 203-227)
      Garrett Albert Duncan

      In this chapter I highlight educational reform efforts that show tremendous promise for abolishing the schools-to-prisons pipeline in the United States. I illustrate how parents, teachers, and administrators foster cultures of achievement that promote academic excellence and civic engagement among underserved urban students, thus offering them more promising futures. Such accomplishments are triply remarkable, for they counteract a generation’s worth of disastrous zero-tolerance policies, they resist longstanding historical forces that doom poor children to second-class educations, and they counteract the legacies of racism that have turned our schools into race-making machines. Before presenting a case study of such empowering urban...

    • “January 3, 2009”
      (pp. 228-228)
      Nicole Monahan

      A member of the Writing Workshop at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, in Denver, Colorado, Nicole Monahan wrote this powerful poem in response to her husband’s suicide. When she stood tall to perform the piece for a gathering of writers and friends in April 2009, she received a standing ovation; the piece was published in Captured Words/Free Thoughts 6 (Spring 2009).

      It all started at the mouths of others: the bad news was delivered like an airplane plummeting to the ground. It hit hard, devastating everything and everyone around it—the pain instantly filled my chest. I felt my heart...

    • Chapter 9 Humanizing Education behind Bars: Shakespeare and the Theater of Empowerment
      (pp. 229-251)
      Jonathan Shailor

      A monk asked Chih Men,

      “How is it when the lotus flower has not yet emerged from the water?”

      Chih Men said,

      “A lotus flower.”

      Then the monk asked again,

      “What about after it has emerged from the water?”

      Chih Men answered,

      “Lotus leaves.”¹

      The lotus flower is the Buddhist symbol of our incorruptible, enlightened nature; the use of the symbol in this koan is provocative because it suggests that our enlightened nature is fully present at all times, no matter who we are, and no matter what our circumstances. A few years ago the imprisoned actors at the Racine...

    • “Anger”
      (pp. 252-252)
      Kenneth Sean Kelly

      A member of the Writing Workshop at the Champaign County Jail, in Champaign, Illinois, Sean Kelly responded to the challenge to write a poem of self-improvement by taking responsibility for quelling his anger. This piece was published in Captured Words/Free Thoughts 5 (Summer 2008).


      It’s a demon that haunts

      My heart and soul


      I would love to tie it up

      And dump mercy all over it

      Then when it’s dried, peel it like a banana


      You mother fuckin’ son-of-bitch

      You cost me countless jobs

      And relationships all because

      You decided to push my buttons

      But when I...

    • Chapter 10 Breaking Down the Walls: Inside-Out Learning and the Pedagogy of Transformation
      (pp. 253-272)
      Lori Pompa

      In 1985, I stepped behind the walls of a prison for the first time. I remember being overwhelmed that day by a sensory cacophony of stale sweat, old sneakers, clanging bars, crumbling cement, deafening announcements over the P.A. system, and the palpable alienation of hundreds of men who seemed to be locked in a bizarre dance, trapped in a listless fugue arrested in time. Twenty-five years later, we are still locking people in cages; mass incarceration remains our default response to crime. If we had the political will, we could use our resources and creativity to address the social issues...

  7. Appendix: Prisoner Art and the Work of Community Building
    (pp. 273-274)
    Janie Paul
  8. Contributors
    (pp. 275-280)
  9. Index
    (pp. 281-291)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 292-292)