Monday, August 05, 2019

The Prisoner as Person: Education and the Arts behind Bars

Reading Revolution
Prison offers, curiously, a time to make art, with men on life sentences sometimes being the most serious about developing their craft. Boredom also assures the motivation of Tobolas poets: ‘Unlike my college students, who were required to take composition, my inmate students came to class because they wanted to learn.’ But the book also raises questions about creative work, its potential and its limits. A prison classroom or theater is a crucible, a lab for working out what art can do when separated from economies of grants, sales, and prestige.

Art is a form of resistance. It is an attempt to maintain ones humanity and individuality even while wearing a uniform and tagged with a number. Art builds community. As any reader of prison or internment camp memoirs knows, the creation of art in captivity does not require an official program. In moments of crisis, people instinctively draw on their own creative resources.  – From Irina Dumitrescu’s review, “Door Open for Beauty: On Deborah Tobola’s Hummingbird in Underworld: Teaching in a Mens Prisona Memoir (Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press, 2019), in the Los Angeles Review of Books, 2 August 2019.

Highwaymen murals 2 
Dumitrescu’s review moved me to put this list together, culled from my larger compilation on “punishment and prison.”

The Prisoner as Person: Education and the Arts behind Bars
  • Bernstein, Lee (2010) America is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Brottman, Mikita (2016) The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men’s Prison. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Chevigeny, Bell Gale, ed. (1999) Doing Time: Twenty-Five Years of Prison Writing. New York: Aracade.
  • Coyle, William J. (1987) Libraries in Prisons: A Blending of Institutions. New York: Greenwood Press.
  • Davies, Ioan (1990) Writers in Prison. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.
  • Desai, Ashwin (2014/Unisa Press, 2012) Reading Revolution: Shakespeare on Robben Island. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.
  • Franklin, H. Bruce (1978) The Victim as Criminal and Artist: Literature from the American Prison. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Franklin, H. Bruce (1998) Prison Writing in Twentieth Century America. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Fyfe, Janet (1992) Books Behind Bars: The Role of Books, Reading, and Libraries in British Reform, 1701-1911. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  • Harlow, Barbara (1992) Barred: Women, Writing and Political Detention. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press.
  • James, Joy, ed. (2003) Imprisoned Intellectuals: America’s Political Prisoners Write on Life, Liberation, and Rebellion. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • James, Joy, ed. (2005) The New Abolitionists: (neo)Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  • Johnson, Paula C. (2003) Inner Lives: Voices of African American Women in Prison. New York: New York University Press.
  • Karpowitz, Daniel (2017) College in Prison: Reading in an Age of Mass Incarceration. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Kornfeld, Phyllis (1997) Cellblock Visions: Prison Art in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Lagemann, Ellen Condliffe (2016) Liberating Minds: The Case for College in Prison. New York: New Press.
  • Melville, Samuel (1972) Letters from Attica. New York: William Morrow and Co.
  • Miller, D. Quentin, ed. (2005) Prose and Cons: Essays on Prison Literature in the United States. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
  • Monroe, Gary (2009) The Highway Men Murals: Al Blacks Concrete Dreams. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.
  • Peltier, Leonard (Harvey Arden, ed.) (1999) Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
  • Sachs, Albie (1990) The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs. London: Paladin/Grafton Books.
  • Salinas, Raúl (Louis G. Mendoza, ed.) (2006) raúlsalinas and the Jail Machine: My Weapon is My Pen. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
  • Scheffler, Judith A., ed. (2002) Wall Tappings: An International Anthology of Women’s Prison Writings, 200 [CE] to the Present. New York: Feminist Press.
  • Schorb, Jodi. (2014) Reading Prisoners: Literature, Literacy, and the Transformation of American Punishment, 1700-1845. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Schreiner, Barbara, ed. (1992) A Snake with Ice Water: Prison Writings by South African Women. Johannesburg: Congress of South African Writers.
  • Suttner, Raymond (2001) Inside Apartheid’s Prisons: Notes and Letters of Struggle. Melbourne: Ocean Press/Pietermaritzburg, SA: University of Natal Press.
  • Sweeney, Megan (2010) Reading Is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women’s Prisons. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Waldman, Ayelet and Robin Levi, eds. (2011) Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons. San Francisco, CA: McSweeney’s Books and Voice of Witness.
Maximum security book club


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