Fugitive Thought: Prison Movements, Race, and the Meaning of Justice

Fugitive Thought: Prison Movements, Race, and the Meaning of Justice

Fugitive Thought: Prison Movements, Race, and the Meaning of Justice

Fugitive Thought: Prison Movements, Race, and the Meaning of Justice


In Fugitive Thought, Michael Hames-Garcma argues that writings by prisoners are instances of practical social theory that seek to transform the world. Unlike other authors who have studied prisons or legal theory, Hames-Garcma views prisoners as political and social thinkers whose ideas are as important as those of lawyers and philosophers.

As key moral terms like "justice," "solidarity," and "freedom" have come under suspicion in the post-Civil Rights era, political discussions on the Left have reached an impasse. Fugitive Thought reexamines and reinvigorates these concepts through a fresh approach to philosophies of justice and freedom, combining the study of legal theory and of prison literature to show how the critiques and moral visions of dissidents and participants in prison movements can contribute to the shaping and realization of workable ethical conceptions. Fugitive Thought focuses on writings by black and Latina/o lawyers and prisoners to flesh out the philosophical underpinnings of ethical claims within legal theory and prison activism.

Michael Hames-Garcma is assistant professor of English and of philosophy, interpretation, and culture at Binghamton University, State University of New York.


Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

—Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

You are a buffoon, Socrates … each form of government enacts the laws with a view to its own advantage … and by so legislating they proclaim that the just for their subjects is that which is for their—the rulers'—advantage and the man who deviates from this law they chastise as a lawbreaker and a wrongdoer … the just is the same thing everywhere, the advantage of the stronger.

—Thrasymachus, in Plato's The Republic

Let me begin with an example in order to illustrate the complexity of questions of justice and morality. The 1961 film directed by Stanley Kramer and written by Abby Mann, Judgment at Nuremberg, depicts the story of a retired judge from New England who has been called to preside over one of the final war crimes tribunals in Nuremberg, Germany, after World War II. The judge, played by Spencer Tracy, must preside over the trial of German judges who served on the bench during Nazi rule and enforced laws that sentenced Jews, political opponents of the regime, the mentally retarded, and others to sterilization, concentration camp interment, and death. Throughout the course of the trial, he grapples with difficult questions that are at once abstract and concrete: What is justice? If it is something more than law, how do we discover it? How do we implement it? One Nazi general's widow, played by Marlene Dietrich, suggests that the justice meted out at Nuremburg is only the “revenge victors always take on the vanquished.” The attorney for the . . .

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