Doing Time in American Prisons: A Study of Modern Novels

Doing Time in American Prisons: A Study of Modern Novels

Doing Time in American Prisons: A Study of Modern Novels

Doing Time in American Prisons: A Study of Modern Novels

Synopsis

This is a study of novels by Chester Himes, Malcolm Braly, and others on the experience of doing time in American prisons. The authors are all convicts or ex-convicts who were not professional writers before their incarceration. In fact, Massey notes, the confinement seems to have motivated them to put their experiences into words. Most of the prisoners were incarcerated for armed robbery, one of the most common felonies in the United States. The relationship between that crime and the American Dream has social and political implications, but these writers are neither prisoners of conscience nor prisoners of war.

Excerpt

As director of a large college program at a state prison in Ohio for over ten years, I passed through gates daily like those that confined for extended periods of time the writers discussed in this study. The education section in a correctional institution is frequently neutral ground and provides an excellent position for interaction with inmates and staff. The fact that I was not a state employee and frequently taught composition classes in which inmate students described in graphic detail their experiences put me in close touch with the folklore and daily grind of prison life from the perspective of those who are incarcerated. As a student of literature, I was naturally curious about fictional renditions of this world.

My reading of novels on the experience of imprisonment was influenced both by my direct experience in corrections and by formal academic training in literary interpretation. For the latter, I am a product of teachers as diverse as the late Donald Howard and Earl Wasserman at Johns Hopkins University and, more recently, Wayne Miller and Robert Arner at the University of Cincinnati . . .

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