America Is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s

By Lee Bernstein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
WE TOOK THE WEIGHT

INCARCERATED WRITERS AND ARTISTS
IN THE BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT

During the 1970s prison rehabilitative efforts seemed to narrow to the point where trying to scare people straight was the most visible prison program in the country. At the same time, alternative visions of prison life found numerous venues for expression and distribution. The work of prison writers appeared in small distribution publications like the Fortune Society’s Fortune News and Joseph Bruchac’s Greenfield Review. Some found their work picked up by specialty houses like Dudley Randall’s Broadside Press, major university presses, and even some trade publishers. Perhaps the greatest incubators and benefactors of prison culture during the 1970s, however, were the movements for cultural nationalism among African Americans and Latinos. To public policy officials, a program would be deemed useful if it reduced recidivism. To people who championed rehabilitation, resources and measurable outcomes could lead to the creation of education and therapeutic programs. To those who championed deterrence, programs like Scared Straight! that highlighted the fearsome qualities of prison life won the day. For prisoners who highlighted the racist underpinnings and impact of the criminal justice system, however, any program originating from state departments of correction or other state agencies was suspect. As notions of liberation and black and brown cultural nationalism achieved increasing currency, African American and Latino prisoners and their advocates turned away from deterrence or rehabilitation. Instead, liberation became the new touchstone for relevancy and the Black Arts movement the ascendant force in the culture of American prisons.

In particular, the cultural life of American prisons became intertwined with the Black Arts and Black Power movements in shared

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America Is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - We Shall Have Order 19
  • Chapter Two - The Age of Jackson 51
  • Chapter Three - What Works? 75
  • Chapter Four - We Took the Weight 99
  • Chapter Five - Cell Block Theater 129
  • Chapter Six - Radical Chic 151
  • Conclusion 173
  • Notes 185
  • Index 215
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