Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Compare/Contrast: Media Perspectives on Prison

First, the pithy. From Gawker, a blog post about criminals tweeting from jail, such as “The Hipster Grifter” Kari Ferrell:

In contrast, New York Times blogger Alison Leigh Cowan discusses one college working to educate inmates to lower rates of recidivism:

Cowan discusses the selective admission process for prisoners in Wesleyan’s program: 120 prisoners competed for 19 spots in the program. In addition to the 19 students at the penetentiary, students from the residential college visit the Cheshire prison for joint classes. The two-month old program began this fall with Composition and Sociology courses:

CHESHIRE, Conn. — In many ways it was just another day, another class of Wesleyan University, one of the more selective colleges in the Northeast. The topic was multiculturalism in schools. The discussion focused on methods of evaluating the rhetorical skills of various commentators, from Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. to Dinesh D’Souza.

I’m fascinated by this article because of a friend who began to educate me on the detrimental effects of prison several years ago. What’s the role of the prison industrial complex to the U.S.–a country that puts more of its citizens behind bars than any other nation? How do we fight recidivism? Who exactly are we sentencing, and what can we suss out from the demographics of race, gender, and socio-economic status?

As a means of introduction to prison conditions, one of the texts that I recommend is Malcolm Braly’s On the Yard, a fictional take on his years in San Quentin in the 60’s. I’ve been teaching it for years and my students love it. It’s useful not only for its social commentary, but for its mastery of literary craft. Braly has sharp turns in plot, a revolving third person point of view, and characters–from inmates and wardens to families and employees–that will make your heart ache.

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» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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